Pentecost 10 – St. Matthew 15:21-28
You know the scene all too well: you have probably witnessed it first hand; perhaps from time to time, you have even been the guilty party. It happens in stores, it happens in schools, it happens in homes, it happens in offices, it happens in church. And it happens quite frequently.
And there is a reason that it happens in many and various places, in many and various ways, by people of many and various ages.
Call it begging, call it throwing a temper tantrum, call it having a hissy fit, call it whining, call it whatever you want. It happens. More often than not, it works. And so it happens again.
In fact it works so well, that not even Jesus is immune to it.
A Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, and she begs, and she whines, and she pleads, and she probably even sheds a few tears. She clearly wears down the disciples who come to Jesus and beg Him to send her away; and she even wears down Jesus to the point that He gives her what she wants, her daughter is healed.
To which you and I roll our collective eyes. Because for no matter how well it works, we hate the process.
You hate it when you give in to begging or whining or tantrums; whether it is in the middle of the toy aisle, or if it is to the panhandler on the street corner. And no matter how well it works, you know that when you yourself do these things of begging and whining and all the rest, there is a part of you that feels guilty; a part of you that knows that you achieved your goal through deceptive means.
And as this Canaanite woman walks away, with a smile of relief on her face, there is a part of you that is angry that this deplorable action worked. But not just that it worked; that it worked on the disciples can be explained, they are human, no better than you or I. But that it worked on Jesus, this begging, whining, pleading; that is what hurts. If anyone should be able to resist this, it should be Jesus.
And yet, Jesus gives in. Jesus allows this woman to get the toy, the cereal, the job, the promotion, the benefit that she so desires; not because she earned it, but because her cry was louder and more persistent than all the others. She was undeterred by dirty looks and isults, and even just being ignored; she kept at it, until someone in an exasperated sigh, gives her what she wants. Today it is Jesus; yesterday it was someone else; tomorrow there will be another.
There is not much we can do about this Canaanite woman; but there is something you can do for yourself. This Canaanite woman may have stooped down low, but that will not be you. You have standards. You are more respectable than that.
And so what do you do? You do not whine; you do not beg; you do not plead; you do not complain; you do not even approach Jesus with your petitions. For that would be trying to achieve your goals through inappropriate means; and that is not who you are. You are better than that Canaanite woman.
So what do you do? You decide that instead of demanding what you want from Jesus, you will give Him plenty of leeway. As good Lutherans, you make sure that everyone of your prayers includes phrases such ‘not my will, but Thine be done’ or ‘if it be according to Your mercy’. You even go so far as to give Jesus options on how He could answer prayers, allowing Him to pick the one that best suits Him best.
And of course, no matter what, you insist that you will be happy with the answer.
You go to great lengths to ensure that you are not whining, not begging, not pleading, not even the slightest bit demanding. You will not be like this Canaanite woman, no matter what.
After all, the best you can say about her, is that she got what she wanted.
But is that the best you can say about her?
We look at Jesus and feel sorry for Him. This woman is wearing Him down with her begging; she gets on His nerves; we look and determine that the only reason He heals her daughter is to get her to go away and leave Him alone.
We look at this text, and determine that the reason this woman got what she wanted is because she wore Jesus down with her cries. When we see her walk away, we see nothing but a grown woman who was never told no as a child; who just got what she wanted, again.
But look at the text again. What does Jesus say to the woman?
Great is your faith.
That’s not exactly the response you would expect to hear.
You would expect a response of you win, or something about how the woman is focused on worldly things and not heavenly things; or even a line about the resurrection. Instead, Jesus says Great is your faith.
What is so great about this woman’s faith?
It is great, for she trusted solely in Jesus to answer her prayers; and she persistently went to Jesus, for He alone could answer her cries for mercy.
As David after hearing judgment from the prophet Nathan for his sin with Bathseeba, this Canaanite woman sits in sack cloth and ashes, begging, pleading, crying out to the Lord to hear her prayers. For David, there was no reprieve of judgment; for the Canaanite woman, there is healing for her daughter.
Both David and the Canaanite woman show us a model for prayer, a model for approaching the Lord’s throne. We approach the Lord as children approach their father’s: not with a list of options or with a variety of proposals for what we would like to see happen; but with the knowledge and the urgency that our prayers can be and will be answered.
We pray with the knowledge, that no matter what we pray for, the Lord of heaven and earth can answer as we so desire.
Today, the Canaanite woman prays for the demons to be cast out of her daughter; but that is not the only prayer that Jesus answers. If you desire good health, pray for good health. If you desire rain, pray for rain. If you desire money and prosperity, pray for it. If you desire good grades and a God pleasing vocation, pray for them. If you desire many other things, pray for that as well.
Pray as this Canaanite woman prays: with urgency, with fervency, with the full knowledge and trust that Jesus not only hears your prayers, but will answer them as you so desire.
Will they always be answered as you desire? No. David’s son still died; the people of Israel were still led away into exile; rain and prosperity and health will come and go. When our prayers are not answered as we desire, we do acknowledge it to be the Lord’s will, we accept His response, and we pray for grace to accept this decision, and move on to the next prayer.
And we hear, that not only is the faith of this Canaanite woman great; but so too is your faith, for you to pray to the one who alone hears your cries, and answers them.
Great is your faith; not because your faith is so great that you can handle the trials and tribulations of this world on your own; not because you willingly accept any and all fortune and misfortune with a smile on your faith; rather great is your faith, that you trust in the Lord of heaven and earth to hear your prayers, whether made here in the fellowship of this altar, or around the kitchen table during daily devotions, or in the secrecy of your own heart; and not only will He hear them, but He will also answer them.