MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matthew 15:29
The New Testament has many passages that have troubled people for centuries. Some of them seem to show Jesus as harsh, unconcerned, even insulting. This is one of them. If we study the Gospel, then we can see that Jesus’ love and wisdom should never be doubted.
First of all, we should ask ourselves why the Word of God would place such stumbling blocks in our way, making us wonder about Jesus. This is especially worth considering, since the Holy Spirit is very concise in telling us about Christ. Much more could be written, as the ending of John’s Gospel declares. Therefore, it would have been possible for the Bible to offer us only stories that flow past us without disturbing us at all.
We think we would like God’s Word to be like one class I am taking. The professor is so kind and easy-going. He is soft spoken and soft on his students. In fact, I can hardly stay awake. If the Bible never disturbed us in any way, we would be asleep all of the time, or take things for granted.
In this miraculous healing, Jesus was first asked by a woman to heal her daughter, who was “grievously vexed with a devil.” But Jesus did not even answer the woman! Where was His love and compassion? She continued to cry, and His disciples intervened to ask Him to care of things. The request of the disciples implied that they wanted Him to grant her prayer, because His answer seemed to be a clear “No.” Jesus said He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She was a Canaanite woman, a non-Jew. He was not sent to minister to her.
First Jesus refused to answer her. Then He told His disciples that His mission was to help the house of Israel. Next, the woman worshiped Him and implored His help. But He answered in a way that would be taken by many to be quite insulting: “It is not right to take away the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” The children belonged to the house of Israel. She did not.
Three different times Jesus failed to grant her prayer for her daughter. The Canaanite woman responded in faith, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” She was saying, “It is true that I do not qualify to receive help, so I am no better than a dog. But there is so much at the master’s table that I might get a crumb.”
Then Jesus said, “Great is your faith.” The woman’s daughter was healed at that moment.
In various miracles of healing, different points are made for our spiritual wisdom. When the centurion’s son was healed, the main point was that Jesus could heal with His Word, without being present. However, that happened in this miracle without any emphasis upon the Word. When the Gerasene demoniac was healed, the evil spirit confessed Jesus as the Son of God.
In this miracle, the healing revolved around Jesus’ reluctance to answer the woman or give her what she desperately wanted for her sick daughter. In fact, this is how God often treats us. He teaches us to look at Him as our kind, gracious, heavenly Father, and to see ourselves as His beloved children. He admonishes us to ask Him for everything, all our needs. And yet, when we pray to God, our prayers do not seem to be answered many times.
God does this to discipline us and to destroy our self-confidence. That is not a typographical error. Self-confidence often means pride, conceit, self-centeredness. When God delays answering our prayers and does not seem to hear or care about us, we begin to despair of ourselves. That is a good thing. When we think we can manage things ourselves, when we make demands, we can become extremely ungrateful.
One aspect of our fallen nature is very clear. Simply receiving things in abundance will make us spoiled, ungrateful, even resentful. Times of privation, when we have almost nothing, make us thankful for what we have. Some of the most grateful Americans are those who came through the Depression and WWII. Others are immigrants. One immigrant came into the city treasury department in New Ulm, paid his real estate taxes, and said, “I want to tell you how thankful I am to be able to pay my taxes in America.” The workers were stunned.
If we think we can take of ourselves through our strength, cleverness, and hard work, then our confidence in God will decrease. In contrast, if we give up on ourselves and throw ourselves on the mercy of God, then we will give Him alone the glory for the solution to our affliction.
The miracle in this lesson offers us two examples. First of all, the Son of God does not seem to listen and yet, after a period of waiting, He says, "Be it done as you desire.” Second, the woman is not deterred by waiting or the apparent shunning of her cause. Accepting the designation of “dog,” she responds, “Even the dogs get the scraps from the table.” She is held up as an example by Jesus Himself, “Great is your faith.”
In contrast, many are those who pray to God but become discouraged. What is discouragement but a lack of courage? Courage and patience are closely related. Aristotle, who is seldom worth quoting on any topic, wrote that courage and patience are so closely related that one must be the daughter of the other.
Praying in faith means having the spiritual wisdom to realize that God will answer prayers according to His wisdom. Faith in God means trusting that His nature is completely different from ours. His thought are completely different. “My ways are not your ways; My thoughts are not your thoughts.” God may delay answering our prayers to strengthen us in faith and to kill our confidence in our own abilities, wisdom, and strategies. If we are thankless, He may wait long enough to make us thankful. If we have decided exactly how He should accomplish our will, He may grant a prayer in such a convoluted way that we have to concede, “God alone did this.”
False teachers instruct people in how to demand and get from God exactly what they want, when they want it. God is not so weak nor so deaf that He cannot turn this around on them. They get exactly what they want and when they want it, to their destruction. They become more and more puffed up in their pride. They create their own destruction by being proud, unthankful, and conceited.
So we see in this Canaanite woman no questioning of God’s goodness. Her mission is so important that she cannot stop asking. Prayer to God requires faith. Her faith is undaunted by all the apparent roadblocks: the initial silence, the comment made to the disciples, and finally the response from Jesus Himself.
In Christ we have the source and giver of all spiritual treasures: forgiveness of sins through the cross, eternal life, the peace and joy of the Christian life, the blessings enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. Nothing is beyond the reach of God. He can bestow His wealth of blessings upon everyone.
Thankfulness and humility lead us to pray for others, to pray for what is most important for ourselves (in the eyes of God), to pray for faithful pastors and congregations.