And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying 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.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread 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, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
St Gregory Palamas comments:
“’Then came the woman,’ it says, ‘and worshipped him, saying, Lord help me’ (Matt 15:25). While at a distance she sought to gain the Lord’s forgiveness by her cries, but since this achieved nothing and he did not even turn towards her, she drew near, fell at his feet and called again for his help. All the same, she was sent away with insults. Nevertheless, this valiant woman with a courageous soul did not give up, and when she was treated with contempt and heard herself called not just an irrational animal, but a dirty and fierce one, whose voice was a dog bark rather than human speech worth listening to, she agreed and joined in ridiculing herself, but did not cease to entreat Christ.
[This poor woman has two major strikes against her. First, she is a female and not viewed highly in a male dominated culture. Christ’s disciples want Him to send her away without answering her prayer. Second, she is not Jewish but is a Canaanite, someone who rejects and is rejected by God in the eyes of the Jews. She will not be deterred in her request – her humility means she is willing to tolerate abuse in order to have her prayer answered. Her faith means she is not going to be deterred in her resolve to help her daughter.
Palamas minces no words about the bad treatment this woman experiences at the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some saints try to soften the picture having Christ only testing the woman but not really insulting her. Palamas portrays the woman as courageous in the face of being insulted and degraded to being called a dirty dog. She is not distracted from her purpose of receiving mercy from Christ despite how He originally treats her. Palamas sees her as a hero of perseverance in prayer despite being rejected and insulted, even calling her our teacher in terms of virtue.]
Let us learn from this teacher with how much patience, humility and contrition we must persevere in our prayers. Even if we are unworthy, and even if we are sent away because we are soiled with sins, let us learn not to turn back, but to keep humbly asking from our soul. We shall receive our requests from God. (THE HOMILIES, p 341)
The lesson Palamas draws from the incident is never give up on prayer, even if you are unworthy of God answering your prayer, even if God refuses to answer your prayer. Continue steadfastly in prayer, humbly begging God for mercy. And the Lord will be merciful.