BOLDNESS IN PRAYER Matthew 15:21-28

A Sermon for the congregation of St. Paul's, Kingston, Ontario, August 18, 2002
by Robert Brow  (

Today we look at what happened when Jesus took a walk into a neighboring country. This wasn't a preaching tour, just a tourist visit with his disciples, like going for a week-end from Kingston into the United States. The holiday had hardly begun when Matthew, who was there, remembers a woman brashly shouting at Jesus. "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon" (Matthew 15:21). She had obviously heard something about Jesus. He was said to be the expected Messiah.

You can imagine the horror of the disciples. Jewish men don't let women talk to them like that. And this woman was a heathen Canaanite. They were a bad lot. We would say "she never darkens the door of a church." And demon possession was not the kind of thing you talked about in public. You might say "my daughter is behaving strangely these days; I don't know what's got into her."

Matthew remembers the fact that at first Jesus "did not answer her at all." The disciples tried to move away, but she kept following and they said to Jesus "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."

Then Jesus explained that Syro-Phoenicia, which was the area of Tyre and Sidon to the north of Galilee, was not part of his program at that time. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." That sounds a bit narrow to us, but there has to be a sequence in any kind of work. You light a bit of paper before you can have a big fire. In road building you spend a long time drilling a hole into a huge rock to put your explosive in. That will crack open the rock, and you can then move it and open the highway.

Within a few years after the resurrection there would be churches in Samaria, up the coast in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, and all the way up to Antioch and Damascus. But now the task was to train a few disciples to begin the work.

But the woman wasn't interested in missionary theory. She came and knelt at his feet, and said "Lord, help me." Then Jesus used an illustration from a family meal. You don't feed steak to the dogs before making sure the children have enough to eat. But she answered back "Yes, Lord, yet even the puppies get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table!" That was unanswerable.

The result of this tough discussion is that Jesus said "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done as you wish." Obviously Jesus wasn't fazed by her brash approach, and he actually viewed it as a sign of very great faith.

What does this story mean for you and me?. Most Christians are embarrassed to pray boldly. We think the children of God should be seen and not heard. After all Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords: we are told we should be respectfully quiet in prayer. But there are desperate times when we do well to cry out, even shout, in prayer.

We make the assumption that it is only good church-going people whose prayers are heard. This woman was as far from church as you can get.

We have also been brainwashed with theological problems. More books are written on prayer than any other topic, and many of them make it very difficult. Only the well-instructed and dedicated should apply. Better go to Seminary before attempting to talk to God.

Our communion service this morning reminds us that we are gathered as a family. As children of God we have a right to be at this table. But a family table is a conversation. It is not a monologue by the father at the head of the table. In a healthy family the children have a right to express their feelings and their ideas. We learn by asking questions, and engaging in discussion. And God does not mind if we disagree with him, or our theology isn't quite right. He can deal with that by the Holy Spirit in due course.

Perhaps, like this foreign woman, you have an insoluble problem. Her daughter was demon possessed, which means that she was impossible to cope with. Whatever you are facing, Jesus understands, and he wants to hear what you think. He isn't embarrassed, and the bolder you are in prayer, the more he likes your faith. Don't be afraid if you haven't got it right. Just talk to him and see what happens. So I suggest you give him what is bothering you at communion this morning.

Jesus answered her, and he answers you, "Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

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