The theme of The Stranger – the person who comes from a different culture – runs through all three Readings this weekend. This seems very apt in the context of today’s world where we are
challenged to open our hearts and our borders to the ‘other,’ whether refugee, migrant or traveller.
The Gospel reading gives no clue as to why Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. It may have been for his own safety at that time as pressure against him was mounting from the Pharisees (see 15:1-20). In that territory of the Canaanites, it would have been no surprise to be accosted by one of the inhabitants. However, it seems that the sudden appearance of the Canaanite woman was unexpected and this may explain why Jesus said not a word in response to her plea. But, like so many women in the course of history who pleaded with the authorities on behalf of their children, this Canaanite woman was not for giving up. The disciples inadvertently came to her aid, not out of kindly motives but because they wanted to stop the woman from disturbing them. How many times does this still go on in the world and in the church today when those in authority try to silence women’s speech?
What follows in this passage is thought to have been a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Through the challenges of his dialogue with the woman, his recognition of her faith and his healing of her daughter, Jesus realises that the scope of his ministry will include both Jews and Gentiles. In realising this, he fulfils Isaiah’s words in today’s First Reading: “I will bring foreigners to my holy mountain.” In the Second Reading of St Paul to the Romans, written some years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see affirmation of this missionary outlook where Paul says “I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle…”. God’s invitation is for all.
Ronnie McCabe OP