Sunday, August 17, 2014

Failures and Persistence

In this gospel, in this exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we have insights into what Israel was supposed to be, and what Israel never lived up to. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations, Israel was supposed to be like a big brother to the other nations, helping them along God's path. All of this is alluded to in his exchange between the Canaanite woman and Jesus. So what's going on in this very exchange? Is Jesus talking down to her. Is he calling her a dog?

It'd be an insult to compare her to our old dog Millie

What he is really saying is, "I was sent by the Father to his children Israel, but they rejected me. I will constitute a new Israel, one that listens to the Father." That's what's going on here. When Jesus says that it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs, he is saying that the blessings he brings are primarily for the Israelites right now. God's plan, and the way history played out in the early Church, was for salvation, the good news of Jesus Christ, to be offered to everyone through the Jewish nation.

So we need to look briefly at this woman and her emotions,what she was dealing with. But first we need to understand what she represents in this story. Who was she? The passage tells us she was a Canaanite woman. So she was in this land, but she wasn't a Jew. She was a reminder of Israel's past failures. She was a member of the people the Jews were supposed to defeat in order to claim their Promised Land so long ago. But if we read the Old Testament, we find that the only way Israel was going to have victory in battle and prosperity in their endeavors is if they were obedient to God. God entered into covenant with Israel, where he promised to bless them if only they loved him and kept his commandments.

If we look at the Ten Commandments, the Israelites kept getting hung up on the first one, "Have no other gods before me." They never dealt seriously with commandments two through ten, because commandment number one was tough enough. When Israel went to conquer the Promised Land and drive out the Canaanites and other people that were there, instead of driving them out they started adopting their religious practices, which is the exact opposite of "Have no other gods before me." And because they disobeyed the one true God and started adopting the religions of other people, they were never able to fully drive the foreign nations from the land that God had promised them. Even into the time of Jesus, the Canaanites continued to live in the land the land alongside the Israelites. So the presence of this woman is a reminder of Israel's past failures. I can only imagine that's part of why the disciples asked Jesus to send her away.

But Jesus didn't so much tell her "No" as he told her "Not yet." Like I said earlier, God wants to bless all the world, but he wanted to do it through Israel. So he told her "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He meant that Israel was supposed to be like a big brother and spread God's blessings to the world. This is how God wants to use the Church today, this New Israel. God wants to bless and sanctify the whole world through us, through you and through me. So we have to step up to the plate and be the kind of people through whom God can bless the world. That means we have to be receptive to how he wants to work in our lives, and we have to have the courage to take his love out into the world

Jesus and the Canaanite woman

Now we need to look at this woman's emotions. When Jesus says to this woman "Not yet" and she persists anyway, she becomes for us a model of faith and prayer. This woman was supposed to be a part of the people who had harassed the Israelites for generations, she was supposed to be outside of God's promise, and yet she, better than almost anyone else in Israel, recognized Jesus' power and authority over the demons that plagued her daughter. She knew that only Jesus could heal her daughter, and she didn't have time to wait. So when he said "Not yet" she persisted anyway, determined to get the only answer she wanted from the only person who could give it.

In just the same way, we too should be persistent in our prayer. But first we should examine our prayer and make sure we are asking for the right things. If we're asking God for the death of our enemies, he's probably not going to say "Let it be done for you as you wish." Even if you're only asking for a Red Ryder BB gun, he may still say no because he knows that you'll just shoot your eye out. But let's deal with the big things. When I ask God to heal someone I love, someone dying from a terminal illness, just like this woman was asking, and it doesn't happen, what do I do with that? We have to remember that Jesus didn't come to take away all the suffering of the world, but he came to suffer it with us. That's why he went to the cross. No other religion in the world believes in a God who suffers. And few other denominations of Christianity embrace this suffering God so much as to put an image of it up in every one of their churches. Jesus never promised to make all the suffering or evil go away, that's a lie the atheists try to tell us about ourselves to discredit our religion. But Jesus went to the cross to suffer this world with us.

But still, the suffering of our loved ones, the diseases and deaths that just seem to be a part of the human condition, they're intolerable if we forget the glory that awaits each of us in heaven. I realize that when you watch your parent, or your spouse, or your child sick in a hospital bed, you aren't thinking about anything else. The sun isn't shining, the breeze isn't blowing. This reality consumes your whole focus. And yet, even though you can't see it, heaven is right there. And it's ok that you can't see it, heaven is there anyway, and Jesus is right there with you, hurting just as much as you are. So be persistent in your prayer, but know that Jesus is suffering the crosses of this life with you.

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