When Jesus retired to Tyre and Sidon, he was met by a Canaanite woman requesting healing for her demonized daughter. At first Jesus didn’t respond. Then he told her that his mission was to reach out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Later he told her that it was not right for him to give the children’s bread to little dogs. When the woman persisted, Jesus commented on how great was her faith and healed her daughter.
Jesus’ comment to the Canaanite woman that her faith was great, deserves further examination. Typically when we think of having faith in Jesus, we believe that Jesus can or will do something. In this case, I would have thought that Jesus would have commended her perseverance, rather than her faith. The fact that he commends her faith reveals a connection between perseverance and faith. In other words a person’s faith is revealed by their perseverance. This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. A widow goes before a judge to get justice against her adversary, but he ignores her. Rather than accepting the situation, the widow kept returning until the judge, who Jesus said didn’t really care about justice, ruled in her favor so that she would stop badgering him. Too often we are distracted by Jesus’ using an unrighteous judge in contrast with God, that we miss the point of Jesus’ teaching. His point was to encourage his followers to keep praying even when circumstances are contrary and often don’t change for an extended period of time.
In both passages Jesus connects faith with perseverance. At the end of the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus made a cryptic statement. “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when he comes”. We often do not connect faith with perseverance. At times, we get a negative response to what we are seeking and give up. From both of these passages it is evident that this is not what Jesus is seeking to develop within us. The widow sought justice, the Canaanite woman sought healing and freedom for her daughter. Both are good and worthy requests, that are in line with our heavenly Father’s heart.
Both women refused to be deterred by an initial and continual negative responses. They perceived the heart of God and insisted that what was good be done. While we may not initially perceive this as faith, Jesus indicates in both situations that perseverance is a reflection of great faith and is what he expects to see practiced upon the earth until he returns. We are not to become discouraged when we do not immediately receive the response we want, or as in the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus initially and repeatedly told her “no”. What if Jesus’ initial negative response is actually an invitation to persevere, rather than acquiesce? Consider the fact that Jesus’ initial refusal to help the Canaanite woman is oddly out of character for him. He said he had come to seek out the lost sheep of Israel, yet he had already healed the Roman Centurion’s servant. The Roman Centurion was no more Jewish than the Canaanite woman, yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to help him. What is fascinating about the Roman Centurion and the Canaanite woman is that Jesus praised both of them for their great faith. In the case of the Canaanite woman her great faith was revealed because she refused to accept Jesus’ initial negative responses. Now, that is something to ponder! When Jesus gives us a response that seems out of character, then we should assume that his intent is something different than a refusal to assist us. Our response then, should be perseverance, not acceptance.