It took a great deal of unbelief for the Pharisees and Sadducees to ask a sign from Jesus after he had already given so many. Matthew alone has told us about his healing the sick, casting out demons, calming storms on Galilee, feeding the hungry, even raising the dead. Most, if not all of these miracles must have been reported back to these leaders, which is why they had come to challenge Jesus. But it was not really signs they were after. They hated Jesus for who he was, and their demand was really only a open attempt to discredit him.

Every chapter of the Bible is important. But you know what they say about all persons being born equal: “Some are more equal than others.” So also with the Bible. Some chapters are more important than others, though all are important. Matthew 16 is one of these “more important” chapters. It is the central or critical chapter in Matthew’s account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or to put it another way, it is the high point in Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ growth in spiritual understanding.

Matthew’s account of the feeding of the four thousand people near the Sea of Galilee may be similar to a previous story told in chapter 14. But Leon Morris points out that Matthew
clearly regards the two incidents as distinct: the numbers of people are different in the two incidents, as are the quantities of food and the amounts left over; the words for “basket” are different; the people in this incident had been with Jesus for three days (v. 32) whereas in the earlier incident they had just gone around the lake to head him off (14:13-14).. .The times appear to be different, the earlier feeding being when the grass was green (Mark 6:39), that is, in spring, while here there is no mention of grass and the ground appears to be hard (v. 35); in other words, it is late summer.

In yesterday’s story we noted how the Canaanite woman was persistent in her supplications to Jesus. Persistence in prayer was important to Jesus because he referred to it often. On one occasion he told the story of a persistent widow who kept coming to an unjust judge to get justice. She had no money to bribe him, so he ignored her for a long time. But at last he gave in saying, “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming.” Jesus concluded, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night” (Luke 18:1-8). The story does not teach that God is unjust or indifferent. It does not teach that by persistence we can get anything at all that we may ask for, for we often ask wrongly and are graciously denied. What it does teach is that when we ask rightly God does hear and will answer in his own proper time.

What might we think of Jesus’ first words to the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” How harsh! How cruel! How parochial! In that day Jews were accustomed to speaking of “Gentiles dogs,” “infidel dogs” and later “Christian dogs.” But William Barclay reminds us of two things, no doubt rightly. First, “The tone and the look with which a thing is said make all the difference. Even a thing which seems hard can be said with a disarming smile. . .We can be quite sure that the smile on Jesus’ face and the compassion in his eyes robbed the words of all insult and bitterness” (p. 135). Second, Jesus did not use the word for the wild dogs of the streets, but kunaria, which referred to house dogs or pets. It was a clever play on the “dog” idea, and it was not lost on the woman who immediately picked it up as an encouragement to her appeal.