In the gospels, only two people are commended by Our Lord as having ‘great faith’. One is the Roman centurion, whose words we repeat every day at Mass, and the other is the Canaanite woman we hear about today. Both were Gentiles, both were outsiders who would have been considered unclean by most Jews.
Because she was a woman as well as a Canaanite, this desperate mother already had two strikes against her. But that didn’t stop her. Out of love for her daughter, and with faith in Our Lord’s power to heal, she didn’t let these handicaps get in the way. She addressed Our Lord in Jewish terms of faith: “Lord” and “Son of David.” When Jesus made no reply, she persisted.
Receiving yet another rebuff, she cleverly and humbly acknowledged Our Lord’s words, but boldly pointed out that even she—an alien to the Jewish covenant—could benefit from Our Lord’s ministry to the Jews. Jesus commended her great faith and healed her daughter.
There are two key aspects to this woman’s faith. First, she was humble. Second, she was persistent. She paid Jesus homage—which many of Our Lord’s own people didn’t—and she was quick to acknowledge her lowly position as a non-Jew in God’s plan of salvation. As for her persistence, she wasn’t put off by Our Lord’s silence, or by the rebukes of the disciples. Instead, these obstacles made her draw closer to Jesus and intensified her request.
As Catholics we sometimes think we know it all, and yet we can learn some valuable lessons from those we would consider to be outsiders. We learn two huge lessons from the Centurion and the Canaanite woman. We learn that we, too, must grow in both humility and persistence. Every day, we face challenges to grow in these two virtues. If we keep our eyes open and our hearts pure, we will surely grow in both humility and persistence.