The Gospel reading about the Canaanite woman is one that offers us some tremendous insight on how we are to approach our Lord with prayer, specifically when we have a special request.
To set the scene for us, after our Lord was rejected by many of the Pharisees amidst His own people, Jesus departed into the region of Canaan. The inhabitants of these cities were not Jewish, but rather pagans, who were known for worshiping many false gods and demons. To put it lightly, it was a region that was completely dominated by Satan and his minions.
We are introduced to a desperate Mother, whose daughter had been completely over-come by the darkness of the land. Anyone who has ever had children knows very well the feelings and emotions that this mother was going through. When one of our beloved little ones is in pain or suffering, we feel as if the world comes to a halt, as we wish that more than anything, we can take the burden off of their shoulders. It perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world…and this woman was drowning in it.
In the midst of her despair, this woman hears about a healer who is coming through. What did she have to lose? She ran after our Lord and cried out saying: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”
Our Lord’s responses to the cries of this Canaanite Woman seem somewhat odd. In other parts of the Gospel, when our Lord is met with those same words and requests (“Have mercy on me…”) He often allows for a miracle to take place. We see this, for example, in the story of Bartimaeus the Blind Man. He cried out after our Lord, and the response was: “Receive your sight”. But to this desperate mother, Jesus gave no response. His answer was silence, as He seemingly ignored her request.
The Canaanite mother, having just been denied by the healer, could have just given up and gone back home. Not only did Jesus ignore her, she was also being shooed away by the Disciples! Despite all of the challenges, she still persisted in her prayer: “Lord…help me!”
It is then that, at least to our modern day secular ears, we hear something that feels “out of character” for Jesus, as He seemingly insults her people: “It is not good to take the children’s bread (that bread that was meant for the chosen people) and throw it to the little dogs.”
Wow! Let’s recap! Jesus ignores the cries of a desperate mother. His disciples want to remove her from the area. She cries out again, and then our Lord compares her people to dogs! What would our reaction have been? This woman not only had every reason to leave and give up her prayer completely, she probably was within her modern-day social rights to throw insults back! “How dare he call me a dog. I am in agony!”
The Canaanite Woman, however, didn’t do any of these things. Her response was perfect, and it was precisely what our Lord was looking to bring out of her. No doubt with tears in her eyes, she replied: “Yes Lord…but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
“O Woman…great is your faith. Let it be to you as you desire.” Jesus healed the mother’s daughter at that very hour.
What we read today, shows us something vitally important about how to approach prayer with God. Every time we enter into prayer with God, especially if we are asking for something, we should always expect nothing…but hope for everything.
What is meant by those words? When we expect something in life, we do so with a position of power and pride. We see this in the way that we live here in the United States. It is all of our expectation, that as soon as we go home, we will have running water, access to electricity, a roof over our heads, and a bed to sleep on. Living in a powerful and wealthy country such as ours, we say to ourselves: “I expect to have at least these “basic necessities” to life”.
The same can be said in our dealings with other people, especially those who we have some measure of authority over. If we are a manager in the workplace, we expect our employees to do certain things. When we are at home and speaking to our children, we expect them to clean their rooms, to eat their dinner, and to go to bed.
There are times that we try to approach God with those same expectations, despite the fact that we have no authority over Him whatsoever! Next to God, we are nothing! Yet we still have the tendency to have expectations in our prayers to the Almighty!
“Lord, my father is suffering from cancer…heal him.”
“Lord, I just lost my job…please find me another one”
“Lord, my child is suffering from depression and bullying…please spare him/her this pain.”
While these are all perfectly wonderful prayers and requests to ask, we have to be extremely careful with how we are asking them. When we ask them with expectation, and our prayers are not immediately answered, what happens? We either feel that God has ignored us (like the Canaanite Woman), or we turn to anger at God, for not meeting our expectations.
“How horrible it is that an “all loving God” would let my father suffer?
“Are you so great of a God that you would allow my family to stress about finances, by not finding me work?
“What kind monster of a God would allow a child to wallow in the darkness of depression?”
This is what comes with asking prayers with expectation…and it is a trap that we absolutely cannot afford to fall into.
Expect nothing…but hope for everything. Expectation comes from a position of pride and power…but hope is born out of humility. Anytime we come into the presence of God, especially when we are in prayer and making a request in our lives, we have to approach Him with the same attitude as the Canaanite Mother: “Without you O Lord…I am nothing. Have mercy on me!
If we approach God with perfect humility, there is no prayer that can ever go unanswered, even if a situation in life doesn’t go the way that we had expected.
“My father has finally found rest from his battle with cancer in your arms O Lord…let it be according to your will.”
“Lord, I have not yet found work…continue to allow my stresses to help me grow in Love and appreciation for family, and for you…for I know you will never abandon me. Let it be according to your will.”
“Lord, I know not why my child suffers from depression, but I humbly I trust you in all things. Let it be according to your will.”
Expect Nothing…Hope for everything. Go through life remembering those last few words of the prayer that our Lord taught us, that with all things, it is never the expectation that “my will be done”…but rather the hope that “His will be done.” This is the key to happiness, it is the key to the Kingdom, and it is the key to the Glory of God, who answers all who call upon Him with hope.