Matthew 15:21-28 | “Persistent Prayer”
Misericordias, Lent 2 | 24 February 2013
This is the Sunday of persistent prayer, when the Holy Spirit would encourage us to not grow weary in our prayers, but to persist in our petitions to our heavenly Father. And the example set before us is the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus.
Here’s what we know about her. First, she’s a Canaanite, that is, she is not a Jew, but a foreigner. This is a big dead, here and throughout the New Testament. The foreigners were not part of the people, and therefore they did not participate in the Old Covenant, the promises God made to Abraham and Moses, and that forgiveness that He distributed through the temple and ceremonies of the Old Covenant.
The Jews at this time had taken this even farther, and they despised the Gentiles. (The book of Acts has as one of its major themes the difficulties of the Jewish Christians as the Holy Spirit continues to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles.)
So this woman who comes to Jesus is a Gentile, but not just any Gentile, a Canaanite. The Canaanites were to be driven from the land as Joshua brought the Lord’s people in to possess their inheritance. So that there are Canaanites still hanging around is testimony to the people of Israel’s disobedience.
We also know that this woman is a mother. She comes to Jesus to pray for her daughter. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Besides the love of Christ for sinners, there is no greater love than a parent for their child, and this woman has that.
She also has some spiritual insight. She knows that the thing that is troubling her daughter is not a natural illness, but a demon. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she knew the Scriptures. Many of the pagan false doctrines included the demons.
But, we see that this woman did have faith, true faith, in Jesus. How, we don’t know. But the Word of Christ had reached her ears, and she had believed the promises; she trusted that this Man was the one, sent from God to rescue sinners. She even calls Jesus the “Son of David,” showing that she knew something of the promises that the Jewish people were waiting to be kept.
So she knew her trouble, and she knew her Lord, and she prayed. This is the source of all our prayers. We know our trouble, and we know our Lord. We know what we need, and we know who can help us.
I have talked to a lot of people right in the midst of trouble, and I’ll ask, “I don’t need to remind you to pray, do I?” And the answer is always the same, “Pastor, all I do is pray.” Right. Our troubles teach us to pray. And they teach us to trust.
This, in fact, is what prayer is, our faith but to words. Knowing that the Lord who hears us and loves us will keep His promises to us, and hear our prayer. But it’s not easy. In fact, I think text helps us to escape a very mechanical view of prayer, like God is a machine and not a Person, like prayer is some lifeless endeavor. When we pray we are talking to the Father, or to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, to a Person.
Look at how it goes with this woman and her prayers. She comes to Jesus with her request, and He flat out ignores her, acts like He can’t hear her.
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word.
But this doesn’t stop her. She continues to put her request to Jesus, because she know Him, by faith (and not by sight) to be the One who answers prayers.) So much did she perster Jesus that the disciples start to pray to Jesus against this woman!
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The silence of Jesus is broken, but not to this woman, to the disciples. But it is enough; she knows that He has heard her, and she knows that her prayer is half-way answered.
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”
And at this the contest is won. Jesus has spoken to her and given her a word, a word for her to trust, to believe; He calls her a dog. It looks terrible to us, an insult, who would take that from Jesus? Faith.
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”
If you will call me a dog, I’ll take it. I’ll be a dog and ask only for a dog’s due, the crumbs from the table. This is prayer, taking Jesus at His word, holding it, holding Him too it.
Luther preaches beautifully on this text. He notes that this is exactly what Jesus wanted. This woman had Jesus by the word, and Jesus wanted to be had by His word.
28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Beautiful. And, I suspect, very helpful for us. The Bible comes along and insults us, calling us sinners. But instead of being put off by this, we grab hold of it, take it, and ask Jesus to treat us as He treats sinners.
“Lord, You said that you came to save sinners. If you call me a sinner, I’ll be a sinner, a sinner die for by You. Give me what sinners need, and forgive me.”
This is the pray that Jesus loves, the prayer that He answers. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO