There are two stories in the Gospels that I like that I keep mixing up. I’m going to try to get a grasp on them here and maybe figure out why I like them so much. Most of the translations are from the NRSV translation, but I may have gotten those mixed up too. I have used several different websites to copy and paste these verses from and they have different defaults.
One is about the faith of a Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. Let’s look at Matthew 15.
“21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
There is another telling in the Gospel according to Mark, in Mark 7:24-30. In Mark’s telling the woman is a Syrophoenician, not a Canaanite, but the point is the same. The details don’t matter, the story does, and the story is the same in both. In both, the woman is a Gentile. In both, her daughter is possessed by a demon. In both, Jesus was a little ticked off that she would presume to ask him to heal her daughter. He dismisses the woman twice, finally referring to her as a dog. He thinks that he is just there to bring healing to the Jews. He can’t be bothered with someone who isn’t Jewish. But then, she is persistent. She doesn’t turn away from his first rebuff. She doesn’t stop when he calls her a dog, which is a pretty low insult.
Then there is this story. It is a woman who suffered from an “issue of blood” as some of the accounts translate it. This had gone on for 12 years. She was unclean in the most basic way in Jewish life. Menstrual blood was seen as a sign of defilement. Not only was the woman unclean, but anything she sat on was unclean. Anyone who sat on something she had sat on was then, themselves, unclean. Women who were on their periods were treated like lepers. For twelve years she was ostracized because of this malady.
Let’s look at Mark 5:25-34. “25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
This story also appears in Matthew 9:20-22 and Luke 8:43-47, with little change. I like this version because it points out that she had spent all her money and “endured much “ from many doctors and they hadn’t helped, and in fact she had gotten worse. This makes her plight even more sad.
In both, he was surprised at the faith of the women. In both, he tells them that their faith has made them well. He doesn’t say that they were healed because of his power – it was their faith in his power, which comes from God.
They have other things in common. They were persistent. They were active in their faith. They didn’t wait for healing to come to them, they went to it.
Somehow when I tell the story, it is a Canaanite woman who suffers from an issue of blood. So I’ve mixed up the stories. Somehow I never cross the story the other way – it never is a story about a sneaky woman who is trying to steal power to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Demon possession? Who is to say that wasn’t the first century explanation for mental illness? But I digress.
I also like the fact that the person who is sick in the first story isn’t the one who is asking for help. It is the woman’s daughter. It is the woman herself who is asking. Her prayer is known as an intercessory prayer. Her faith in Jesus brought healing to her daughter, who was unable or unwilling to ask for help.
How many people do you know who are like that? They think they are beyond help? They think that they are not worthy of healing? They think they deserve their pain?
This now reminds me of the story of Jesus and the Centurion. This is in Luke 7:1-8.
“After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
Here’s another story where Jesus was surprised by a Gentile’s faith. The Centurion served the Romans – the enemies of the Jews. This one had done good things for the Jews, so he was allowed by the disciples to get close to Jesus.
Now I’m reminded of Matthew 7:7.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (NIV)
Here’s another translation, and I find it significant that in translating it as “keep on asking…” it refers again to persistence.
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (NLT)
Here’s another one that tells us to be persistent.
18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Don’t give up. Keep asking. Keep praying. Even if you don’t think you are being heard. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if the prayer isn’t for you. Keep on praying. Know that you will be heard. It will all work out in God’s time. Remember, it is “thy will be done” not “my will be done.”