Summary: A look at what occurs when we faithfully and fervently seek Jesus with our petitions.
Crumbs of Blessing
Bethel UMC – 9:30 AM; Brooks Chapel UMC – 11:00 AM
Wednesday evening, the youth group met at Bethel. Since Amber had a previous engagement, she had asked if I could do their lesson for that night. I gladly said yes, and when I showed up on the day of the meeting I was prepared to give what I hoped would be a pretty good lesson. But I was the one who ended up being taught.
I was sharing the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand from five loaves of bread and two fish that a young boy had shared. One of the kids asked, “Why, if he had five loaves, did he only have two fish?” I just sat there for a second, wondering why I had never made such an astute observation. But before I could say anything, another one of the youth incisively replied, “Maybe he wasn’t a very good fisherman.”
I have shared with you before that I am not a very good fisherman. But it is not merely because I lack the skill to do it (though that may be part of the problem); I am not a very good fisherman because I lack the patience that the sport requires. I do not possess the stick-to-itiveness to sit there and wait for a fish to bite. Perhaps I would enjoy fishing more if I could actually go grab the fish in order to catch it. If I could pursue my aquatic prey, then maybe I would get into it a little more. Maybe the little boy felt the same way. Maybe that is why he did not have more fish. Maybe two was all he could stand to wait for.
But today’s Gospel story is not one of waiting (at least not in the sense of just sitting back and doing nothing); rather, it is one of pursuit. It is one of a woman—but more than that, a mother—who knew what she had need of, and knew Jesus alone could provide for that need. So she refused to give up until she got what she came for.
As the tale opens, Jesus is retreating from the crowds—much like we saw him do at the beginning of last week’s text. He is heading away from the masses for some private time. But he does not get very far before he is approached by a frantic Canaanite woman; evidently, she had seen Jesus passing by and ran out to where he was. She must have still been at a bit of a distance from him, for the Bible tells us that she was “…shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” (Matthew 15.22, NRSV).
One thing I notice in this opening petition is that she calls for Jesus to “have mercy” on her. Her initial request was simply for compassion—for sympathy or pity. What she was asking was for Jesus to consider her plight—what it was she was dealing with. Sometimes, we do not feel like we actually need assistance or aid in the midst of the trials we face. Sometimes that is not even what we want. Rather, we just want to know that someone cares enough to say, “I understand.” So she calls to Jesus, hoping he might show some concern for her child’s well being—and her own.
But the response from Christ is actually not a response at all. He says nothing. He does nothing. He just continues on his way, as if he had not even heard her desperate plea. This is truly uncharacteristic of the Jesus we know. Jesus was one who typically answered folks before they called, or heard while they were yet speaking. But he refrains from any such action with this woman. Why?
I cannot say for sure, but I strongly believe that Jesus was doing something that he did often and well: testing her faith. If you remember, last week I said that when Jesus is present in a situation, we can expect our faith to be tried. This was (and is) Jesus’ M.O.; he is constantly putting the faith of those who claim to be his followers through the wringer, to see how it holds up. In this way, he is able to see who truly has their heart set on him. But what is more, we are able to see for ourselves if Jesus really is our greatest desire. This particular woman had a dire need—it was for her child to be made whole. But was her need for Christ greater? We find out as we read on.
The disciples told Jesus to “send her away…” (Matthew 15.23, NRSV); they were annoyed by her very presence, and especially by her bugging Jesus with her concerns. I cannot help but laugh at what the disciples say in verse twenty-three, though; they say: “…she keeps shouting after us” (NRSV). Us? Really? Because I did not notice her asking the disciples for a thing. All I saw was her calling out for Jesus. She did not even waste her time on them, because she knew that it was not from them that her blessing would come. This tells me that we need to have a discerning spirit regarding who we carry our burdens to, and to whom we go when a crisis arises. She went to the right one, yet the disciples—somewhat arrogantly—felt that she was being bothersome to them. What a bunch of knuckleheads.