Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
After Jesus was treated by the hostility of the Pharisees, he decided to move to another place, a place which was foreign to him. That is what we are told at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. The first verse of the reading is a pointer of the whole reading. It shows that if we are rejected in where we are familiar with, there is always the opportunity for us to continue in an environment that may not be familiar to us, to start a new beginning. This was what Jesus did in his ministry. It also happens to us in our different states of life.
The appearing of the Canaanite woman gives a new dimension of Jesus’ ministry. We have no idea how she knows Jesus, but can be sure that she has heard about him and his works among the Jews. Her shouting sounds like a desperate appeal to her last resort to rescue her daughter, who is tormented by a demon. Such demonic forces may not be read literally. If we look around, we can find many people are tormented by demonic forces, such as the greediness of our economic system and the elitism of our political system.
What is hard for us to understanding in the reading is that Jesus at first did not answer this woman. His disciples were bothered by the woman’s shouting and asked Jesus to send her away. In other words, the disciples asked Jesus to respond to the woman so that she can leave them in peace. How many times we also behave like the disciples asking Jesus to send away those people who bothers us? But it is here that our attention should be drawn. Jesus began to say something after his disciples’ intervention. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” To whom do we think this remark was made? It is to the disciples. Jesus wanted his disciples to understanding that there was something new taking place in his ministry after he had been rejected by the Jewish religious leaders and the Pharisees. He would soon set them an example to show that God’s love is for all peoples. The ensuring dialogues between Jesus and the woman reveal the contrast in faith between the Jews, who are chosen children of God, and pagans, who can also become children of God.
The woman was not discouraged by the fact that Jesus’ ministry began with the Jews. Instead, she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” These three words signify that she accepted Jesus as her lord. Then Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” At this point Jesus was not teasing her as many would believe. This was not addressed to her but to his disciples and those Jews who followed him to Tyre and Sidon. We may recall that Jesus had earlier been accused of making friends with sinners among the Jews, Being their fellow country men and women, such sinners might still be acceptable to Jesus’ disciples and followers, even if very reluctantly. But, now, he began to mingle with pagans, whom were seen as inferior to the Jews. Could they accept it as well? With this remark, Jesus tried to point out to his disciples and followers the narrowness of their faith. Is our faith also narrow and restricted to our fellow brothers and sisters only, or it can be extend to embrace all people regardless of their religion and faith?
Then comes the climax of the reading. The woman said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” She voiced out the eagerness of those people who want to be saved by God. Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Our focus should be on that fact that Jesus makes no mention of the problem she faced but simply says, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus is just as humble as the woman who asked for his favour. How often we trumpet what we have done to others, particular good things? Jesus, please grant us as humble as you are in our ministry to serve you. Amen.