'She said, "Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed...' -- Mt 15:27-28

This Sunday's Gospel (Mt 15:20-28) recounts a very human encounter with Jesus, one with which we can readily identify.

A desperate mother approaches Jesus. Her daughter is in great need. She will do anything for her daughter. Despite being seen as a pest, this mother will not be deterred.

Jesus seems to be stern and refuse her request -- three times. She still persists, so her prayer is answered.

In the first reading (Is 56:1,6-7), we hear a wonderful prophecy from Isaiah, promising that God's justice will be revealed and His salvation will come, even to those who are not part of the Chosen People. God's love will not be bound by any sort of boundary!

The universality of God's love is such a theme in Isaiah that we use it during Advent when we focus on the coming of the Messiah for everyone. Psalm 67 takes up this theme as it sings that all nations should be glad and exult, and all peoples can praise God -- not just a select few.

Normally, the second reading at Sunday Mass is not necessarily connected with the other readings. This Sunday, however, the second reading (Rom 11:13-15,29-32) ties in with the other passages from Scripture.

Paul's point
In St. Paul's letter to the Romans -- written, scholars think, around 56-58 AD to the early Church in the imperial capital of Rome -- Paul writes of his mission to bring the Gospel to all nations, including the gentiles.

God's gifts, he continues, are irrevocable, but they are also given to all, especially God's gift of mercy. Again, God will not be not hemmed in by boundaries!

This helps us to understand the Gospel encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Notice how often evangelization (people coming to faith and a loving relationship with Jesus) happens when people meet and experience Jesus. Jesus does speak to crowds, but, often, He has life-changing encounters with one or just a few people.

Perhaps this is a great model for evangelization today. We need programs and courses, but becoming disciples and being disciple-makers often happens through encounters like praying, sharing a faith story or simply listening.

In our Gospel, there is a wonderful dynamic at work that gives us a model for our discipleship or disciple-making. First, we see that God's love and mercy is inclusive and not exclusive, not bounded but boundless, not merited but gratuitous.

She persisted
Sadly, we can put boundaries around it or make it exclusive. It is like the air that is all around us: We can choose to hold our breath or, worse still, prevent others from breathing!

The woman in the Gospel shows us what qualities are needed to breathe God's air:

•  She was a woman of dogged faith, indeed!

•  She had great hope: She just knew that Jesus could help her and things would turn out well.

•  She was a woman of unselfish love. She did not care that she was creating a scene or being rebuked. She loved her daughter and that love gave her spiritual courage and determination.

•  She had deep humility: She did not stand on her dignity or status. There was no whining or sense of entitlement. She knew she came to Jesus as a beggar, with nothing. She depended on Jesus' love and mercy.

So, as Jesus says, "O woman, great is your faith; let it be done for you as you wish."