9 August
Mt 15:21-28

Jesus 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.

The famous Dean Inge (1860-1954) wrote, “It is becoming impossible for those who mix at all with their fellowmen to believe that the grace of God is distributed denominationally.”  Or, as Edith Stein (1891 – 1942) expressed it: “It has always been far from me to think that God’s mercy allows itself to be circumscribed by the visible Church’s boundaries. God is truth. All who seek truth seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.”  This was the growing realisation of the disciples as they watched how Jesus treated foreigners and pagans.  Jesus praised the faith of foreigners and pagans (Mt 8, Jn 4).   

In the present case, however, there seemed to be some reluctance on his part.  Commentators exercise all their ingenuity to smooth this out.  Here are some of the points they make:
* Jesus was in that place because he needed to rest and to have time to teach is disciples, so he was off-duty. 
* He didn’t actually send the woman away, as the disciples had urged him to do. 
* He didn’t try to convert her to Jewish beliefs, as other teachers would probably have done. 
* In Mark’s milder account of it, he said the children of Israel had to be fed “first” (Mark 7:27). 
* His reference to “dogs” may not have been the racial snub it appears to be, but a reference to children’s pet dogs, whose needs would be secondary to those of the children. 
* He may have wanted to show reluctance so as to distinguish himself from the many wandering magicians who were only too willing to perform cures for the sake of fame or financial reward. 
* And finally, St Augustine: “The woman was ignored, not that mercy might be denied but that desire might be enkindled; not only that desire might be enkindled but... that humility might be praised.”

Whatever force these various points may have, in the end Jesus helped this foreign pagan woman and even praised her faith.  This must be a challenge to every purely intellectual definition of faith.  Like the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:25-29), this Canaanite woman publicly acknowledged Jesus' identity before any of the disciples did (Mt 16:16).


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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