What Jesus Learned from the Canaanite Woman

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who asks him to heal her daughter, who is being tormented by a demon. Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman persists, “Lord, help me.” He refuses again, saying “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Still she persists, arguing that “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Finally, Jesus is persuaded to do as she wishes.

This encounter reminds us that even Jesus needed to grow into an understanding of his mission. Many people seem to think Jesus came out of the womb with a full understanding of his destiny. This ignores that fact that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine and that he grew in knowledge and understanding.

When Jesus first sent out his disciples, he tells them (in Matthew 10), “Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” It is clear that in the early part of his public ministry, Jesus viewed himself to be the savior of the Israelites – and thus his disciples were charged with gathering the lost sheep of the House of Israel. However, by the end, he is saying something very different. In each of the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus commissions the disciples before his ascension. In Matthew, Jesus says, “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, he tells them to go into the “whole world.” And in Luke he tells them it is written in the law of Moses that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.”

When we are so sure that we have it right, it is good to remember that even Jesus didn’t have it right from the beginning. Even Jesus had to continue to discern and to pray and to grow in his understanding of his mission.


3 thoughts on “What Jesus Learned from the Canaanite Woman

  1. I think you analysis of this Scripture is not only wrong but could be understood as heretical; this is Raymond Brown baloney. But this modernist interpretation ironically ignores a very deep and controversial aspect of this passage. Here Jesus testifies as to His Jewish Messiahship and His obligation to fulfill the Old Covenant to be the promised Messiah. As we see often in the NT, for the most part, the Jews reject Him, as He is not the Messiah THEY want.

    They wanted an earthly Kingdom again, but as the Lord says, my Kingdom is not of this world. Furthermore, what would they have done if they regained the “old kingdom”? Just ask the Palestinians today.

  2. This reading is a reminder for sure that all humans must continue to grow in wisdom (and stature) — we never see the whole picture, but slowly we see more and more of it. Jesus, as Messiah for the Jews is not wrong, just incomplete… Jesus growing in understanding that He is Messiah not only for the Jews, but for all humankind is an enlarged understanding of who he is.

  3. Again, I think Liz assumes the understanding of “the Jews” as to their Messiah and what Christians came to understand the role of the Messiah to be are very different-Jews did not think they needed a Redeemer (or thought the gentiles deserved one) nor have they thought they have ever needed one.

    Why is it assumed Jesus is not speaking ironically here-so as to test the faith of the Canaanite woman? There are many examples of Jesus being impressed with the faith of pagans and gentiles and Samaritans-usually at the verbal expense of the Jews.

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