Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
How often have you heard people say that prayer is a waste of time because it is never answered? Perhaps you have expressed such sentiments yourself. We have all experienced times of great anguish in our lives. At such times we will have uttered prayers. We will have seen those prayers as being both justifiable and reasonable, whether they were prayers for healing, certainty or success. Then, when we have not come to know that healing, certainty or success, we will have wondered about the efficacy of prayer.
We live in an age of instant gratification. When we want something we expect to get it immediately. We do not like waiting for our wants to be satisfied. We do not like the thought of having to work towards achieving our aims and ambitions. Like the proverbial ‘spoilt child’, we want everything NOW!! In recent times we have had to rely heavily on the internet for the provision of goods and services. Internet shopping has turned into big business. But, rather than waiting just 24 hours, we can now order early in the day and get our goods delivered before 10pm. We live in an age of instantaneous gratification, an age that expects God to answer our prayers by return.
God does not work like that, of course. Today’s reading reminds us of that. When the Canaanite woman came to Jesus in need of healing for her daughter we read that Jesus’ immediate response was one of silence: he did not answer her. He then goes on to justify his silence by saying that his healing touch is not just an on-demand commodity. He also explained that his mission was for a specific group of people, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Such a response often leaves us in shock. A mother is in great need because her child is sick. That mother turns to Jesus for help and he ignores her. Is this the Jesus we believe in?
There is, of course, more to this story than we see on the surface. This account of the Canaanite woman’s meeting with Jesus is a lesson in the importance of faith. If we just throw prayers out in moments of desperation we will be in no position to recognize whether they have been answered or not. Prayer is part of our faithful engagement with our loving creator God. Jesus was the promised Messiah who came to earth to bring redemption to the Jewish nation. Jesus was also the promised Messiah who came to bring the whole of humanity into a new relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in our faithful response to his call in our lives.
The Canaanite woman showed us what true faith can do. She was desperate and she came to Jesus for help. But, her response to Jesus shows that this was not just a superficial cry for help, it was a faithful response to what she had come to know of Jesus. Let us pray that we might enter into a similarly committed relationship with Jesus. Let us, in that faith, take all our cares to him, and let us then wait for him to answer those prayers in the way he knows to be to our best advantage.