Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle A

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Canaanite woman.jpg


Matthew 15.21-28

"Woman, you have great faith"

Today we find Jesus outside of his own country, in the region of Tyre and Sidon, in what is now southern Lebanon. The Canaanites who inhabited that area were long-standing enemies of the Jewish people, and were regarded with great contempt as unclean, godless pagans, no better than dogs. Despite that, this Canaanite woman approaches Jesus, ready to overcome any barriers in her anxious concern for her tormented daughter. Her plea for help seems to fall on deaf ears but she persists and is eventually rewarded for her great faith.

This story brings us up short as we puzzle over the negative response of Jesus to the woman’s request, at first with silence and then with harsh rejection. It seems so out of character as she has to argue with him, pleading for attention. But argue she does, and will not take no for an answer. She may be a despised foreigner but she is also a mother, desperate to find healing for her daughter; she believes this ‘Son of David’ can help and she will not give in. In the end Jesus praises her and grants her prayer – her daughter is healed.

It is true that the mission of Jesus was primarily to Israel with its unique place in the history of salvation. But salvation is universal, the kingdom is for all, and this story illustrates the initial struggle, maybe even of Jesus himself and certainly of the infant church, to come to grips with the implications of that fact. The Canaanite woman gives us an example of personal persistent faith. But further than that, she stands before us as a symbol of people who appear to be outsiders yet who are equally children of the one God and Father of all mankind, and whose faith may be even stronger than ours. Quite simply, God does not belong exclusively to any one group.