In the Gospel story Jesus is at bat and you, the Pharisee, are the Umpire. First, he is in pagan territory near Tyre and Sidon, and a pagan woman has the audacity to speak to him in public breaking all the social customs of the day. Second, Jesus uses a conventional cliché and likens her to a “house dog” after all, Canaanites don’t follow the Jewish dietary laws and like house dogs will eat almost anything. Also, after the Assyrian invasion in the 8th Century BC Jews intermarried with pagan Canaanites and Foreigners,- again just like house dogs, who don’t care with whom they mate. Third, Jesus grants her request, even though it was implied that there were Jews more “deserving” of his healings. So, “Strike three! Jesus; you’re out!”
Now, “hang on a bit,” the Canaanite lady challenges you, and then gives you a lecture on faith and love. The culture of her day did not give her any legal status; but she knew who whom she could turn to in her time of need. The Jewish culture likened her to “dogs”; but she was willing to approach Jesus for any scraps of life she could obtain. The culture said no woman could challenge a man and thereby insult his honour; but because of her love she was willing to take whatever means were necessary to obtain healing for her child.
In this way Jesus overturns the cultural “rule book.” By his approving action he is saying that faith is not determined by race or national origin or gender. Faith does not put God in a little box, thinking He is small enough for us to control. Faith recognises that in situations requiring grace and mercy, anyone in the world can turn to our awesome God and trust that he will hear our prayer requests. “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”
My friends, the Gentile pagan woman recognised in Jesus the qualities of the promised Messiah. Thus she calls out “Lord” an act which is prompted by the Holy Spirit and expresses this recognition. She had the power of prayer and faith which even the neighbours of Jesus didn’t have.
In reflection, do we look to the boundless love of Jesus, or do we look to society’s book of narrow rules for insiders?
Also see articles #439, #448, and #2610 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.