Sermon series: Questions Jesus Asked
Jesus met a desperate woman with a special needs child. Maybe you have seen her at the local at the local grocery store or at your child's school. The Gentile woman is described in Mark's Gospel as a "Syrophoenician woman." She was a mixed breed of Syria and Phoenicia. Perhaps she was ostracized from her Syrian grandparents and her Phoenician relatives. She was never able to establish a strong network of relationships, which led to an unplanned pregnancy. The boyfriend, knowing the difficulties of race relations in this part of the world, fled when she told him she was pregnant.
Somehow this courageous woman survived as a single mother. When her daughter began having seizures, most people said, "She deserves what she gets. That is what happens when you make the kind of decisions she made." Now, she is out of options and out of money. She hears that a Jewish miracle working prophet is passing through the area. He is reported to have authority over demons. This Syrophoenician mother has tried all the pagan gods of her culture, but none could help. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is different.
I. The discouragement
In addition to her physical circumstances, she experiences a series of obstacles that threaten to discourage her even more. Like an athlete running the 100 meter hurdles, she has to jump over several additional obstacles in order to reach the finish line and receive a blessing from Jesus.
Jesus refuses to answer her. The disciples falsely assume His silence was rejection, so they try to make her go away. Then Jesus told her that His blessings were intended for the Jews. If that was not discouraging enough, He then calls her a dog. Some commentators accurately point out that the word Jesus used was the term for a pet dog not a mangy dog that lived at the garbage dump, but don't assume the term is a compliment. Try telling your wife she looks like your beloved Golden Retriever. I would be surprised if she would be pleased that you called her an admirable breed instead of a mangy mutt. Her circumstances, the response of Jesus, and the rebuke of the disciples contribute to the discouragement she is already experiencing as Satan attacks her and her daughter.
II. God's design
We must consider why Jesus would lead this mother through a humbling and difficult process before granting her request. While His response does seem harsh, the lesson of persistent faith displayed through a time of testing is a common theme in Scripture. Abraham was tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Jacob wrestled with God. Joshua had to conquer fortified cities before claiming the Promised Land. David fought Goliath and lived in exile before becoming king. The Gospels record several stories where Jesus tested the disciples. Jesus said we must "ask, seek, and knock" if we desire to have our prayers answered. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:7 that God tests our faith to develop in us a faith that is greater than gold.
We must keep in perspective that having a healthy child did not eliminate all of her other struggles. She was still a Syrophoenican woman living in a male dominated and a racially sensitive culture as an ostracized single mother. Jesus used this encounter to develop a deep courageous faith that would sustain her for the rest of her life not just for a one-time healing.
III. Her deliverance
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry said, "She demonstrated spiritual quickness and sagacity" recognizing that which seems to be against us can be used for our benefit. Sagacity is one of those great descriptive words that we don't use very often in our speech. It comes from the root word sage as in a wise sage or teacher. She sought Jesus- the one with the power and authority to meet her needs. All too often we turn to futile sources to meet our deepest needs. She continued her sagacious pursuit by calling Jesus the "Son of David," which reveals knowledge of the promises concerning the Jewish messiah. Then, she referred to Jesus as Lord, acknowledging that He was worthy of praise. Don't miss the lesson that she praised Jesus in the midst of her pain. The psalmist proclaimed that God is enthroned or inhabits the praises of His children.
A second characteristic that contributes to her deliverance is her humility. We should never confuse humility with weakness. This mother is a courageous warrior fighting for her child, but she humbly submits to the Lord of the universe. Pride would have been offended by the dog comment. Pride would have returned insult for insult, and pride would have gone away empty. The Bible says, "God rejects the proud, but He gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).
A third and perhaps the main characteristic contributing to her blessing was tenacity. With the odds stacked against her, she pushes forward. When she got knocked down by circumstances and criticism, she got back up. When others told her to quit because she was wasting Jesus' time, she continued to ask. Elijah prayed seven times before he saw the first small cloud. Jesus prayed the same prayer three times in the garden of Gethsemane, and this amazing woman asks three times for help. The primary purpose of this story is to inspire us not to give up just because the hill is difficult to climb. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.
Some of Andrew Jackson's childhood friends were discussing how surprisingly successful Andy was considering all his flaws. They discussed other boys who were smarter than Andy. In fact Andy's school work was no indication that he would become the President of the United States. The friends talked about other boys who were stronger than Andy.
One friend said, "Don't' you remember how Johnny would throw Andy three out of four times when they wrestled ."
"What happened on the fourth time?" one asked.
Another friend answered, "I guess that was Andy's secret. He just wouldn't stay throwed." (Bits and Pieces)
Dear child of God. If Satan throws you down, don't stay "throwed." Jesus is waiting to bless the one who keeps getting up and pursuing the Master.