Aug. 9, 2017

The Canaanite Woman's Faith Encounter

The Three Ps of our faith journey! 

"But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 

He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." 

Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." (Matt. 15:25-28). 

This is an excerpt from the gospel, a passage that challenges us in numerous ways. Can Jesus test us? Can we have our patience stretched to its elastic limit? The Canaanite woman is an example. She's insulted by the disciples, almost forced back from her demand. But she has her eyes constantly fixed upon Jesus and on the miracle, and she finally gets it. 

In Numbers, chapters 13 and 14, God commands Israel to possess the land of Canaan. Before then, God asks Moses, “You shall send one man from each tribe”, to reconnoiter the land (Numb. 13:1-2). Most of the men on mission come back distracted by the things and persons they saw, and report to Moses, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan” (Numb. 13: 27-29). That’s like saying that God is not strong enough to save them from the “big” people they are seeing in the land. 

Three important Ps in our spiritual journey include: Prayer, Patience and Perseverance. Each is vital in our understanding of the faith, and must work with the other for faith to be fruitful. Let’s look at them in relation to the Canaanite woman. 

Prayer: We can only seduce God through prayer. Think about any prayer greater than the Canaanite woman's in the discourse with Jesus, "Lord, help me". It is an exclamation of both need for God and dependence upon his strength. Prayer is a call for help. Prayer is a request for support from the divine. She keeps calling on Christ to help, to save her dying daughter. That’s all that worries her, that’s all she wants to achieve. It’s as if she knows it will come, possibly at God's time. She focuses all her energy intensely on that. Our prayers can stretch beyond our own time into God’s time. God’s time is the important part of whatever struggle we engage in. That is the Canaanite woman’s secret. 

Patience: This woman couldn't have sustained the pressure if she isn't patient. Jesus already doesn't say a word to her at the beginning (Matt. 15:23). Then the disciples ask that she be dismissed, yet she isn't deterred. Patience is the ability to remain focused, to be steady and diligent. Patience is the quality of bearing challenges without losing our temper, not being irritated in the face of opposition. The Canaanite woman gets it, and remains in pursuit of her desire from Jesus. We all can lose our patience, not the case with this woman. 

How about the seeming insulting response from Jesus? What could he mean by telling the Canaanite woman, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to little dogs"? (v.27) Of course, the Jews have nasty notion about dogs; that means Jesus almost classifies the woman as "outcast". As a stranger from Canaan, the land which God demands Israel to conquer in the Old Testament, she's not part of the "lost sheep of the House of Israel". But this lady perseveres. Perseverance sustains patience, and she seems aware of that. She remains persistent, holds strongly to her faith. She admits her unworthiness before God, “"Please, Lord, for even dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters" (Matt. 15: 27). Thus, this woman makes her way into the domains of the elect, the house of Israel. It’s like saying to Jesus, “I know, but the patient dog eats the fattest bone”. She doesn't need to belong to the house of Israel in as much as she gets what she wants. Faithful, patient dogs can gain from their master's largesse. The woman of Canaan has the secret to God’s heart, "Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted", so says Christ. 

Hey, have you been pleading for a long time with no apparent result? Have you let yourself be distracted by opposition, needs and human obstacles? Have you encountered disappointments and thought of an escape other than God? Just follow the lead of the Canaanite woman. Pray, be patient, and persevere. These are the hallmark of faith. Sometimes, they don't come so easy, the same with our requests. Yet, Jesus knows the right time, and will do it for you. Your faith can be stretched a little farther than you imagine, do not give up. 

Let your desire be granted you. Amen.