It’s getting tougher out there. Jesus said that “because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
I ran a few marathons in my younger days. On the race that I had trained for the least, my mind kept thinking of other things I would rather be doing, like sitting in a Jacuzzi. Winning the mental battle rivaled the physical pain, and giving up looked like the preferred option. Whom do you know who might be thinking about quitting the race? Many good people will. I hope you are not one of them.
Jesus had just experienced another unsettling encounter with the religious leadership. He withdrew to the north of Galilee for a retreat with His disciples. “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it” (Mark 7:24), but it usually didn’t work for the Son of Man to travel incognito. “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession’” (Matt. 15:22). She properly identified Him not only as “Lord,” but this non-Jew called Him the “Son of David.”
The Jesus we know is moved by the faith of parents on behalf of their children who struggle, especially when the cause is rooted in the arch-enemy, and when we are told that this little girl is hopelessly demonized (7:25). We expect Jesus to move into action. Matthew says that “Jesus did not answer a word” (v. 23). Not a knowing nod that could say, “I am thinking about it.” Not a polite, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Nothing.
Don’t give up when God is silent. The inactivity of God can disturb even mature suffering saints. It did for the elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, called “righteous before God.” Why doesn’t God say more and do more?
We can interpret God’s silence as disfavor. Maybe I was wrong in asking. Perhaps my timing was off. I probably need to learn something first. He’s teaching me a lesson because of what I did last year.
At other times we interpret His non-response as absence. If He is not talking, He must not be here. In fact, silence often reveals love. Jesus is drawing this woman into a place where she will see His power demonstrated. He is quietly setting her up for a miracle.
Don’t give up when people are impatient with you. While Jesus was silent, the disciples were not; they were irritated. Some people are bugged by our hardships. What plagues us perturbs them, making our battle harder. No one could feel for the daughter the way the mother did. The disciples, however, wanted their time with Jesus. They deserved this exclusive retreat. “So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’” (v. 23). Make that the second “no” she received.
Don’t give up when you are overlooked. When Jesus opened His mouth, it was worse than His silence. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). The Son of David knew His target audience—and she didn’t match His agenda. She had recognized that something about Him and His religion didn’t fit her practices. But then Jesus let her know about her inferior nationality. Too bad for the Canaanite.
Questions bombard our troubled minds as we attempt to take a passive God off the hook. It does not feel good to be ignored, especially by heaven. We want to ask, “Don’t you see me, God? Can’t you hear? Why aren’t you doing more?” To ignore is to insult. Perhaps she thought, “Maybe I’m being rebuffed because I’m the wrong gender.”
She still somehow heard love coming from Jesus, even behind the sharp words that should have excluded her from His help.
Don’t give up when you are insulted. Okay, one more negative, and potentially the hardest, one that would have sent most of us away in disgust. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 26). What is He? A racist? A bigot? Is He calling her a dog? Sounds like it. But instead of turning and stomping away with her daughter still demonized, she says in effect, “That’s right. How about letting this dog have just a few crumbs? It wouldn’t take much.” What incredible persistence.
Jesus cannot but respond to her astounding endurance: “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (v. 28). Don’t call God reluctant. He simply asks people to press in. We want to say, “If it be your will,” which matches our passive stance, not His. Our faith easily drifts into fatalism. It resigns itself to an inferior situation rather than persisting and rising to a greater possibility.
Faith, on the other hand, grabs on and does not let go. It does not demand God like a stubborn toddler, but it seeks Him in a way that He wants us to. God is called “the rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). People of faith lock in on the love of God even when it doesn’t look like love. Rather than being thrown by bewildering circumstances, they choose to believe that God is good.
The Canaanite went after Jesus in a way few ever did—and He memorialized her faith. She got a bead on Him and could not be distracted. And an unnamed woman of the wrong race gives us a powerful message: “Never, never give up!”