'Woman, you have great faith.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 14 August 2011

The Prophet Isaiah, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, painted 1726-29 (see first reading)
Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel Matthew 15:21-28 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

Jesus left Genenesaret 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.’ 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’. 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’. She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’. Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Soiscéal Matha 15:21-28 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin chuaigh Íosa i leataobh go dtí ceantar na Tuíre agus Shíodóine. Agus bhí bean Chanánach a tháinig amach as na críocha sin agus thosaigh sí ag glaoch os ard: “Déan trócaire orm, a Thiarna, a mhic Dháiví,” ar sise, “tá iníon agam agus í á crá go géar ag deamhan.” Ach ní dúirt Íosa focal ar bith á freagairt. Tháinig a dheisceabail chuige agus bhí siad ag impí air: “Scaoil uait í,” ar siad, “tá sí ag glaoch inár ndiaidh.” D’fhreagair agus dúirt: “Níor cuireadh mé ach amháin go dtí caoirigh caillte theaghlach Iosrael.” Ach tháinig an bhean agus d’fhan ar a dhá glúin ina láthair: “A Thiarna,” ar sise, “fóir orm.” D’fhreagair agus dúirt: “Níl sé oiriúnach arán na leanaí a thógáil agus é a chaitheamh chun na gcoileán.” Dúirt sise: “Cinnte, a Thiarna, agus itheann na coileáin féin na grabhróga a thiteann ó bhord a máistrí.” Ansin dúirt Íosa léi á freagairt: “Ó, is mór é do chreideamh, a bhean! Bíodh agat mar is áil leat.” Agus bhí a hiníon leigheasta ón nóiméad sin.

Vegetable Seller, Joachim Beuckelaer 

My late mother loved to bargain, when buying clothes and when buying fruit and vegetables. She usually bought the latter at the store of a woman named Chrissie Caffrey, whose sister Maggie had a similar store across the road. There were usually a few cats around but the vegetables and fruit on sale were fresh. Sometimes as a child, listening to my mother, I would think that she was insulting Chrissie the way she spoke to her. But they both would end up happy, my mother having got a bargain and Chrissie having got a sale.

What my mother and Chrissie did a couple of times a week was a form of banter with a serious purpose. My mother wasn't insulting Chrissie, she was simply looking for a good price. Chrissie didn't take any offence at my mother's words, gave as good as she got - and sold her produce.

One commentary I read on this gospel suggests that Jesus and the Canaanite woman were engaged in something similar to Chrissie and my mother, a form of banter, but with a serious purpose. The words of Jesus comparing the Canaanites, non-Jews, to dogs were insulting at their face value. But the woman didn't take offence, She wanted her daughter healed and that's all that mattered to her. She probably hadn't been among those who heard Jesus' Sermon on the Mount when he said, among many other things, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you (Mt 7:7). But clearly she had heard something about Jesus, of his love for the poor, for the sick, for the tormented. Because she persisted, giving as good as she got, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’, she heard the astounding words of Jesus, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’

It wasn't the first time Jesus responded to a non-Jew and remarked on that person's faith. Before we receive Holy Communion we pray the words of the Roman centurion who had come to Jesus with a similar plea to that of the Canaanite woman, not on behalf of his daughter but of his servant, 'Lord, I am not worthy . . .'

Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened (Mt 7:8).
The Solemnity of the Assumption

The Solemnity of the Assumption begins with Evening Prayer on Sunday. That means that a Sunday evening Mass should be the Mass for the Vigil of the Assumpion , not that of the Sunday or the Mass During the Day of the Assumption.

At the end of Night Prayer a Marian Anthem is always sung or recited. Ave Regina Caelorum is considered especially appropriate for the Assumption.


  1. This story is one of my favorites and I agree with "banter" interpretation, I wrote an essay on it years ago. The woman was probably a Greek and such dialogue would have been well known to her,and of course it was a lesson for the Jewish disciples! Jesus came to save everyone. Thank you Father for your continued support of this blogg. August 15th is the 35th anniversary of my Mothers death while on her way to play the organ at our C of E parish church, I would be grateful if you could remember her in your prayers, her name was Grace.

  2. That's a troubling passage for me. Why would Jesus refer to her as a dog? That's not very kind. I know he helps her in the end, but his first motion is to ignore her. She does ask and Jesus's first response is no. Was it a test? But if so, why call her a dog and refer to her people as dogs? And why does he initially not want to save her daughter?

  3. Diddleymaz, I will surley remember your mother Grace in my prayers. today is the 24th anniversary of the sudden death of my father John. He had been at Mass that morning as he had been every morning of his adult life.

    Manny, yes the words of Jesus, if taken literally, seem to be insulting. Maybe he was testing the woman's faith. But I don't think we can conclude that because he didn't respond immediately that Jesus didn't want to save the woman's daughter. We can find a parallel in the Wedding Feast at Cana where he initially seems to reject his mother's request.

    My mother often threatened to 'kill' me if I misbehaved. I think that every other Irish mother did the same thing to her children. But I never took here words literally and none of my friends ever took their mothers' threats literally either. I knew them, from the context, to be a warning. Language isn't only words but context, gestures, etc.

    Even worse than the threat to 'kill' me was to 'keelhaul' me. I didn't know as a child what keelhauling literally was and I'm not sure if my mother did either. But I interpreted her threat correctly as a warning that I was really out of line.

    I think if we interpret this scene as one involving banter with a serious purpose we can go beyond a literal understanding that is not an understanding at all.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  4. Yes, thank you Father. My mother threatened to kill me many times too! LOL. The parallel with the wedding at Cana is a good one. I'm sure Christ wasn't heartless. To some degree I've felt that Matthew didn't capture the event precisely. And perhaps there was a greater point to be made. After all, the woman proves to have great faith, but that great faith woould not have been demonstrated if Christ agreed up front. And perhaps calling her a dog may have had some other connotation in aramaic. We may have lost the cultural context. As you can see I've given that passage some thought. Peace be with you. ;)

  5. Father, i hope you come back to see this. This all came together for me at mass today. Jesus pushes that women to the extreme fully knowing that she will meet the test. He does this to provide the apostles and those around him what true faith is. He consciously ingores her, He consciopusly makes her feel the outsider, and He consciouly belittles her by refering to her as a dog. And then on a dime and with no hesitation He turns and grants her wish. It was all on purpose to draw the apostles and us into her great faith. It's wonderful act. God forgive me for doubting Jesus and the Gospel. I see it now!

  6. Thank you, Manny, for this comment. There's nothing wrong with being puzzled by a Scripture text. Sometimes a text we've been familiar with for years and thought we understood will hit us right between the eyes! God bless you.


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