Millennia ago, God chose Abraham to be the “Father of many nations” (this is what Ab-ra-ham means in Hebrew). But, God was going to bring salvation through Abraham’s first born nation, Israel.
In our First Reading this Sunday, from the prophet Isaiah, the Lord tells us clearly what kind of people will ultimately form part of His covenant. Yes, it’s true, at that time only the Israelites were in covenant relationship with Him, but there would come a time, said the Lord, that
Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.
It’s no coincidence that the Gospel this Sunday tells us of a Canaanite woman (a foreigner) who begs Jesus for mercy.
When Israel left Egypt under Moses and entered the Promised Land (Canaan) under Joshua, it was the Canaanites who were their enemy, among others. In our Gospel, then, we see a woman, a Canaanite woman, come to Jesus, the King of the Jews, with a faith rivalled by few. Not only does she recognise Jesus as the one through whom alone salvation will come, but, being well versed herself in the Hebrew scriptures, including perhaps our First Reading, she calls Jesus “Son of David.”
Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’
Now, what Jesus does in return is what I call “classic Jesus.” He does exactly what is needed to test our faith and see if we really mean it — He ignores her. In fact, even more characteristic of Jesus, He waits till she has called out three times!
But He answered her not a word. And His disciples went and pleaded with Him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’
Notice here that Jesus also tests His disciples. Jesus knows that He has come to bring Salvation to the world. It is true that He has come to do it through the Jews but it is meant to extend to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:6-8). Yet, He says that He has come for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. His disciples don't challenge Him on that issue, but the foreigner does.
But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’
“Dogs” was a derogatory epithet that Jews used to describe non-Jews. Again, none of this is Jesus being mean or nasty; it’s Jesus bringing out of the woman the insistence and perseverance that one ought to have when pleading with Jesus. As we said last week, you need to recognise who Jesus really is before you can