Gospel Contemplation: Jesus Encounters the Canaanite Woman
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
The region of Tyre and Sidon is north of the Sea of Galilee, where we last saw Jesus. The city of Tyre is 25 miles north and Sidon is 50 miles north, along the Mediterranean shore. It is Gentile territory – Jesus is not at home here the way he is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is, however, the home of the Canaanite woman, and somehow she has heard of this foreigner and recognizes him for who he is. Jesus and the woman engage in a type of verbal sparring that might not be familiar or comfortable to us, depending on the image we have of Jesus. However, this type of back-and-forth seems very familiar to Jesus and was likely part his culture.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the whatever it is you might need in this time of prayer.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
Arriving in the region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus has walked a long way. Can you see him and the disciples, walking on the road? Are they in a town or in the countryside? What is the day like? Is it warm or cool – is the sky clear or cloudy? Place yourself there, with the disciples or perhaps along the road. Where are you in this scene? Notice everything around you that you can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.
Suddenly, from behind you comes a cry, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” You look at Jesus, but he does not respond. The woman continues to call out. A few disciples finally urge Jesus to send her away. When he doesn’t, she kneels before him in homage and begs for help. Listen and watch as they go back and forth, as he bats away her plea in what might be a teasing but assertive manner. Pay attention to how this conversation affects you.
Finally, the Canaanite wins the debate. Has this ever happened before? Jesus seems delighted, and grants her request, praising her faith.
How are you moved by this interaction? Is there something you’d like to request of Jesus, a bold desire that requires some daring on your part to voice? Or perhaps you are more affected by Jesus’ willingness to be convinced to think differently. However this conversation has touched you, spend a few moments with that, interacting as you like with the people in this scene.
And now, take some time to talk with Jesus about what you have felt and experienced. Talk with him as with a friend, sharing and listening. And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?