The Lord said to Moses [in the wilderness of Paran], "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them." At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
They told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan."
;But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we." So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, "As I live," says the Lord, "I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very desert; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure." I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this desert they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.
Our sin is the sin of our fathers;
we have done wrong, our deeds have been evil.
Our fathers when they were in Egypt
paid no heed to your wonderful deeds. (R./)
But they soon forgot his deeds
and would not wait upon his will.
They yielded to their cravings in the desert
and put God to the test in the wilderness. (R./)
They forgot the God who was their saviour,
who had done such great things in Egypt,
such portents in the land of Ham,
such marvels at the Red Sea. (R./)
For this he said he would destroy them.
But Moses, the man he had chosen,
stood there in the breach before him,
to turn back his anger from destruction. (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 encourage hope and perseverance in spite of rejection and delay, for God is merciful. The Israelites gave up too quickly, in face of giants and a heavily walled city guarded by a fierce and strong people. But the Canaanite woman who met Jesus would not take no for an answer.
When people came to Jesus for a favour, often he waited until they were fully ready. At first he would not even answer the Canaanite woman, and his disciples begged him to send her away. Then his first words to her sound discouraging, "My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." His world mission was not yet envisioned, though elsewhere he hints that there will be no barriers. Jesus’ silence only seemed to signal unwillingness to grant her request. Still, he could not simply walk away from the woman but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, by granting her plea, he goes beyond his verbal refusal towards the future outreach of the church, so gloriously expressed in the theology of Paul.
We must admire the tenacious faith of that pagan Canaanite woman. At her first cry for help, Jesus seemed indifferent to her desperation. When the woman persisted and Jesus addresses her directly, he seems to dismiss her rather harshly. But just as the woman was not put off by Jesus’ initial silence, she is not put off by his apparent refusal. She counters Jesus’ 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. Then he praises her persistent and humble faith and grants her request.
Within this story there is the implication that during his lifetime Jesus did not make much effort to bring his message to pagans. This time would come later, after his death and resurrection. But this woman succeeded in bringing forward that timetable by repeating her request in the face of all resistance. Elsewhere Jesus says that faith can move mountains. This woman’s faith certainly moved him. This pagan woman encourages all of us to persevere, even when our prospects seem bleak. She inspires us to keep trying, even when the Lord seems silent and distant.