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Evang./Prof. Michael P. Howard, MACS

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!" (Mt. 15:21-28)

Cause I am a Superwoman / Yes, I am (Yes, she is) / Still when I'm a mess / I still put on a vest / With an "S" on my chest / Oh, yes, I'm a Superwoman.

The above epigraph is from a popular refrain by songbird Alicia Keys. Reaffirming her strength as a woman, the mess that she is experiencing cannot break her because of her grit. The songstress exclaimed, "I still put on a vest / With an "S" on my chest /Oh, yes, I'm a Superwoman." Further lyrics in this song captivated me as Ms. Keys dedicated the song to all the mothers fighting for better days and for women trying to come home before the street lights come on. Alicia Keys inspiring words epitomize the Canaanite woman

in Matthew's gospel when she confronts Jesus and the disciples.

In our gospel reading today, the Canaanite woman needed not only her vest, with an "S" on her chest, but also an "S" inwardly to contend with three social ills of her society: outsider, exclusivity, and racial slurring. She was a superwoman but needed to use her tenacious spirit as she was an outsider from another district who dared to call out to Jesus, the insider, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!" (Mt. 15:22) And because we know that Matthew is writing to a predominately Jewish audience, a woman speaking to Jesus without a male mediator was not the norm. But this superwoman is fighting for better days for her little girl sick with a fever and no CVS around.

Next, after hearing Jesus politely say, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24), the Canaanite woman took a leap of faith. She cried again, "Lord, help me" (Mt. 15:25). The second response was a prophetic request directly challenging Jesus' love ethic. Jesus was familiar with the Deuteronic Law for the Israelites, "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength" (Dt. 6:4-5). But later, Matthew's gospel adds this truth, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:39).

The Canaanite woman knew she was not part of the lost sheep of Israel. She had no shepherd to guide her because she was an outsider. However, as she fights for a better day and desires to return home before sunset, Jesus' exclusivity does not align with her belief in the God of love. This tenacious woman believed that God loves everyone, even those who are not part of the lost sheep of Israel. She displayed a faith that could move mountains.

After facing men who thought they knew it all and the exclusive jargon of Jesus, the Canaanite woman had to meet her most formidable challenge, to be compared to an animal. Jesus, in some ways, has dismissed her earlier comments. Now He said, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt. 15:26). Again, the children are the lost sheep of Israel, and the dogs are outsiders, the Gentiles. We see the strength of womanhood on display in her response to Jesus, "... even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” (Mt. 15:27).

In other words, the Canaanite woman showed faith in being satisfied with scraps. She was not looking for some grandiose show from Jesus. She did not need some great parade of disciples to walk gallantly to her home for a great healing party. No, this Canaanite woman was saying I would be satisfied if you blessed my family, anyone you want to. Why? Because she had tasted the goodness of God as a single mother with a single income, perhaps with one child. After seeing the profound spirit within this superwoman, Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish" (Mt. 15:28). And her daughter was healed from that hour.

In the end, before the Canaanite woman returned home before sunset, she probably said, "Oh, yes, I'm a Superwoman, because 'the one who is in me is greater than the [evil one] who is in the world'" (1 John 4:4). The Proverb explains her character this way, "She watches over the affairs of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; ... “Many are the women of proven worth, but [the Canaanite Woman] have excelled them all” (Pro. 31:27-29).

If you know of a superwoman, praise her in the comment box below. Lift her in prayer for leaping over some of the hideous conditions women have endured. I am living with a superwoman, my wife, the mother of my children, and five grandchildren. Charlene Howard is a superwoman.

Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS

Facilitator, University of Dayton, VLCFF,

University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute, STEP Online,

Lead Faculty and Course Designer "The Presence of Black Catholics in the Church Today and Tomorrow" Loyola Marymount University,

Founder of Eat the Scroll Ministry

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