The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
Today’s gospel is about a Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her demon-possessed child. Firstly, it is ironic that it is this Canaanite woman who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’ while the scribes and Pharisees do not. Even by just these designations, she is already manifesting her faith in Jesus as the Messiah. It is in this kind of woman who shows faith in Jesus while these Jewish leaders reject Him. At first Jesus seemed to pay no attention to her. She receives a snub from Jesus. It seems she is put off by Jesus. Three times Jesus rejects her request: first, by His silence; second, by insisting that His mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and third, by harshly referring to her as belonging to the “dogs.” But this Canaanite woman is persistent in her request. And so the reluctance of Jesus to act on her request is overcome by his great persistence and great faith.
Jesus does this rejection, I’m sure, to test the woman and to awaken faith in her. And what does Jesus mean by the expression “throwing food to the dogs”? The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles with arrogance and insolence as “unclean dogs” in local parlance as: asong gala, askals or asong kalye since the Gentiles were excluded from God’s covenant and favor with Israel. For the Greeks the “dog” was a symbol of dishonor and was used to describe a shameless and audacious woman. Matthew 7:6 records the expression: do not give dogs what is holy. But I’m sure Jesus speaks with a smile rather than with an insult because this woman immediately responds with wit and faith: “even the dogs eat the crumbs”.
There are four things that we should reflect in today’s gospel in relation to our faith. First, as one priest said, as Christians in today’s world, we have to be always ready to be touched by what we encounter in our daily life as what Jesus did. A real Christian is one who is sensitive rather than calloused, open-eyed rather than blind and compassionate rather than hard-hearted. He/she is always willing to be moved and to be changed, of course for the better, thereby acting in love whenever a situation confronts him/her to lend a helping hand.
Second, our mission of spreading the faith and the love of God is not only confined to our own families, friends and communities but throughout the world. It is because this passage describes the only occasion in which Jesus ministered outside of Jewish territory. This faith and love of God have to be universal one. God’s will for all people is universal. It is for everybody to take and do and to experience. In other words, all who believe in Jesus are members of His church. God has eliminated all divisions. Anyone who believes in God must give due respect and support to other believers in Him, no matter what race or religion.
Third, faith is persistent. There are some examples the gospel gives us about faith as persistent and one of them is this Canaanite woman. Christ hears her plea and, as always, He hears her plea because her faith is the key to Jesus’ heart. She has proven herself worthy of being heard. Let us do the same, persistent in our prayers and storm heaven with our prayers.
Fourth, faith is humble. She doesn’t mind being compared to a dog but her faith pushes her on. To be humble is to be open to God’s plan, His will. That is, we only want it if He wants it. If not, I don’t want it either.
At the end let us reflect these words on prayer by St. John Vianney: “We are beggars who must ask God for everything. How many people we can call back to God by our prayers! Ardent prayer addressed to God: this is man’s greatest happiness on earth,” (cf. Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia no. 38).