We can safely assume that Jesus did not have an epiphany when speaking with the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. He not only knew the passage from Isaiah heard in today’s first reading, He famously quoted the final line–”my house shall be a house of prayer for all people” (Is. 56:7) when driving out the money-changers from the Temple. By now, Jesus had even healed the centurion’s servant, praising the faith of the centurion as superior to anyone in Israel. So what was Jesus doing when He questioned her?
By the end of the exchange, Jesus’ questions lead to a marvelous show of faith. What His questions do is serve to draw out from the woman–perhaps for her sake, but certainly for ours–more explicitly the great faith that she possessed. The woman’s faith is one that allows God to work on His own terms, rather than making God submit to her. She was not there to challenge or change Jesus’ mission, but to make herself a part of it in any way that she could. It is a faith that makes her will more like God’s will, and so makes her more like God. Jesus draws out from the Canaanite woman and shows to us an example of a faith that is truly transformative.
How do we have faith like the Canaanite woman? Her faith was partly born from an experience of her own limitations. She saw the torment of her daughter by a demon, she knew that she was powerless to do anything, and so she turned completely to God. St. Augustine had a similar experience when he reflected upon himself and realized that he did not have the strength on his own to live completely the Christian life–he needed the help of Jesus to succeed, and to entrust himself completely to Jesus. If we reflect on our own lives, we can find ourselves in the same weakness that St. Augustine saw, and feel the need to entrust ourselves totally to Jesus. If we can experience that need, we can have the same marvelous faith as the Canaanite woman.