Do you ever feel hopeless in prayer, overwhelmed by what seems impossible? Today the Canaanite woman invites us into persistent prayer.
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My Madeline had fallen down the yellow cottage’s central stairs and landed onto the hard kitchen floor below. She was barely five, blond hair, all eyes. We raced her to the emergency room for a possible concussion. They sent us home.
My mother was staying with us and together that night we witnessed her pain and held the large metal bowl for her to get sick. We pushed back her hair and stared helplessly into fearful eyes. Then somewhere around whatever o’clock and her seventeenth time getting sick, my mom laid down on the floor and cried out to God, “It’s enough! Oh Lord, it’s enough!” I watched her tears pour out over our wood floor and that’s where she stayed.
She buried her face in her arms and held on to the hem of Jesus’ robe, waiting and praying.
That was the moment Madeline fell asleep, the sickness was stilled and we raised our hands in gratitude. It was then that my mother became my first prayer mentor.
I wonder what would have happened if the woman with the issue of blood would not have felt the blood stop trickling. Would she have gripped the rough Galilean fabric and held on tight despite the crowd pressing and shuffling around her body? Would she have wrapped her arms around Jesus’ ankles like the Shunammite woman held onto Elisha in 1 Kings 4:8-37 or doggedly sought the Healer like the Canaanite mother in today’s story from Matthew 15:21-28?
And here’s what I’m reflecting on:
I wonder if we let go too soon.
I wonder if we plant prayer seeds and perhaps through a lack of hope or a small attention span forget to return to water them.
I wonder if we are so prone to scrolling we’ve forgotten the gift of waiting. Resurrection is rarely instantaneous.
I wonder if we’ve become so accustomed to a fast-food life, to scrolling and soundbites, that we’ve forgotten how to sit and keep leaning in when we’re confused by the silence of unanswered prayer.
Here the Canaanite mother, weary of watching her daughter’s suffering, becomes our mentor for persistent prayer. Jesus is traveling through town, His feet traversing her streets, and as she spots him, she grabs onto hope and refuses to let go. She cries out: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and apparently she doesn’t stop. Her strident cry annoyed Jesus’ disciples but I can’t judge them too harshly. Their attitude towards pain is an all too familiar mirror. I recognize myself in their begging Jesus to send her away. Compassion fatigue, it’s called. I too get easily exhausted by need. I shut it out, turn away, roll up the window, turn up the radio. But this mother refused to be silenced. She may have been powerless in the face of her daughter’s suffering, but she was completely confident Who held the power. And love drove her to keep crying out.
Jesus then puts up a clear boundary between them by rehearsing his mission: “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” But she would not be deterred. In fact, she pressed closer, sank to her knees, and laid bare vulnerable need stating simply, “Lord, help me.”
This mother invites us to get comfortable with uncomfortable prayer and with the surprising beauty of weakness. She pats the ground beside her and teaches us to bring our own impossible need, to kneel down in our poverty, and learn to stay at Jesus’ feet.
But, can I just name something hard? It’s here that I find myself at a loss. Jesus’ statement, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” smacks very clearly of systematic prejudice. I have a nagging worry that it sounds like a very rehearsed racism.
But if I turn the prism another way I see other possibilities. Perhaps he saw into her heart and knew that we would need the determination of her story. Or perhaps he was trying to discern if she was just looking for a medicine man or truly yearning for a Savior? Either way, this fierce mama did not have the privilege to grasp onto an easy resentment. True love never wallows in self-pity. In this one exchange we see her deep confidence; she knows that she is looking into the face of the only One who can heal her daughter. She steps forward with courage: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.”
And this uncommon combination of pure humility and witty tenacity cuts through and Jesus was moved to compassion: “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And yes, that was the last day of suffering for her precious daughter. That day Satan was denied his fragile prey.
And honestly friends? I stand in awe of this Canaanite mother’s resolve. I’ve just begun to learn to hang onto Jesus’ hem. I’ve just begun to learn to sit in the silence, to be still, to wait.
But I want to learn, and now I have a second mentor, the Canaanite woman.
Dear one, what is your impossible case? Where do you need to develop perseverance to hold on tightly to the hem of Jesus’ garment? In what area of your life do you need to remember that your Savior, your Healer is traveling your same roads?