I have always struggled to understand today’s gospel. Every time I listen to it, I feel a combination of confusion and indignation. Why would Jesus deny a loving mother’s prayer for her daughter? The Canaanite woman was asking for what Jesus had been doing all over Judea: healing the sick and casting demons out.
Furthermore, why would Jesus refuse to grant her request based on her origin?
After all, it was the same Jesus who had presented the good Samaritan as an example of fraternal love, helping a Jewish man while disregarding the enmity between their two nations.
As I was reading the passage again, I realized my prejudices about this encounter with the Canaanite woman were preventing me from finding Jesus.
From experience, I know Jesus is loving, and He knows what is in my heart better than myself. Jesus knows the good and bad in me; naturally, He also knew the angst and faith in the Canaanite woman’s heart. So, what if Jesus wasn’t refusing to help the Canaanite, but instead revealing her faith to those around who remained hesitant about Him?
I can’t help feeling close to the Canaanite women. That first response from Jesus —His refusal— hurts deeply. I have also been misjudged and rejected based on others’ prejudices, including my origin. Sadly, countless men and women share that experience of rejection and prejudice. The Canaanite woman couldn’t change her origin either, yet she continued praying. She asked again, even if just for some scraps falling from the table… and there it was, her faith revealed in all its fullness and splendor! She firmly believed that small scraps from Jesus’ power would be enough to heal her daughter!
Two thousand years later, here I am, listening to the story of that loving mother from Canaan.
Will I put my faith before my prejudices, to let God give with largesse although I may only ask for scraps?
If Jesus’ rejection hurts, His acceptance of the Canaanite woman’s faith comes as an immense consolation. “O woman, great is your faith,” Jesus celebrated; “and the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.” By praising her faith and healing her daughter, Jesus testified to God’s love. This love embraces everyone and everything, without distinction. There are no foreigners in God’s heart. You and I and every person dwell in the peaceful love of God.
Today, together, let’s pay special attention to this truth as we strive to firmly oppose injustice in the world. With the Canaanite woman in mind and heart, I ask you to pray and work with me to build a world where the joys, hopes and dreams of every color don’t die under the asphyxiating knee of privilege, so that all nations join and praise God as one race, one people, one family. O God, let all the nations praise you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pablo Jimenez was born in Puebla, Mexico, and now lives in New York City. He has been a parishioner and catechist at the church of St. Francis Xavier, a Roman Catholic Parish in the Jesuit tradition, since 2017. Pablo works at the Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he promotes educational opportunities for underserved communities in NYC. He’s an avid reader of Latin American literature, Christian theology and history, and Peanuts. You can follow him here.