This morning, after a disturbed night, my emotions are all over the place and I am thinking how my emotions can carry me off course, can carry me away from Jesus.
“ Ian I understand you are blessed with the ability to feel emotions – I understand them because I made you like you are. Being human means you have emotions, there will be highs and there will be lows – that is who you are. But I am not like that. I am the Rock – I am steady and sure. so when you feel like that go back and take your stand on me – the Rock – build your house on me and the winds and storms will be unable to dislodge you – and together we will move forward again into calm and placid waters because I have promised – “in the world you will have tribulation – but take heart – in Me you will have peace”. My love for you is immovable. Amen.”
This week I have been in Matthew 15. There are three stories. The central one is the key. Commentators show that by subtle use of Greek words and phrases the first and last stories bracket the central one with the same basic message. The first story has a very important message on its own however, which I am sure you can follow. But understanding it is one thing, living it out is another. How easy it is to allow human traditions to creep into our communication and ideas of worship and obedience. But I want to focus on the middle story. Can you see what that message is?
God chose to make Himself known in the world. He did this by choosing a special nation, where He could demonstrate His presence by interacting with them. His ultimate plan, however from the beginning was to reach the whole world. Hence the promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2,3, ending with, “All people on earth will be blessed through you”. The story of His encounter with the Gentile woman vv 21-28, Is intended to illustrate the move from OT exclusivity towards Israel to the New Covenant’s purpose of embracing the whole world. She appears to almost have to wrench the healing she longs for from Jesus.
The key, of course is in vs 28 “Woman, you have great faith! your request is granted”. Ultimately Jesus’ response did not depend on her nationality, but on her faith. However His willingness was there before she even asked. This story showed that the Gentiles were equally capable of exercising faith. But Jesus is pictured as being reluctant, actually refusing to respond initially, but finally giving in. This is intended to show that this was not an ordinary healing, but that Jesus was teaching something with the way He responded. A huge step was being bridged between the Old and the New Covenants, launching the new era where the whole world is included in His mighty plan..
This interplay brought me to meditate on our experience of prayer. Way back in ch 6:7ff Jesus invites His disciples to pray, with a promise of His willingness to respond positively, comparing Himself to a human father. If He is so eager, why do we have to wait sometimes. Even more why are we encouraged to persist in asking and not give up?
In the parallel passage in Luke, the offer of a willing response from Jesus is put alongside the parable of the widow who persists in praying despite the initial negative response. Is this enigmatic? Is Jesus contradicting Himself? I think this story of the Gentile woman may help us to answer that question.
We have already looked at the lesson that Jesus was teaching, not only to her but to the bystanders and ultimately us. By delaying the answer, His eventual answer receives much more attention and the finger points to the wider lesson, with the emphasis on her faith. So from that I came to the conclusion that when Jesus delays His answer to our prayers, one of the reasons is that He is doing it to teach us something every time. The most apt lesson is the growth in our faith when He does respond. Of course sometimes we may not see His response because it is different to what we were expecting and may even be, “No this will not be in your best interests”. The encouragement though, is for us to continue praying until we feel we have received His response.
I praise Him that I have the benefit of living under the New Covenant so that I too can have the full benefit of His saving grace.