Was the Canaanite woman correcting Jesus’ mistakes?

Annibale Carracci, Cristo e la Cananea, 1595, Parma

The story of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) is a good example of how there is not necessarily a plain and simple meaning in the scriptures. If we look at it purely on the surface we are not going to get anywhere fast by asking naively “What does this passage mean to me?”

First of all, we need to submit our minds to that of Christ made explicit in the magisterial teaching of the Church. From this source, we know that Jesus Christ is truly God made man, and that his humanity is perfect and free from sin. Following the settled teaching, we do well also to listen to St Thomas Aquinas who asks the question of whether Christ learned anything from man, and answered in the negative. (ST 3a q.12 art.3) As St Thomas says, Our Lord did advance in acquired knowledge from experience, as is affirmed in Luke 2.52, but not in His infused knowledge or (still less) His beatific knowledge (ST 3a q.12 art.2). Put in another way, Our Lord grew in human knowledge from experience, but did not grow in either His divine knowledge which he had in common with the Father, or in the knowledge divinely infused in His human nature. Concretely, he did not need to be taught moral lessons by people or to get mistakes corrected.

From these principles, we know that in the episode of the Canaanite woman, Our Lord is not learning from her that He has been mistaken and that His ministry extends to everyone, or that He has been too harsh, and must treat other races kindly. Something else is happening here.

The woman calls Our Lord “Son of David.” She recognises Him as a messiah. However, if He is merely a human messiah who has come to give political liberation, then His mission is only for the people of Israel, and since she is a gentile – a “dog” in the language of the time – then He cannot help her. In the parameters of a purely human messianism, the food for the children cannot be shared with the dogs. However, the woman goes further and protests that even the dogs can feed from the scraps left over from the table. By this she shows faith in the universal Messianism of Christ which goes beyond human liberation. She has at least an inchoate faith that He is more than a human Messiah, that He is indeed the Son of God. This is emphasised by her calling Him "Lord."

Consequently Our Lord praises her faith as He did that of the centurion, and welcomes her not only to the scraps, but to a full seat at the table of abundant grace which He has come to bring the whole world. Hence she receives the gift of the exorcism of her daughter according to her greater faith: “as you will.”

This seems to accord with the exegesis of St John Chrysostom, quoted in the Catena Aurea:
“This was the cause why Christ was so backward, that He knew what she would say, and would not have her so great excellence hid; whence it follows, “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee according to thy will.” Observe how the woman herself had contributed not a little to her daughter's healing; and therefore Christ said not unto her, ‘Let thy daughter be healed,’ but, “Be it unto thee according to thy will;” that you may perceive that she had spoken in sincerity, and that her words were not words of flattery, but of abundant faith.”
I accept that scripture experts may have other insights to offer and corrections to make to my attempt to explain this passage, but it is always a good idea when looking at the scriptures to bear in mind that if we have some super-duper new idea which contradicts the teaching of the magisterium of the Church in general council, and the teaching of our greatest fathers, theologians and doctors, then

1. It has probably been thought of many times before and rejected as heresy
2. We are the ones who are mistaken, not Jesus.

Popular posts from this blog

1962 Missal pdf online

SPUC Clergy information day

When people walk away with Holy Communion

Saint Gabriel

Plenary indulgences not impossible