At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus says the Lord: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go out in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: "Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God."
For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel."
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock. (R./)
The Lord shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the Lord's blessings. (R./)
Then the young girls will make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows. (R./)
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
The readings speak of hope, the quality of persevering despite bad reports and long delays, and God's adjustment to our human responses. God put Israel through the paces of a strengthening process and developed the "desert spirituality" so beautifully expressed by Jeremiah: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unsown. Sacred to the Lord was Israel, the first fruits of his harvest" (Jer 2:2-3). These lines were composed by the young Jeremiah, probably about the time that he wrote the "Book of Consolation," chaps. 30-31. The passage is powerfully used at the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The final phrase "virgin Israel" continues the nuptial theme, introduced into biblical tradition by the prophet Hosea. Applied to the exiled northern tribes as a young woman gloriously happy at the moment of her marriage, but it also envisages the miraculous transformation of the sinful adulterous woman Israel in her sins, into the "virgin daughter." So hopeful is Jeremiah that he sees God's achieving what is humanly impossible.
Jesus, too, is transformative. At first he would not even answer the Canaanite woman, when his disciples came up and begged entreat him to get rid of her. Then his first words to her sound very blunt, "My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The world mission of the church was not yet clearly envisioned. Yet there are hints that he perceived a vision beyond the horizon of his words. Jesus' non-verbal commentary indicates just as much right here. First, his silence may be interpreted as an unwillingness to reject her request. Then we find that he could not simply walk away from the woman but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, by his affirmative response to her plea, Jesus steps beyond his verbal statement into the future outreach of the church, which is so gloriously expressed in the theology of Paul.
That pagan woman showed tenacious faith. The initial response of Jesus to her desperate cry for help was dead silence. When the woman persisted with her request and Jesus answers, he seems to harshly dismiss her request. But just as the woman was not put off by Jesus' silence, she is not put off by his first gruff response. She takes up his image of feeding the children rather than the house-dogs, the people of Israel rather than the pagans, and turns it to her own advantage.
Eventually the Lord rewards her persistent faith and grants her request. It seems that in his mind the time had not yet come to bring the gospel to pagans; it would come later, after his death and resurrection. Yet, this woman succeeded in bringing forward his timetable by her persistent faith.
He spoke at one point of a faith that can move mountains. This woman's faith certainly moved Jesus. This pagan woman encourages all of us to remain faithful, even when the grounds for faithfulness seem to be very weak. She inspires us to keep seeking the Lord, even when the Lord appears to be silent and distant.