Praying with Abundant Faith
From Sunday's sermon
Matthew 15:21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith!Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Now this is a great bible story.
I don’t remember hearing it in Sunday school, because, let’s face it, not everyone can handle rude and potty mouth Jesus. Plus, do we really want to teach our little girls that screaming under the table will help you get your way? I don’t think so.
In fact there are so many offensive moments that it’s a lot easier to just ignore this story or make excuses for why Jesus would call any woman a female dog.
It’s a lot easier to ignore the racial conflicts and instead tell the story about when Jesus notices the battered samaritan woman at the well and offers her Living Water.
It’s a lot easier to just keep reading and ignore this woman, like Jesus. He keeps ignoring her. She shouts and shouts, and he let’s her shout. It gets annoying enough that the disciples can’t take it anymore, and they tell him to send her away. He responds to them by saying, "I have my reasons, I was only sent for the lost sheep of Israel. The blessing for David was only for this family. I have nothing to offer her.”
Then the woman makes a dramatic entrance into the room. Before this she was shouting either from the crowds or from outside the house, now she comes to the feet of Jesus and kneels like she is in prayer, asking for humility and mercy. This woman fully states her problem to God. She sets it out with passion. She names Jesus and names her pain.
Again he refuses to help her, and his response isn’t even directed to her, even though he makes a very derogatory claim and places a limit on the claim that God sent him to do.
When we consider her request as a plea for God’s attention and not one specific healing, this miracle story actually teaches us a lesson about prayer.
Jesus says it would not be fair to help her, Her whole situation isn’t fair, it’s never fair when a child becomes sick. But she doesn’t ask for fair judgement. She never criticizes God for what has been done, instead she asks for mercy as if this has come as a consequence of sin or judgment. She is relentless, relentlessly pleading for Jesus to give her even a bread crumb of a blessing. She has faith that even a tiny piece of God's power can do amazing things. Who would ask only for the mustard seed? And yet this woman believes with all her heart that a little mustard seed can grow and give shelter and food for more than just her singular need. She is living a life of abundance, where there is enough mercy to go around even for her, where God has enough love to include even those who have been historically excluded, where God’s power can heal in ways that we can’t fully understand or even imagine, and where all people, even the stinky dogs, have a place at the table of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Walter Wink says that, “When we pray, we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House where it is sorted among piles of others. We are rather engaged in an act of co-creation, in which one little sector of the universe rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent, a vibratory center of power that radiates the power of the universe.”
Finally, Jesus turns toward her and answers her directly, “Great is your faith.” I would have loved to see the look on those disciples faces, especially those competitive brothers. “What Jesus? Great faith? You are always telling us that we have little faith, how does she get the full recognition of a “great faith”? It’s not fair!”
Jesus recognizes now that it’s not about fairness. It’s about grace. It’s about seeing the amazing power of God as bigger than the limits of this world, greater than you and me.
Living in the shadow of God‘s abundance reveals to us that when we scream and fight and put requirements on God by arguing about what we deserve and close our minds to receive only that one thing, we limit what God can offer us.
But this woman reminds us that when we are open and willing to receiving even the crumbs of what God has to offer, then we are leaving the power and the judgment to God. We leave space for God to bless us.
The power of God is the mustard seed. Make room for a little of God’s creativity and imagination in your life, and watch life sprout, grow and shelter new life.
Joni Eareckson Tada talks about her prayer life and how God gave her almost exactly the opposite of what she asked for back in high school. She had excepted Christ into her heart during junior high at summer camp and she wanted to follow Jesus but recognized that she fell short many times over and over again and by the time she was graduating high school she felt like she wanted to serve God but she just kept hitting barriers and falling into temptation. So she asked God to bring something into her life that would wake her up and help her see how to follow Jesus in all aspects of her life and to bless others through her life. Shortly after saying that prayer she was in a life-changing accident. She was on a raft with her sister and being the amazing athlete she was she took a dive without looking and ended up hitting her head, fracturing her spine, and making her a quadriplegic. She almost died that day and when she survived she ask God, “Why am I still here if I can’t live my life? Some answer to prayer you gave me.” After a period of depression, she discovered that even though there were many things she could not do, there were still many things she could do, like singing and speaking and telling people about the magnificent love of a creator who values diversity and laughs in the face of limitations. She would never walk or play sports again, but that wouldn’t stop her from living. She devoted her life to helping others see that God loved them in their uniqueness. As she says in one of her songs:
"Oh, I’ve got to be me, uniquely me.
And you’ve got to be you, uniquely you.
We’re different though the same, so amazing but it’s true. God created us just so we could help each other grow. And He wanted us to know
We need each other."
Maybe you’ve had an experience like Joni or the Canaanite women and you have felt ignored by God. Maybe you’ve been in the spot of the disciples where it feels like no matter what you do, it’s never good enough for God. Maybe you’ve even been sitting in that same seat as Jesus where you are pretty sure you know the limits to God’s mercy and you are not interested in learning about anything new.
Matthew reminds us through this testimony that we cannot imagine the greatness of God’s love. There is and always will be enough mercy to go around, for you for me for our neighbors and even our enemies. The excluded and humbled will be given a seat at the table. The dogs will lie with the lambs and the captives will be set free.
We may find ourselves in a corner or stuck on the floor with the dogs, but if we offer up our lives to Jesus and if we truly open up our hands to receive mercy, if we refuse to place limits on God, new life, new opportunities and rivers of mercy will flow into our lives.