This past Sunday was the Sunday of the Canaanite Woman.
Let us review the Gospel reading from Matthew 15:21-28
At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
The Canaanite religion was polytheistic and included Jewish beliefs, Egyptian and Mesopotamian, worshiping many gods including Baal. It is in this understanding we must interpret the strong purposeful reaction of Christ.
The Canaanite woman as a part of a polytheistic pagan religion was viewed very poorly by the Jews. The very idea of appealing to Christ was just part of the plethora of Gods she would appeal to.
So here she is asking the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to free her daughter from a severe possession. She cries out and begs and Jesus’ first response is "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.". This is direct statement by Christ because he needs to both demonstrate the universality of the salvation He offers, and also He needs to take the pagan faith of the woman and transform it into the correct way of thinking and being. Christ is always concerned about the soul and the body.
Saint John Chrysostom also makes a powerful point in his homily 52 on Matthew in describing the Canaanite woman’s response to Christ’s first statement,
St John Chrysostom says in his homily “What then did the woman, after she heard this? Was she silent, and did she desist? Or did she relax her earnestness? By no means, but she was the more instant. But it is not so with us; rather, when we fail to obtain, we desist; whereas it ought to make us the more urgent.” – from St. John Chrysostom Homily 52 on Matthew
The Canaanite woman responds by coming and kneeling before Christ and says "Lord, help me.” This passionate appeal to Christ is how we ought to pray, and this is the beginning of the example of her faith. She kneels before Christ, calling Him Lord and passionately pleas for His help. In her compulsion to help her daughter to be cured she makes bold first steps into true faith. Christ then wanting her to take the next giant step in faith and to further show the universality of Salvation says testing her publicly “It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” This was the view the Jews had of the polytheistic pagan faith of the Canaanites, that it was animalistic and a complete abomination.
The step Christ wanted her to take was the true step to the kingdom of God and her response shows clearly where Christ was taking her heart. She responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.” The giant step in faith she takes is not only an acknowledgement of the truth of Christ as master, but an act of true humility before God when she accepts what was said and refers to herself as ‘the dog that desires to eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table.’
Christ brings her body mind and soul to the true faith. His response is a declaration of her journey and that all can accept and be with Christ to receive His blessings. Jesus responds “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire."
‘Great is your faith’ has an exclamation mark because of her journey and demonstration of true faith. She demonstrates willingness to give up pagan ways and come to the truth. This is in fact evidence of her great faith as Christ publicly proclaims.
St. Theophylact writes the following regarding Christ’s statement of the greatness of the woman’s faith in his explanation of the Gospel of Matthew. He writes… “Now Jesus shows the reason why He put off healing her at the beginning. So that the faith and understanding of the woman might be made manifest, Christ did not immediately give His assent at the beginning and even drove her away. But now when her faith has been revealed she hears the words of praise, "Great is thy faith." By saying, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt," Christ showed that if she had not had faith she would not have obtained her request. So, too, if we desire to obtain something, nothing prevents us from obtaining what we desire. … Therefore the Gentiles, who were besieged by evil in that the demons were among them hunting for souls, were also made ready by humility. For the righteous were made ready for the heights of the kingdom of God.”
We must listen and understand that all people can come to Christ. It is a humble journey where we embrace Christ and depart from the darkness that has consumed us. The journey of faith is often driven by our earthly needs, as the Canaanite woman needed her daughter to be cured and freed from demonic possession. This Gospel shows that we all are able and already have the ability to truly turn to Christ. It does not matter where we are from and what we have done, we must reject sinful ways humbly before God and live in the faith of Christ. We too can receive the blessing as did the daughter of the woman who received freedom.
In Christ’s Love,
Fr Ted Toppses