Perseverance

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.
(Matthew 15:21-28)

Scripture Study

15:21 Jesus next ventures outside of Galilee into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. These are two Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean coast north of Palestine. In the ethno-geographic worldview of Israel, the region had historically close ties with the ancient Canaanites (Gen 10:15, 19). The woman who is featured in this account is thus described as a “Canaanite” (v. 22).

15:22–24 Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist had apparently preceded him here, for a local mother whose daughter was afflicted by a demon identified him and pressed him to intervene. At first, Jesus gave no answer to her pleas, and the disciples grew annoyed that she kept calling out for his help. When he finally responded, he explained his reason for not getting involved: his ministry was directed not to the Gentiles but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The people of Israel, being the Lord’s collective firstborn (Exod 4:22), stand first in line to receive the Messiah’s blessings (see Acts 3:26).

15:25–26 Not content with this response, the woman did him homage, which probably means that she bowed before him or performed some comparable gesture of reverence. Then she renews her request with the words, Lord, help me. Accepting his lordship, she is confident that Jesus wields the divine power necessary to release her little girl from demonic oppression. Still, Jesus declines. It is inappropriate, he says, to toss the food of the children to dogs. His first priority is to bring blessings to the Israelites, the “children” of the Lord by covenant (Deut 14:1). The Gentiles, for their part, are depicted more like little house dogs than true family members, for they are ignorant of the God of Israel and his ways.

15:27–28 Many would have given up after this second failed attempt at soliciting Jesus’ help, but not this woman. Undaunted, she presses forward, engaging the details of the parable. Please, Lord, she begs, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. At last Jesus responds favorably with glowing words of praise: O woman, great is your faith! He is impressed with her persistence and rewards it by freeing her daughter from the nightmare of demonic assault. And from that hour on, the woman’s daughter was delivered from the evil spirit.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, in today’s Gospel we witness the strange exchange between Jesus and a feisty woman. It is one of the only scenes in the Gospels where someone seems to get the better of Jesus. First Jesus refuses even to acknowledge her. Then his disciples tell her to back off. Finally, Jesus hits her with a devastating one-liner: “I have come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it is not right to throw food to dogs.”

This woman—probably a widow and certainly a foreigner—is given a triple brush-off. In this she stands for all those who stand outside, on the margins, alone. Then we hear the woman’s snappy come-back: “Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.” She will not be put off by this brusque behavior.

Now, what do we make of this story? A long tradition stresses the perseverance of the woman in the face of the “test” that Jesus sets for her. And there is something right about it. Augustine says that we pray in order to expand our will to accept what God is going to give us.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *