Tyre and Sidon were Gentile regions which shared a political alliance with Israel to defeat Philistines, their common enemy. When Israelites crushed Philistines on land, Tyre and Sidon – being coastal cities – vanquished them on sea. To bolster this relationship, Israelites intermarried with the regions of Tyre and Sidon. Jezebel, the princess of Tyre, married Ahab, the king of Israel. Later their daughter Athaliah married Jehoram, the King of Judah. Both Jezebel and Athaliah introduced their heathen rituals and idolatry into Israel and Judah which hitherto exclusively worshipped Yahweh. Consequently Israel and Judah were destroyed in 722BCE and 586BCE respectively.
It’s in this very incendiary regions of Tyre and Sidon where Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman. In Scriptures, we often find women perpetually reminding Christ of His identity, His divine mandates and promises. They also persuade Him to transcend the ethnic boundaries of His ministry and shatter the social and religious conventions. Canaanite woman was no different. Refusing to yield to the silence and spurn of Christ she remains indefatigable.
When Christ scorns her by addressing her a dog, in lieu of discouragingly retrieving she traps Him in His own words. She identifies herself with a dog and then claims that which dogs are rightfully entitled to i.e. bread crumbs from the master’s table. She demands the crumbs of the bread which the Israelites – whom Christ claims to be His children – rejected. Christ was impressed with the tenacity of her faith and granted her request.
Eventually, Gentiles were elevated from the status of dogs to children while those who rejected Christ were relegated to dogs. As Christ testified through the Psalmist; “𝘋𝘰𝘨𝘴 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘦, 𝘢 𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘷𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘴 𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘳𝘤𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘮𝘦; 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘱𝘪𝘦𝘳𝘤𝘦 𝘮𝘺 𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘺 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘵” (Ps 22:16).
The Liturgical and patristic corpus of the Church have understood the Canaanite woman to typify the Mother of Gentiles and her daughter, the Church. Church is identified as the Daughter of Gentiles and the thief whom Christ sent to Paradise is representive of the new bride of Christ. St. Jacob of Serug remarks; “𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘓𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘤𝘬 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘵 𝘶𝘱 𝘪𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘣𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘶𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘥 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘈𝘥𝘢𝘮, 𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘣𝘣𝘦𝘳 (𝘈𝘥𝘢𝘮) 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘭𝘦𝘧𝘵 𝘪𝘵, 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘢 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘦𝘧.”
Therefore when Israel – whose very meaning is to wrestle with God – outrightly rejected Christ, the Gentiles persistently wrestled with God and were bequeathed the divine inheritance. Faith should be importunate and steadfast else it’s unavailing.
Festal Greetings !
~ 𝐃𝐚𝐲𝐫𝐨𝐲𝐨 𝐅𝐫. 𝐁𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐥
Great article! The insight into the story of the Canaanite woman is inspiring and thought-provoking.