”Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Jesus, in Matthew 15:21-28.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
The encounter with a Canaanite woman that is the focus of today’s Gospel occurs during a series of difficult encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes who are testing his authority. But the unnamed Canaanite woman challenges Jesus to see that what he’s been saying does not apply only to the Jews but has a wider significance. The Canaanites are the ancient enemies of Israel and yet Canaanite women are amongst the ancestors Matthew cites in his first chapter when he lists the genealogy of Jesus. This woman changes his thinking and their meeting begins when Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon – today, these two places are in the Lebanon.
When the woman pleads with him for her daughter’s healing, Jesus ignores her – yet he has chosen to come to her area and she seems to know a great deal about him as she calls him, ‘Son of David’. Jesus neither responds to her nor rejects her but his disciples then urge him to send her away for she keeps shouting at them. They are tired of hearing her cries for help and Jesus says that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, which the disciples seem to echo as they ignore her.
However, showing great humility and perseverance, the Canaanite woman then kneels before Jesus and simply says, “Lord, help me.” In acknowledging his authority and power in this way, her perseverance leads Jesus to speak to her but he then makes a comment that sounds offensive when he tells her that children’s food should not be thrown to the dogs. However, the word Jesus uses here implies a much loved pet and, rather than taking offence, the woman suggests that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table – she is not wanting to take food from those for whom it is intended but is content with what is left over. She asks only for crumbs of the food he is giving – and this is soon after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand where the leftovers filled twelve baskets. What generosity of provision!
At this, Jesus acknowledges the great faith the woman has and tells her, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” She is satisfied with what others have discarded and so there is ample for the house of Israel and others to be fed. Even crumbs bring about the healing of her daughter instantly and the faith of this woman – unclean, a stranger and someone with whom a Jew would not normally converse – is sufficient to bring about the change for which she longs.
The Canaanite woman acknowledged Jesus’ authority whereas the scribes and Pharisees wouldn’t – her faith challenged boundaries and her persistence changed the mind of the one she recognised as the Son of David before his own disciples had perhaps realised it. She may challenge our assumptions or boundaries too and perhaps creates uncomfortable perceptions of reluctance to relate to those perceived as different, which need to be addressed. Jesus realised this, acknowledged her faith and healed her daughter – today, what would we ask ‘to be done for you as you wish?’
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Priest Guardian.