A Canaanite woman came to Jesus and called out to him, “‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all” (Matthew 15:22-23).
This is how the encounter of the Canaanite woman with Jesus begins: her plea and his silence. It’s a perplexing story that ends with Jesus praising the woman for her faith and healing her daughter. But we go through a lot of wrestling to get to the happy conclusion.
Here is another sermon gem, discovered as I look for materials to use with homiletics students at the College of Transfiguration in Grahamstown. It’s from a sermon and larger article by Paul E. Scherer (1892-1969) published in Interpretation 20 (4), October 1966, 387-399. Read the whole thing if you can find it. It’s worth your time. In it, Scherer addresses what he calls “the riddle of unanswered prayer” and Jesus’ understanding of his own vocation.
Here is a brief excerpt from the sermon (with some pronouns edited)–holy advice for us when we approach God with a request:
“He answered her not a word.” If that’s how it is with you too, instead of asking right off about God, or about religion, if there is anything in it, or about prayer, if it’s worth the trouble, why not put it to yourself, soberly; before you say “Almighty God, our heavenly Father,” put to yourself the question that takes precedence over all the others: “Whose business is this that I’m spreading out before God? Is it God’s? And what is more, how much of what isn’t God’s is mine?” It may well help to clear the air like a strong wind blowing. The weight which properly belongs on your shoulders will be back where it should be; but now God will be under it with you, and everything you hope for and all those you love will be there in God’s hands.”
Is what we lay out before God as God’s business really the business God is about?
Is what we desire something that needs some redeeming?
Do we need to get involved in what we’re asking God just to handle for us?
And good news about the outward-moving gospel, the nature of faith, and the power of God from Scherer’s article about the writing of the sermon:
The thrust of the gospel is ever outward, beyond all particularity toward the universality of God’s redemptive plan. The point is not that “a Gentile woman, by the exercise of great faith, won for herself the spiritual privileges and blessings which were first proclaimed for Jews”; the point is that the love which is eternally on its way to Calvary–because no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, it’s always on its way to us–cannot and will not suffer itself to be bound. “Faith” does not persuade some divine reluctance; it is the context of a creative relationship, within which the power of God with “infinite ingenuity” moves towards its own unforeseeable ends.
The love which is eternally on its way to Calvary is always on its way to us.
A prayer (by Scherer): Grant us, O God, to hear thy voice; and in what we think is thy silence, bring us still to listen: through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Illustration: Masters of Otto Moerdrecht, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman from Picture Bible Dutch (Utrecht), ca. 1430. The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek, from http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2014/08/ilustrating-miracles-canaanite-woman.html