Theme: Care for All
In this week’s lesson we learn to desPair of no one.
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them,
In yesterday’s story we noted how the Canaanite woman was persistent in her supplications to Jesus. Persistence in prayer was important to Jesus because he referred to it often. On one occasion he told the story of a persistent widow who kept coming to an unjust judge to get justice. She had no money to bribe him, so he ignored her for a long time. But at last he gave in saying, “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming.” Jesus concluded, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night” (Luke 18:1-8). The story does not teach that God is unjust or indifferent. It does not teach that by persistence we can get anything at all that we may ask for, for we often ask wrongly and are graciously denied. What it does teach is that when we ask rightly God does hear and will answer in his own proper time.
I do not think there is much of this strong persistent prayer in our day, at least not in affluent western lands. We are too busy to pray and too self-confident. It was different in past years. The Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards began with his famous call to prayer, and it was carried forward by prayer. The work of God among the North American Indians under David Brainard, Edward’s friend, began in the nights Brainard spent in prayer asking God to effect that great work. In the eighteenth century a revival began in a small town in Ireland that eventually spread through the entire country. It started with seven ministers who committed themselves to pray regularly, fervently and persistently for revival. When John Wesley and George Whitefield began their work, England was in spiritual stupor, a moral abyss. But a little group of believers began to pray, and God sent a revival that transformed England and even spilled over into the new world. One reason we do not have great blessing today is that there is not much of that dogged prayer and persistent faith seen in the Canaanite woman.
R. V. G. Tasker wrote about her faith,
She does not stay to argue that her claims are as good as anyone else’s. She does not discuss whether Jew is better than Gentile, or Gentile as good as Jew. She does not dispute the justice of the mysterious ways by which God works out his divine purpose, choosing one race and rejecting another. All she knows is that her daughter is grievously tormented, that she needs supernatural help, and that here in the person of the Lord, the son of David is one who is able to give her that help; and she is confident that the Messiah’s table, Gentile “dog” that she is, yet at least she may be allowed to receive a crumb of the uncovenanted mercies of God. 1
This is the nature of all true faith. It was the faith exercised by the man who came upon the pearl of great price and the man who found the treasure in the field (Matt. 13:44-46). Once seen, they did everything in their power to possess those treasures. It is the faith of those “forceful men” who lay hold of the kingdom and will not be turned aside (Matt. 11:12).
In Matthew 15 the story of Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is followed by an account of his feeding of four thousand people near the Sea of Galilee, much as he had fed a somewhat larger group earlier (Matt. 15 :29-39). What are we to make of this story?
We begin by noting its similarity to the story of the feeding of the five thousand found in chapter 14. These accounts have been favorite texts for liberal scholars who do not have a high regard for Scripture and find support for their low views here. They regard them as examples of what they call a nonhistorical “doubling” pattern in Matthew’s gospel. They point to the two times Jesus is said to have calmed a storm on Galilee (see Matt. 8:23-27 and 14:22-36); that Matthew mentions two demon-possessed men from among the Gadarenes (Matt. 8:28-34), rather than just one, as in Mark’s and Luke’s accounts; that he speaks of two blind men in 20:29-34, rather than of blind Bartimaeus alone (see Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43), and so on. It is not a very significant list of examples. They can be explained in other ways than by a theory of doubling. But whatever may be the case in these other incidents, it is clear that there is no mere doubling of the stories in Matthew’s accounts. Matthew has a purpose in what he is doing. And what is more, both feeding stories are also told in Mark, and no one has accused him of mere doubling.
1 R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961), pp.151-152
Describe persistent prayer. What can be accomplished through persistent prayer?
Why does R. Tasker find it noteworthy that the woman does not argue about her claims?
How can this be applied to your life experiences?
How do you answer one who prays persistently for the “good life”?
Challenge your prayer and Bible study group to a period of persistent prayer for a spiritual awakening in your community. If you are not in such a prayer group, find one.
When we ask rightly God does hear and will answer in his own proper time.