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Friends, the Gospel for today is the account of the persistent Canaanite woman. Like all of the “hard” Gospel stories, it packs a spiritual punch.

God’s salvific purposes are for the whole world. Israel was chosen so that it would be a vehicle for the salvation of all. Therefore, Jesus’ primary mission is indeed to his fellow Jews, but throughout the Gospels, there are hints that his ministry has a wider purpose.

When Jesus enters a pagan territory, a Canaanite woman calls out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” She represents the longing of the world for the justice, the mercy, and the love of God. She senses correctly where this is to be found. She embodies the hunger of lost humanity.

Jesus’ responses move from silence, to an indirect rebuke, to an outright insult. And rolling with the punches, the woman responds with faith that pleases the Lord. Is Jesus testing the woman in order that she might know just how great her faith is? That was St. Augustine’s explanation for why God sometimes says no to repeated prayer. And this is why perseverance in prayer is so strongly recommended in the great tradition.