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Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Mt. 15:21-28

Jesus had gone to the district of Trye and Sidon because He was tired and wanted, for a little while, to escape the pressing demands of His ministry. Saint Mark’s account of this event says, “He retired to a certain house and wanted no one to recognise Him.” The plain truth is that Jesus was trying to hide.

We have all felt this way at some time - when we just don’t want to answer the door! We are tired of neighbours or of salesmen, tired of people making demands on us. We just want peace and quiet. Jesus too had need of this respite.

If Saint Matthew’s chronology is accurate, the Lord had engaged in some difficult discussions just prior to this event. He must have been terribly weary of small-minded people. Anyone who has ever been serious at all about serving God can identify with that feeling. Petty people can be painfully exhausting. But here in this unexpected place, Jesus met a woman who was more concerned for someone more than she was for herself. To this uninvited and seemingly unwanted visitor, He ended up saying, “Woman, you have great faith.” That statement seems to draw a contrast between the big and the little. Jesus had been dealing with some little people. Here at last was someone who understood the real issues of life.

What led Jesus to praise the faith of this woman? She came to Him because her daughter was possessed and she wanted help. Those of us who think we know Jesus find His behaviour on this occasion unbelievable. Initially He ignored the woman; He did not even speak to her. Was this because she was a Gentile and unclean in Jewish eyes, and it was considered worse than demeaning to talk to a Gentile woman? But she kept making a nuisance of herself and His Apostles, who were feeling very uncomfortable and embarrassed, wanted Him to give her what she wanted. Then Jesus spoke to say, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel!” His reply seems uncaring, even dismissive, to our ears.

The woman was not going to take 'No' for an answer. She came close to Jesus and knelt before Him pleading, “Lord, help me.” At this point Jesus was not going to let cultural differences or Jewish convention defeat the healing Grace and Love He longs to bestow on those who recognise their need and who turn to Him in Faith.

The woman addresses Jesus both as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’ which Jewish prophetic belief attaches to the coming Messiah. Yet, despite all the miracles and healing of His Ministry, Jesus’ own people, including His disciples, had not made that connection. The revelation of Jesus as 'Lord' and 'Saviour' is always a gift of the Holy Spirit, and its effect on this troubled woman is a dramatic outpouring of bold and confident faith in Jesus.

Jesus knew that this Gentile woman was no ordinary woman. She was intelligent and determined. She was not going to leave Him without the help she wanted. A rapport was starting to build up between them. He was going to tease her and see how she would respond. She sensed this. She could see the playful expression in His eyes, and the challenging but kindly tone of His voice, and nothing He would say would deter her. He started off by saying something very demeaning, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs”. That would have been enough for another person without a sense of humour to tell Jesus in no uncertain terms where to put His miracles! Not this woman. She was quick. She replied, “Ah yes, Sir, but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table”. What a lot is contained in those few words. She understood that Jesus had come to offer salvation to the Jews first, but she was pleading just for a crumb of His help. How could Jesus refuse? I’m sure He would have loved to have embraced her as He said, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

Like Jesus we must learn how far we can go when teasing people. Sometimes we can play with people only to realise we have offended them gravely. We have to be very careful that we don’t hurt others.

If there are times we are the subject of someone’s banter, I hope we can be half as strong as this woman and give back as much as we can receive, that we can be big and not petty.

Lord Jesus, when we ask things of You may we have the determination of that woman. Let us tell You we are not going to give up on our request which must be answered … if it is Your Will.

This is my favourite Gospel and, if I get to Heaven, I want to meet that woman and congratulate her for her Faith and determination.

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