A Woman of Great Faith
Read Matthew 15:28
It is a dangerous thing to pigeonhole people. Great Britain’s Sir Douglas Bader loved to fly. He was quite good at it until a plane crash prior to WWII cost him his legs. Those who loved Bader were sorry to see such a brave, bold man become a cripple, and have to give up his beloved flying. Still, everybody knew that flying was out of the question for a man who had no legs. Everybody knew this except Sir Douglas Bader. Bader refused to be pigeonholed; he refused to let a small thing like losing his legs keep him out of the air. Bader had himself fitted with artificial legs and climbed back into the cockpit. In 1939, when his homeland, Great Britain, and Germany went to war, a call went out for skilled and seasoned pilots. Bader thought his man-made limbs shouldn’t disqualify him from flying in the Battle of Britain, but recruiters thought differently. “Yes,” they told him, “you are an experienced pilot and have done great things by teaching yourself to fly for fun; but piloting a plane in an aerial dogfight is something quite different. Only the bravest, the boldest, the best, and fittest, can do that job.”
Bader refused to be pigeonholed and using his infectious power of persuasion, eventually talked his way into the cockpit of a Royal Air Force fighter. Bader surprised everyone by bringing down 22 enemy planes before he himself was shot down over France in 1941. Bader survived the emergency parachute jump, but his artificial legs didn’t. So great was the Germans’ respect for Bader, they sent an unusual request to the British government and asked them to airdrop Bader’s spare set of artificial legs. Performing a noble gesture for a crippled enemy was all they thought they were doing. They were wrong. Once more Bader refused to be pigeonholed. As soon as he had strapped on his legs, he began planning his escape. Four times Bader tried to get away and four times he was recaptured. Finally, Bader’s jailers decided there was only one way to handle the freedom-loving airman: every night they took his legs away. That’s right, every night, when Bader went to bed, the prison authorities took away his legs and locked them up; every morning they returned Bader his limbs. The Nazis had learned it’s hard to pigeonhole a person who is driven by a purpose.
Not pigeonholing people with a purpose is a lesson the disciples had a hard time learning. When mothers brought their children to see Jesus for the purpose of receiving a blessing, the disciples tried to send them away. Jesus, on the other hand, reprimanded His students and welcomed the families with open arms (Matthew 19:13-15). When a crowd of thousands came to the Savior for the purpose of hearing Him teach and be healed of their hurts, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send them away (Matthew 14:15). Instead of dismissing the multitudes, Jesus fed them by miraculously multiplying some bread and fish supplied by a boy. When Jesus sat and visited with a sinful Samaritan woman at the well, the disciples didn’t say anything, but they thought a lot about the politically incorrect thing she and Jesus were doing by having such a conversation (John 4:27).
Again and again the disciples tried to pigeonhole the many people of purpose who came to Jesus. Time and again, Jesus accepted these people and responded to their needs and prayers. Even so, there was that one time when Jesus was traveling in some cities north of Galilee. While they were there a woman, a woman of purpose, came to the Christ with a need which was weighing heavily on her heart. That she came as a woman without her husband was one strike against her. That she was not one of them, and by that I mean a Jewish woman, was a second strike; that Jesus ignored her and her constant petitioning was strike three. That’s what the text indicates. Three strikes and she should have been out. Only the woman didn’t know that, and she kept pleading. She was like a skipping record, repeating the same petition: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” “Have mercy on me, O Lord….” It’s the kind of thing which can easily get on a person’s nerves.
There is no question in my mind that this lady knew she was being a big pain in the neck. If she did, she didn’t care. If she did know she was making a spectacle of herself; it didn’t matter. You see, this unnamed lady was a person of purpose: her daughter was sick and she believed Jesus was the only individual who could help. In my life, I’ve met other women who have shared such a spirit, such a motivation. They would never ask anything for themselves, but when it comes to their children, these women became unstoppable battleships steaming forward at full speed. Nothing stops them; nothing had better get in their way.
Although the Bible is silent about the history of this woman and her daughter; if her situation is anything like others which I have seen, that woman had carried her daughter for nine months before giving painful birth. She had nursed that child, fed that child, changed that child, and smiled at that child when she was asleep. She had nursed that child through childhood illnesses and dreamed the dreams for her little girl that every mother dreams. But then this illness, this sickness of the soul, had shown up. Whether it came quickly or snuck in slowly, I don’t know; nor can I tell you how the devil’s henchman showed his authority in this girl’s life. I don’t even know what this woman had done to help her girl. Did she go to respected doctors? Most certainly that would have been at the top of her list. All they would have done is ask some questions, run some tests, tried some experiments, charged her a lot of money, and sent her away.
Each physician’s failure would have increased the mother’s fear, frustration, and inspired her to greater fanaticism to find someone, someplace, who could grant a healing. Day in, day out, her mind would have endlessly repeated the words: “I’m losing my little girl. I’m losing my baby.” As a mother she would have gladly laid down her life to have her daughter restored, but that was not an option. Her death would only mean her child would be left without anyone to search on her behalf. There can be little doubt that this is the story which had made this mother a person with a purpose. It is why, when she heard that Jesus was near, she hurried to meet Him. Jesus, the miracle-worker who had, with a touch, healed a man whose body was withering with leprosy, was close. Jesus, the man who had healed a long-time paralytic, had come. Jesus, who had healed a woman who had touched the hem of His robe, was available. He had healed others; He would certainly heal her daughter. The woman became a person of purpose, and she didn’t care what others might think of her. She was a person of purpose, that’s why she kept calling, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
In spite of her callings and pleadings, Jesus didn’t say a word to her. Not a single word. Not a word of encouragement; not a word of dismissal. Nothing. Either of those options might have felt better to the woman than being ignored. Even so, ignoring her is what Jesus did. In fact, He ignored her for so long the disciples thought they had finally received His blessing to get rid of her. That’s why they encouraged Jesus to action; that’s why they said, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23). Jesus did act, but not in the way the disciples hoped, or you might expect. The disciples thought Jesus was going to shoo her away like He might a bothersome fly; you might think Jesus would heal the little girl.
What Jesus did do was say something like, “Lady, you’re coming to the wrong person. I’m here to fulfill God’s Messianic promises which the Father has made to the Jews.” And the lady, having been rebuffed, having been told she didn’t count, having been informed she wasn’t on the “to-be-helped list,” did something quite extraordinary. No, she didn’t walk away muttering; she didn’t say, “Fine, I don’t need You!” She didn’t say, “I thought You were a faker.” No, this lady of purpose came and knelt before Jesus. She humbled herself before Jesus, like a servant might, like a petitioner should. If Jesus wanted her to beg, she would beg. “Lord, help me.” She was so simple, so soulful in what she said: “Lord, help me.”
Who among us listening to this mother’s words, could say no? Jesus did. More than that, He called her a name; a not very complimentary name. He said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That doesn’t sound like the Jesus you know, does it? First He ignores somebody, then He turns them down, then He calls them a dog. Yes, maybe the word He used means He called her a lapdog, or a family pet, but He still called her a dog. In spite of the insult given, the lady was not deterred. She was a person of purpose and she would not give up so easily on her petition. Imagining she had nothing to lose, respectfully, reverently, she replied, “Jesus, You are absolutely right in what You say, but You and I both know the dogs do manage to feed off the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
In all my years of ministry I have seen many artists’ pictures of Jesus. I have seen Him as the stable-born baby sent by the Father to be Good News of Great Joy to a sinful world. I have seen drawings of Him resisting the temptations of Satan as only God’s holy Son could do. Most of us have seen paintings of Jesus performing miracles and kneeling alone in the Garden of Gethsemane as He willingly took to Himself all the guilt and wrong-doing that all of us have ever done. I have seen pictures of the silent Savior on trial as paid liars falsely accused Him; I have seen Him carry His cross to Calvary, watched as He hung there in pain, dying for humanity. I have seen His dead corpse tenderly, reverently, gently removed from that cross and I have stood before an artist’s rendition of His sealed tomb. I have looked in awe and admiration when He, on Resurrection Sunday, defeated death and showed to all the world that He was the one and only Savior, the Lord of Life who had paid the price of sin and defeated death itself. All these pictures I have seen, but I have never seen a drawing of Jesus’ face as He looked at that agonizing gentile lady who knelt before Him.
When Matthew told the story of the day’s events, he only wrote, “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’” Since Matthew has declined to fill in the details, I have provided my own. Although Scripture is silent, I cannot help but believe, as the disciples rolled their eyes, that Jesus had, once again, given in: the Savior, with laughter in His voice and an ear-to-ear smile on His face, gave every indication He was saying, “Way to go girl, I knew you had this great faith in you. I knew your great faith wouldn’t give up. I want to thank you for showing My disciples and the rest of the world, how a person comes to the Son of God with a request. Most of all, I want to thank you for making sure future generations won’t pigeonhole Me.”
You see, it’s dangerous to pigeonhole a person with a purpose. That, dear friends, is especially true when it comes to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Read through the Gospels and you will quickly conclude Jesus spent most of His life contending against those who were trying to pigeonhole Him. Shortly after His birth, the wise men pigeonholed Him and assumed He would be born in a Jerusalem palace; King Herod pigeonholed Him by thinking King Jesus would be a competitor for his earthly crown. The people of Nazareth tried to pigeonhole the local boy and kept thinking of Him as the “carpenter’s son” and the crowds which followed Jesus tried to pigeonhole Him into the role of a political liberator or meal provider. When Jesus refused to follow the man-made laws of the Pharisees or elevate their rules to the level of the Lord’s, they pigeonholed Him and condemned Him as a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of those who deserved no friends (Matthew 11:18), and a servant of Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus’ church pigeonholed Him as dangerous competition and His government thought the Christ might become an enemy of Caesar. The disciples pigeonholed Jesus as a Messiah for the Jews alone and even the devil tried to pigeonhole Jesus by thinking, as true man as well as true God, He could be tripped up and fall victim to the same temptations which had been so successfully used on the rest of humanity. All of these, and many more, tried to pigeonhole Jesus when He walked the earth.
And do not, not for a moment, think the process of pigeonholing ended when the last verse of the Bible was written. When it comes to the Christ, pigeonholing has continued to this very day. Look carefully, listen carefully. Many of the most acclaimed speakers in Christianity are constantly trying to stuff Jesus into their man-made boxes. Indeed, if they were writing the story of the woman with the demon-possessed daughter, they would present it in a completely different way. If they were writing this story, Jesus, not the woman, would be the suppliant. Jesus, not the woman, would be on His knees begging the woman to grant Him the opportunity to help her. Jesus, not the woman, would be the one grateful for the crumbs which would be falling from the lady’s table. Jesus, not the woman, should be the person pleased to be granted a moment of her valuable time. Jesus, not the woman, would be the one who should be patiently waiting for the lady to acknowledge Him, or smile at Him, or bless Him. Our generation has pigeonholed Jesus and made Him humanity’s servant and not its Savior; its wish-giving genie, not our salvation-giving Redeemer. We have demoted Him, denigrated Him, and degraded Him. Forget repentance, He should take us as we are; forgiveness – who needs it; redemption – it’s not on our radar.
But it is a dangerous thing to try to pigeonhole a person with a purpose. And no person who has ever occupied space in this world has had a greater purpose or a greater commitment than did Jesus, the Christ. Everything He did, everything He said, from before His baptism until past His ascension, shows Him to be history’s great person of purpose. You need not take my word on this. Jesus can speak for Himself. Listen to this heaven-sent, redemption-motivated person of purpose as He says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Listen as He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). In John, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) and “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness (John 12:46). Can Jesus be pigeonholed? Impossible! Who can confine the Christ who says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)? Who can pigeonhole the only person in human history who can rightfully and righteously claim: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
By prophecy and the heavenly Father’s own personal proclamation, Jesus was, and will always stand as humanity’s unique person of perfect purpose. So that you might be freed from your sin, He lived a holy life; so you might be released from Satan’s hold, He allowed Himself to be accused, bound, and condemned. So you might have a blessed life now and a glorious hereafter in eternity, He was nailed to a cross. And nothing, nothing in this world or the next was able to dissuade or deter or discourage Him from completing His work. Because Jesus is the person of purpose, you can rejoice that His cry from the cross, “It is finished” is really and ultimately true. Your salvation has been done; your redemption is won. See the Christ, the person of purpose proclaimed in Scripture. He can be seen with eyes of faith. By the Holy Spirit’s power, be brought to repentance of what you were, forgiveness of what is past, and be blessed by the Christ’s redemption. In Him, all that is necessary for your salvation has been done. It truly is finished.
By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection it is finished. And by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power, may Christ’s completed purpose become yours. Today, join the woman on her knees and say, “Lord, help me!” and He will!
He’s Only A Prayer Away!