20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – year A

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Mt 15:21-28

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is presented on occasions as being seemingly indifferent to the plight and suffering of strangers. That is certainly the initial impression of his encounter with the Canaanite woman. While some Scripture scholars suggest that this apparent indifference is to test the faith of the woman, Jesus’ response must also be considered in light of the context of Matthew’s Gospel, which was the most Jewish of the four.

In the progression of Matthew’s Gospel there is a marked development in the notion of salvation. Jesus, who initially affirms that he was only sent “for the lost flock of Israel“, goes on to commission his disciples, sending them forth to “make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (28:19). Salvation is no longer exclusive to the people of the House of Israel. Rather it is afforded to both Jews and Gentiles, and even to pagans. This salvation of course is found in the person of Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).

As with so many other Gospel encounters it is an outcast, in this instance a Gentile, who recognises Jesus as the Messiah, and she even uses the honourific title “Son of David“. The Canaanite woman exhibits great faith and humility placing the spiritual needs of her daughter above all else, even above Jesus’ apparent aloofness. While the disciples are keen for Jesus to appease her needs so as to silence her shouting, Jesus proceeds to test the depths of her faith, finally acknowledging “woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

The relationship between Jesus and the Canaanite woman parallels with our own relationship with the Lord. Often, and in good faith, we will pray to him. At times our prayers are not answered immediately, or at least not in the way that we hope for or expect. Importantly, we must not be deterred. Rather, we must continue to ask, to seek and to knock knowing that if we are a person of faith the Lord will answer us and eventually we will receive, we will find and the door will be opened to us (Mt 7:7).

Anthony Cleary
Director – Mission and Identity