These experts in the Law of Moses failed in each instance to trip up Jesus in their clever attempts to silence him. But now in today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenged by another who does bring him to silence - a Canaanite woman.
Jesus is not silenced because he has no answer to the woman’s pleas for mercy, but because she is not a Jew. Canaanites were a pagan people who dominated the lands that God gave to the people of Israel. They were considered unclean and unworthy, not to be engaged in conversation or commerce, but separate from the chosen people of Israel.
Jesus tries to ignore her because he comes only to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ His mercy and compassion does not belong to her – she is not from among God’s holy people. His mission of salvation belongs to God’s chosen people alone.
Despite her lowly station in life and her knowing that Jews will have nothing to do with Canaanites, she continues in her cries and pleas, her wailing and beseeching Jesus for mercy and healing for her daughter. Jesus walks on: ignoring her, but she follows after him and his disciples, shouting and calling out. The disciples, just to get her to leave them alone, for she is creating quite a spectacle, ask Jesus to ‘get rid of her.’ She reminds us of the old woman who kept pleading to the ‘Unjust Judge’ for justice until finally, in desperation for peace, he gave in to the old woman’s rant.
Breaking with acceptable behavior, as Jesus often did, he enters into a personal encounter with this unclean woman; telling her his words of God’s love and mercy are meant only for the chosen people, Israel.
Here is where Jesus is challenged by another, but does not prevail.
The woman responds that others also listen and hear Jesus’s words of God’s love and mercy and they too have come to believe. What is meant solely for the ears of God’s chosen ones also reaches down to the unchosen. They too have heard the Word of God spoken through Jesus and have responded in belief, with hope and desire.
In these words spoken by a woman, one who is unclean, un-chosen and un-welcomed, Jesus is awakened to a great faith. That she, this Canaanite woman, could make such a statement opened Jesus’ eyes to a great faith in God’s love and mercy – a love and mercy is possible for all people who hear the Word of God and respond.
From this grows a new direction for Jesus’ ministry. After our Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection, in his final commission to his disciples, – he tells them,
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”This commission to the disciples is also our commission. We continue the apostolic mission of bringing the Word of God to all nations and to all people. We, God’s holy people, are the heralds of his promise of salvation found through Jesus Christ, for all God’s beloved children. We are called and commissioned by our baptism to continue to preach the Good News, by word and action; calling all the lost sheep back into God’s fold, so they too may enjoy his love, grace and peace in the heavenly kingdom – forever and ever. Amen.