Have you ever had one of those moments in which you ask yourself, “What on earth am I doing here? Why am I in this place at this time? It may be a work related situation where you think this is not what I thought my day might hold! Or you set off planning to go to a particular place, only to find that the journey evolves into something else or, as with Jesus in our Lenten reading for today, (Matthew 15:21-28), you go to a place looking for some peace and quiet, only to find that is not the case.
In the preceding chapters of the gospel, Jesus has had a number of emotional encounters with crowds, bad weather on Lake Galilee and debates with the acrimonious Pharisees and Sadducees. In an effort to recharge his batteries, so to speak, he sets off for the Northern territories only to encounter more crowds and a particularly challenging conversation with a woman whose daughter was very ill.
There are many things that can be drawn from the conversation Jesus has with the woman who is often referred to by her ethnicity, a Canaanite, but let me focus on just a couple. First is the persistence of the woman in the face of what at first appears to be a racially charged and hostile response from Jesus that equates her to a ‘dog.’ “He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”” Instead of becoming angry – and keeping in mind the objective she had in asking Jesus for help – she takes the comment and turns it back on Jesus! “”Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”” I often wish I had that sort of mind that can come up with a reply or comment like that. Given that situation it may be a few minutes before I could come up with a reply as good as that. Jesus is moved by her faith and the desired outcome is achieved. ‘Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.’
It was not only her persistence and humble nature that gained her favor, but secondly her faith. Jesus recognizes in that moment that the ministry he is being called to is not to the Jews alone, but to all who demonstrate their faith in him and the gospel, the great plan that God has. ‘We are to have ‘faith’ to see how God’s strange plan works, even though it isn’t flattering for us? Faith to cling onto everything Jesus says even when it is unexpected, and to pray in those terms rather than assume he’s going to do what we want in the way we want it’, as NT Wright puts it. Humble persistence and fervent prayer is what wins the day. Can we see ourselves acting in that way? What in our lives are we prepared to go to Jesus with and ask for his help more than once?