“O woman, great is your faith!”

We learn in Matthew 15:21-28 that Jesus is an equal opportunity healer. Don’t judge who is worthy of God’s mercy.

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Here is yet again another woman of faith whom Jesus addresses in the Gospels. She is a Canaanite, a Semite people who worshiped a sun god, whom yet Jesus helped because she had great faith in Him. And note it is her persistence of faith that pays off. I wonder, is Jesus testing her faith, egging her on to commit to her faith? And then I wonder, is that how God sometimes works, testing our commitment, the resilience of our faith, and is it why in the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) Jesus prays, “lead us not into temptation” or put us not to the test?

In the end, Jesus attests to the woman’s faith and rids her daughter of the demon, “from that hour.”

And what is the lesson here? There are two, really. One, of course, is that when we are truly faithful God will answer our prayers, although he may test our resilience. The second is that we should never judge for whom God provides relief in times of need. Here, Jesus begins by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but He ministers to someone whose people do not even pray to Israel’s God. We see, however, that it is the woman’s faith in Jesus, “Lord, son of David,” whom we know as the Son of God, the messiah, that is the source of her assistance.

What then would Jesus say to an atheist or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist who called to Him in a time of need? This reading seems to answer the question. And shouldn’t we follow His lead?

We can also be inspired by the Christians and Muslims in France who recently attended Mass together after the terrorist killing of a priest there, a uniting of faiths often seen as at odds. Jesus showed us the way by attending to the needs of those who were not like His own people, and this Canaanite woman was not the first example. Love your neighbor. Pray for your “enemy.” Embrace the “other.” That is what Jesus would do.

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