In this passage of Mathew’s Gospel Jesus just left the Gentile territory of Tyre and Seddon and was talking with his disciples about tearing down walls. A Canaanite woman follows after Jesus pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter who is sick. Jesus has already violated several laws, i.e. Gentile territory, speaking to a pagan, speaking to a pagan woman etc. Jesus says that his priority was to bring salvation to the “lost tribes of Israel and not to the Gentiles. Matthew makes it obvious in this passage that Jesus is the great “boundary breaker.”
Jesus pays attention to the Canaanite woman’s plea after she listened to his explanation that his priority was to care for the “people of Israel.” Kneeling she continues her request saying that even the crumbs off the table are appreciated by the dogs. Israelites did not have dogs as pets but the Gentiles did have dogs as pets. In speaking of the dogs the woman used the affection term “puppies.” Jesus is impressed by her “great faith.” Her daughter was healed.
From this brief encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman we see that God is not limited by any “theology.” Nothing stands in the way of God’s compassion. We can never have “enough” faith. Matthew challenges our categories and boundaries. The “other” can also bring us closer to God. Matthew tells us that it is the woman’s faith that is more important than the miracle.
This passage asks the question “who is the Canaanite in my life?” Who do I exclude from my circle of faith? Who is it that I exclude from the embrace of my friendship? Who is it that I exclude from the crumbs off my table?
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is a member of the Passionist Community at Sacred Heart Monastery in Louisville, Kentucky.