The Canaanite Woman

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A); Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Christ at 33 - by Hofmann

The apostles thought she was a nuisance and asked Jesus to get rid of her.  Jesus had gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon, modern-day Lebanon, and a local woman approached him for a favor.  This was pagan country, home turf of the infamous Jezebel.  The inhabitants of these parts were fondly referred to as “dogs” by their Jewish neighbors, who viewed them as unclean.

Did Jesus too regard these people with disdain?  At first glance it appears so.  She cries out, “Lord, son of David, have pity on me!” and makes him aware that her daughter is troubled by a demon.  He ignores her at first.  Then he rebuffs her.  “My mission is only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  She is undaunted and, as if she did not hear him, insistently cries out: “Help me Lord!”

Then comes what many would take as a put down.  Jesus says: “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”  She could simply have taken offense and walked off in a huff.

But instead she persevered, responding with humility and wit: “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus could no longer resist: “Woman, you have great faith, your wish will come to pass.”  And immediately, her daughter was delivered from the power of evil.

Many people think faith is “belief that” . . . Belief that God exists, or that Jesus is the Messiah.  This woman certainly has this kind of belief.  Though she is not a Jew, she calls Jesus “Son of David,” which means she believes that he is the anointed king of Israel foretold by the prophets.

Yet faith is more than “belief that.” It is belief in.  To believe in someone is to trust them, to entrust something of value to them, even to entrust one’s very self to them.  Here, the woman entrusts the destiny of her daughter to the man who stands before her.  And desire for her daughter’s salvation propels her to pursue him, to seek him tirelessly until she obtains what she believes he can provide.

Jesus often rebukes his disciples for having little faith.  Their faith is little because it cowers before every obstacle.  This woman’s faith is great because it disregards every obstacle.  He is the King of the Jews.  She is a Gentile.  She asks; he is silent.  She asks two more times, he says no.  She doesn’t care.  She just keeps on coming.

Notice that though she is insistent, she is nonetheless humble.  She does not dispute Jesus’ “preferential option for the Jews.”  She does not arrogantly demand to be served first.  She’ll settle for leftovers.

Jesus had come first for the people of Israel, then for the whole world.  He was only in phase one of his mission.  The time of the Gentiles had not yet come.  But the great faith of this woman appears to have induced him to move forward the timetable.  It reminds me of another woman of faith who moved forward Jesus’ timetable when the wedding guests had no more wine (John 2).  His first response appeared to be a no, but her determined perseverance turned it into a yes that launched his public ministry.

There is a place in the gospels where Jesus says that faith can move mountains.  Here we see that faith can move something even more formidable than mountains–it can move God himself!


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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