In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus admonished Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Today’s gospel provides quite the contrast as we hear about the startling encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.
There is much that could be said about this story, but suffice it to say that Jews hated Canaanites and considered them the worst of their enemies. But Jesus was in pagan territory so it is not surprising he would meet some pagans, even an unaccompanied woman who should not have been speaking to Jesus in the first place. But this woman is determined to get the help her daughter needs and she knows Jesus can provide it.
Jesus seems to wants nothing to do with her. First, he ignores her, then he refuses her, and then he insults her. But when it is all said and done, he tells her, “O woman, great is your faith!” It’s a beautiful story that can show us how to pray, even when we believe we will receive a warmer welcome from the Lord than the Canaanite woman got. Look at what she did and see how much she has to teach us.
First, we have to trust in the mercy of Jesus. When we trust, we open ourselves up to all that God wants to give us, including the answer to our prayer. Notice that the very first thing the woman calls out to Jesus is, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David.” She is asking for mercy from the One she believes is Lord and Messiah. We too ought to start our prayer by acknowledging Jesus as our Lord and then ask for His mercy and love.
Second, we need to persevere and be patient. The Canaanite woman certainly was both persevering and patient. She wasn’t going anywhere and she was willing to wait. The disciples knew that, which is why they asked Jesus to send her away. We know from the Sermon on the Mount that we need to be persevering in our prayer. We have to be like a man who goes to his friend at night clamoring for help. We have to be like a woman who pesters a judge until she gets what she wants from him. It was a mother’s love that drove the Canaanite woman. She knew what she needed and she believed Jesus could do it for her. When we approach our God of mercy in prayer, we too can’t give up and have to be willing to wait on God’s time.
Third, we need to be humble, as the Canaanite woman was. When Jesus called her a dog, she did not get angry and insulted and huff away. Instead, she acknowledged it and had a wonderful, humorous come back for Jesus. Her faith and her humility (and I like to think, her sense of humor) touched the Lord’s heart and won her what she wanted from him. When we are humble and go to God acknowing we are totally helpless without Him and are willing to put everything into His hands, the Lord will hear our prayer. Humility is crucial in our relationship with God and with each other. The Lord will always be attentive and responsive to us when we approach Him with humility.
The Canaanite woman surprised Jesus in several ways. It would seem she got Him to look at things differently. He marveled at her faith. And as a result of all this, Jesus’ healing power set her daughter free.
We too can surprise the Lord, but, first, we probably need to ask Him for greater trust, perseverance and patience, and humility.