Sermon: Be Persistent in Our Prayer

September 09, 2018
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

James 2:1-10; Mark 7:24-30

Be Persistent in Our Prayer

The Sweet Image of Jesus
“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…” This is one of my favorite songs; I like to sing this song when I feel down. When I sing this song, I can think about Jesus as my Shepherd, friend and Savior. Those are images of Jesus to keep in our faith’s journey.  Jesus is sweet, gentle, kind, loving and caring for us. That’s how we want Jesus to be for us. Yet, the problem is that this sweet image of Jesus is not always what we experience in our real life.

Just look around and see what has happened. How can we sing “Jesus loves me this I know” to those who are terrified by wars or terrorist acts? What can we say about God’s love to those who are suffering and dying of diseases, hunger, or any unexpected accident? If Jesus is our Good Shepherd, why do so many people end up with tragedy in their lives? We don’t need to look around the world to figure out how difficult life is. We all have our own stories. We all know what it’s like.

Yes, Jesus loves us. This is what we believe and what we always cling to. But when we finish our worship service and go back to our lives, we happen to experience that the world is not easy and simple and that Jesus is not always there for us. Just ask the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. She will tell you all about it.

Insulted by Jesus
When Jesus traveled to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which is now called Lebanon, a local woman was eager to meet him because her daughter was possessed by demons. She probably heard that Jesus was merciful to people and he had a healing power; she must have had a high expectation of him. But surprisingly, he didn’t care about her situation in the first place, as he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 27). In other words, he said, “We don’t give dogs human food.” It is very racial words!?!

Is he really the same Jesus we know and believe? As far as we know, Jesus came to the world as the Savior of all humanity and taught us that whoever believes in him deserves God’s kingdom. Then how come he humiliated this Canaanite woman in front of his own disciples, just treating her as a dog? What he spoke to her was totally against his own Gospel of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation of the world.

Many biblical scholars have tried to explain it away. Some says that maybe Jesus had a long day and was now resting from his difficult works. Or he was using her desperation just to teach his disciples something. Maybe he wasn’t yet aware that he was sent to be the Messiah of the whole world, not just of Israel. Others say Jesus was only testing her to have strong faith. They offer some excuses, trying to justify his behavior, in this story. But whatever it is, we don’t like it. How can we understand that our sweet Jesus rejected and insulted this poor mother? That’s not how we want Jesus to be. But unfortunately, that is the Jesus the Canaanite woman got in today’s Gospel. And sometimes that can be the Jesus we may get in our life too.

Although we believe God is good and loves us, we know that life is neither simple nor easy at all. There are times that we are desperate for God’s help, (so we come before the Lord, express our feelings, and wait in our broken hearts) but God is still silent and nothing really happens. It’s like talking to the walls of our room or wrestling with trees in the wilderness. If you have ever felt that way, then you can understand how this woman felt when she talked with Jesus. She was shouting to him, “Lord, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession,” but he was silent and even insulting her.

Move Closer to Jesus
What do we do when we face God’s silence or ignorance? Do we give up? Do we get disappointed and angry? Do we quit the church? Do we blame God? Sometimes people come and ask me, “Why?” “Why does this bad thing happen to me?” “Why is God silent?” “Why is my prayer not answered?”  I wish I knew the answer.  After listening to you, I only have to say, “Let’s continue to pray that God will answer you.” This may sound like a cliché or a truism, but “continue to ask” was what the Canaanite woman did in her situation.

After shouting a few more words, she could have given up and gone home back. Now she had a good reason to blame Jesus. However, she didn’t give up nor step back but moved even closer, fell before him, and really begged like a dog. She even replied with some good humor, “[You may call me dog], but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). She found a way to be more persistent when it seems everyone and everything was against her. She continued to voice out, not even knowing whether Jesus would really respond to her. But she was just there before the Lord. That’s it!

She was right! As she was persistent, Jesus finally turned around and spoke to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29); “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Mt. 15:28). And that very hour her daughter was healed. She was clearly the underdog who won the prize of highest value for any mother.

So what can we learn from this story? There is nothing we can learn from Jesus in this story. We can ignore him. But I want you to look at the Canaanite woman and learn from her. She wore Jesus down, moved his heart, and let him offer his mercy on her. She was rewarded for her own persistence. Her persistence reminds us of Jesus’s words: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7).

I don’t know why Jesus acted the way he did in today’s Gospel. Certainly this story is not about Jesus but about the Canaanite woman. And it’s about us. It is about our faith. It is about our world. God may or may not do what we expect him to do, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether we are faithful and patient enough before the Lord, and before the world. To give up is only to deepen our despair. To turn away means we will miss when God finally turns around to us. If we give up, we will never know that Jesus really loves us.

Persistent in Our Prayer
“Your faith has healed you,” This is what Jesus replies to those who come forward to seek his mercy. What kind of situation do we struggle with now? What kind of God do we confront now? Is it “Ignorance?” “Is it “Rejection?” Is it “Silence?” Is it “Failure?” Is it “Despair?” Is it “Broke up?” Is it “Get lost?” Is it “Illness?” Whatever it is, this lesson teaches us to remain strong, faithful and persistent, that we may hear God say “Your faith is great! Your request is granted!”

Yes, God is good and loves us! We never doubt it. But we also know life is not easy and simple at all. Despite our faith in God, we don’t know what to do and where to go. But, remember, God has a plan for us, knows when we are in trouble, and our Lord of mercy comes to us in God’s time. Today’s lesson teaches us that in the tough days of life, we not only say God is good but also need to let God say, “You have great faith!” as we are persistent in our prayers. That is how we draw God’s grace, overcome our crisis, and transform the world.  May God’s love and compassion be poured out to you as you are persistent in your faith and prayer. Amen.