Today’s Gospel story is a strange and disturbing one. A woman approaches Jesus asking him to heal her daughter, and he seems unwilling to help.
The woman is a Canaanite – a foreigner and a Gentile. In that culture, it was unheard of for a woman to approach and speak to a man she didn’t know. She is breaking all the rules to try to get help for her sick daughter. It must have taken a lot of courage. Yet Jesus is silent; and then, in what seems like an insult, he tells the woman that it’s not fair to give the children’s food to ‘house dogs.’ Still she doesn’t give up.
Why did Jesus respond to the woman in this way? Perhaps he was testing her faith. Perhaps it was a moment of teaching for his disciples and his words reflect their prejudices, not his. Or perhaps he had believed, until this moment, that his mission from his Father was only to his own people – the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ In that case, it may have been the woman’s faith that changed his mind. Faith is what Jesus always wants to see.
Jesus praised the woman’s faith and promised to heal her daughter. Whenever Jesus heals someone in the Gospels, it is in response to faith. The faith and courage of this unknown pagan woman is a lesson to all disciples of Christ.