When Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ healing of the Canaanite’s daughter, they don’t say what form her ‘devil-possession’ took. I’ve never had the experience of bringing-up a teenage daughter, but I have seen how my sons, and their wives, have coped with their five daughters – and it’s easy to suppose that their experience was sometimes little different from that of the Canaanite woman. But there’s enough in this episode to suggest one or two ideas which influenced what Jesus did. It’s important to know that the ‘region of Tyre and Sidon’ wasn’t part of neighbouring Jewry, but was where many Canaanites had fled as the Jewish Empire, under Joshua, grew larger. There they intermingled, as best they could, with the Native Phœnecians, who had built the prosperous cities of Tyre and Sidon. So the Canaanites were like today’s ‘refugees’. Although they weren’t persecuted by the locals, they were seen as being ‘different from us’, and ‘second-class citizens’.
For teenagers, growing up that way is never easy: lacking a sense of ‘Personal Identity’, being ‘neither one thing nor the other’, leads young people to lose self-respect, and to behave anti-socially. Jesus understood this. So He ‘went out of His way’, to cross the Border into a No Man’s Land – and an anti-Semitic one. But this was how Jesus laid the foundation of the Kingdom which His Father meant His Church-on-Earth to be.
This Canaanite woman recognized Jesus as a Person who could ‘make sense’ of her predicament. Unlike the Jews (and many Gentiles) she was inspired to believe that He was indeed the promised Messiah that Jews were always talking about. So she decided to put her belief to the test. She greeted Him as ‘Son of David’, a Messianic Title – and fell at His feet begging Him to make her daughter whole again. Well, there followed a battle of wits between the two of them. Instead of granting her request immediately, he challenged her by quoting the Jewish twin beliefs that salvation was limited to the Jewish people, and that non-Jews were mere ‘puppies’. But the woman came straight back at Him. She pointed out that mere puppies have a place under their master’s table, eating the crumbs which drop on the floor, and were also deliberately offered more tasty scraps by some of the guests. Well, her faith, like that of the Roman Centurion (whose batman Jesus had healed); or the other centurion who came to faith in Jesus as the Son of God at Calvary: these were precisely what Jesus was looking out for in His fellow Jews – but so often failed to find; whereas the Samaritans, at Sychar Well, believed on Him. Jesus revealed both to Jews and Gentiles that, although Salvation was, indeed, ‘of the Jews’, it wasn’t exclusively for them. His vocation, on the contrary, was to inspire and lead all mankind to Faith in Himself, His Heavenly Father, and in the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Francis Gardom