Author: Betsy Nelson
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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.
One is about the faith of a Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon.
Let’s look at Matthew 15:21-28
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying 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 And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread 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, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (RSV)
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 even stop when he refers to her as 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 And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.27 She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” 29 And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it.33 But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (RSV)
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 7:1-10.
After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Caper′na-um. 2 Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying 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 say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I 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 he does it.”9 When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
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 you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (RSV)
Here’s another one that tells us to be persistent.
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (RSV)
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.”
By Betsy Nelson