The problem with Matthew 15:21-28 lies in the portrait of Jesus as neither the Jesus we have come to know and love nor, if we are honest, a Jesus we particularly like. The optional verses in the lectionary (Matt. 15:10-20) may elicit Peter’s reaction: “Explain yourself, Jesus!”
Critical to interpreting and preaching this passage, however, is to hold both Gennesaret (the location of vv. 10-20) and Tyre and Sidon together. In 14:34, Jesus and his disciples have landed at Gennesaret after the events of Jesus walking on water and stilling the storm. In Gennesaret, the Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus from Jerusalem and question him about issues regarding purity. It is in this context that we arrive at our optional pericope for this week. Jesus calls the crowd to him and addresses the disciples directly, essentially offering commentary on his dialogue with the Pharisees and continuing the focus on the question of defilement.