Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 15:21–28
In this week’s gospel, I have no doubt that if I had been the Canaanite woman, I would have been tempted to walk away from Jesus—offended and hurt. And yet this woman, a Gentile who does not know Scripture or Jewish tradition, has more faith than many of the people Jesus came to minister to. Perhaps, even more faith than I have.
We read in this passage from Matthew that a Canaanite woman begs Jesus to have mercy on her daughter who is suffering from demonic possession. Despite being a Gentile, she is not only aware of Jesus' healing abilities and has faith in His power, but she calls out to Him in the language of the Jewish prayer: "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David" (Matthew 15:22).
However, Jesus does not seem to be moved by her cry. In fact, after His disciples, who seemingly find this woman annoying, ask Him to send her away, Jesus tells the woman that He was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). In other words, He implies that He was not sent for her.
Still, the woman does not give up. Again, she asks Jesus to help her. This time Jesus replies even more harshly: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26), indicating that the “sheep of Israel” are His children who deserve His priority and blessing and that she, a Gentile, is but a mere dog.
Certainly, by then, I would have walked away. And yet this woman does not. Once more, she turns to the Son of David, acknowledges her lowliness, and begs Him for mercy: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” (Matthew 15:27).
It is then that Jesus, moved by this woman’s faith, heals the daughter and responds to the mother in a way that appears much more characteristic of Him: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28).
These are the qualities displayed by this mother, virtues I am always hoping to possess.
I wonder if the Canaanite woman was ever shocked. Had she heard stories of Jesus and His twelve companions? Had she heard how loving He was? How compassionate? Did she ever feel slighted by His initial responses to her?
Or did she know, deep down, that He is love? Was it that knowledge that allowed her to persevere?
Despite Jesus showing me over and over again that He is love, there have been times I’ve faltered in my faithfulness to Him. A prayer request seemingly goes unanswered. My heart is wrung. I am convicted of a sin. I occasionally am tempted to walk away from Jesus.
But not the Canaanite woman. No, she knows who He is. And she stays by His side, unwilling to walk away.
It’s easy to look at the Canaanite woman in this passage and make sense of her great faith. What might be more challenging is understanding how we are to make sense of Jesus, who comes across as callous, even cruel.
The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that the Good News of Jesus was destined not only for the Israelites, God’s chosen people, but for Gentiles as well. Throughout this gospel, the demands of discipleship are emphasized. It is made clear, time and again, that discipleship requires unconditional love and a willingness to love both the saint and the sinner, the Jew and the Gentile.
At this point in Matthew’s gospel, it has not yet fully been revealed that Jesus’ mission is also for the Gentiles. Yet with the story of the Canaanite woman, as with the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13), Jesus “breaks with his usual procedure of ministering only to Israelites and anticipates the mission to the Gentiles.”
Though Jesus’ interactions with the Canaanite woman seem shocking to us who know Jesus as a man full of compassion and mercy, they were completely culturally and socially acceptable for that time. What would have been truly shocking to His disciples, perhaps even unsettling, was His eventual acknowledgment of this Gentile woman and her faith, His willingness to prioritize her, and His healing of her daughter. In this, Jesus teaches His disciples, and in turn each of us, two important lessons. First, even the most unlikely people can teach us how to live lives of faith. Second, no one, not even a so-called “dog,” is beyond God’s mercy.
Food for thought or journaling…
Have you encountered a “Canaanite woman” who has taught you a lesson in faithfulness? What was this experience like?
Jesus, humble me and open my eyes to see every person as You do. Help me never forget that every person I interact with is made in Your image, and that You died for them, too. Amen
 Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 15.
 “Matthew, Chapter 8,” USCCB, accessed August 9, 2023, https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/8?5=#48008005.