Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So his disciples approached him and said, “Send her away! See how she is shouting after us.”
Then Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.”
But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, “Sir, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies.” The woman replied, “That is true, sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
In order to understand the depth of today’s gospel scene, we have to notice a few details.
First, Jesus and the Twelve are traveling outside of Palestine, in modern Lebanon, therefore in pagan territory, where Jews are required to have no contact with the local population.
Second, Jesus’ mission is to announce the Good News of the Kingdom to the Chosen People of Israel, not to pagans. And so, Israel is his sole concern. Later on, he will eventually send his disciples to all the world (Mt 28:16-20), but now is the time of Israel.
Third, since in the end Jesus does indeed answer the petition of the woman, it is clear that his initial two refusals to do so are merely meant to test the woman’s faith and to induce her to deepen her faith by overcoming Jesus’ resistance—to the utter delight of Jesus!
Fourth, the woman is not asking anything for herself, and this makes her request even more poignant, and her courage even more daring. In her love for her daughter, she is ready to stoop like a dog under Jesus’ table.
One of the lessons of this story is that, often enough, God delays answering our prayers so that we may grow in faith.
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