Maya Angelou, author, poet and civil rights activist, once said “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
He was only twenty-three years old when a Gloucester youth saw this advertisement in a Boston newspaper: “Wanted, young man as an understudy to a financial statistician. P.O. Box 1720.
He answered the advertisement, according to an item in The Red Barrel, but received no reply. He wrote again—no reply. A third time—no reply. Then he went to the Boston post office and asked the name of the holder of Box 1720. The clerk refused to give it. He saw the postmaster. He, too, refused; it was against the rules.
Early one morning an idea came to the young man. He rose early, hurriedly prepared his own breakfast, took the first train to Boston, went to the post office, and stood sentinel near Box 1720.
After a long interval, a man appeared, opened Box 1720, and took out the mail The young man trailed him to his destination, which was the office of a stock brokerage firm. The young man entered and asked for the manager.
The youth told the manager how he had applied for the position of understudy to a statistician—that he had written three times without receiving any response, and had been refused the box-holder’s name at the post office.
“But,” queried the manager, “how did you find out that I was the advertiser?”
“I stood in the lobby of the post office for several hours, watching Box 1720,” answered the young man. “When a man came in and took the mail from the box, I followed him here.”
The manager said, “Young man, you are just the kind of persistent fellow I want. You are employed!”—Sunshine Magazine
When we do not let anything stop us, when we remain steadfast in our pursuit, there is very little, I would argue, that would keep us from attaining whatever it is we are after. Persistence is the key.
A Gentile woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon displayed this lesson very well. Surely she’d heard of Jesus and knew of his miracle making abilities. Jesus was well known and crowds would follow him nearly everywhere he went. Except here, in a region where most Jews would dare not travel, so as not to sully themselves, make themselves unclean in a region of Gentile people. So Jesus and his disciples were traveling through this region alone. But why? Why would a man of Jewish heritage travel in the region of Tyre and Sidon?
I believe it was to teach his disciples a lesson and to help a Gentile woman find true faith.
At the outset, a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and begins to beg him to help her; more specifically to help her daughter. Now as I said, this woman had obviously heard of Jesus and knew of his miraculous healing power for she called him Son of David. He was a MAN who’d performed miracles; a mere man. But she wanted help for her daughter and in her desperation, she began to shout him to have mercy on her. Gentiles and Jews did not mingle, did not talk, did not respect one another. But this woman kept hollering, kept shouting after Jesus. She was persistent and relentless.
His disciples, tiring of her and her shouting, told Jesus to send her away. She was beneath them, of no value to them. She was bothering them. Send her away. Jesus responds to them “I was sent only to the Lost sheep of Israel”. It appears as though Jesus did not even want to address the woman at the disciples request to send her off. He did not send her away. He did not address her. He did not acknowledge her. Was Jesus in some way agreeing with the disciples that her persistent shouting was a bother but he did not even want to give her the time of day to tell her to leave? I was sent only to the Lost sheep of Israel. Or was there something else at place here?
When we approach Jesus for help, when we have need, is our approach sincere, is it genuine? Do we go to the Lord with a request, that if not heeded, is taken elsewhere? Or do we approach God with sincerity of need, knowing that the help we need can only from God? Look, sometimes we try God. We beg for something, shout after Jesus to hear us, to hear our cry and if the answer does not come immediately, we turn to other sources for help or simply say, “I knew my prayer would not be heard, would not be answered.” Perhaps the reason might be something more. Maybe we are not persistent enough in our need of God. Maybe we give up to soon. Maybe…MAYBE God is testing us to see exactly how much we need…God. How tenacious are we, how dogged are we in our need of the Lord? Let’s face it, there are times when we go before the Lord and ask for something over and over and over again and have no real appreciation for the answer once it is given.
When I lived in DC a woman approached me as I got off the train. She needed money she said. I did not want to pull out my wallet and give her money cause my husband warned me about doing that. Someone could easily relieve my of my wallet so I was to keep it in my purse. I told her I did not have anything to give to her. But she followed me. Anything will help. I will even take change. Whatever you have. I reached in my pocket. I had some change there and gave her what I have. There were some quarters, a few nickels, a dime and some pennies. I told her it was not much but she could have it. She thanked me but as I was walking away, she said “I don’t want these pennies. I will keep the rest but what am I supposed to do with pennies? I was a bit incensed. She approached me begging for money and I gave her what I had in my pocket. If she truly had need, she would have taken what I gave her and went on her way. But she was rude and frankly unappreciative. So I told her, well give it back. She turned and hurried away. Did she sincerely have a need? Or was she looking for a handout to get her through the moment? Her persistence paid off, but she did not have the right attitude, she was not truly thankful.
The Canaanite woman was persistent. When she thought Jesus would continue to ignore her or send her away, she threw herself at the feet of Jesus and begged him to help her. Lord, help me. Something changed. Jesus was no longer Son of David, he was Lord. In her persistent cries to him, her belief in his abilities changed from that of a man to that of Lord. What happens to us when we approach Jesus with a request through prayer or through desperation? Do we approach Jesus with our needs and concerns because we know him to be a man who is able to perform miracles? Or do we approach him as Lord and worship at his feet with expectation and faith that only he is able to meet our every need and trust that whatever he says will happen?
Initially, Jesus ignored her. He did not even acknowledge her presence. He did not answer her or look at her. He practically ignored her. This is seemingly uncharacteristic of Jesus we know who would never turn his back on someone who had genuine need. But I believe there was something more happening there. I believe Jesus was testing her. Not to see if she was going to be persistent in her cries for mercy. He did not ignore her because she was a Gentile. He knew she needed to grow in her understanding of who He is. Her faith in Him as Lord needed to take root.
She falls at his feet “Lord help me”. She was a woman of no faith, and now it seems that a seed of faith had been planted in her. She fell at his feet. Was it worship?
Jesus then addresses her directly for the first time. Woman it is not right for me to give the children’s choice food from the table and throw it to the dogs. Whew! That sounds harsh doesn’t it?
It does if we look at it through human eyes. But look at it the way God meant it. She was a Gentile woman. Proud, believer in false gods, had disdain for Jews. She need to humble herself before the Lord. She needed to let go of thinking she was greater than Jews, she had to let go of the saving grace of false idol worship. She had to learn to kneel and worship at the feet of the One who could have mercy and restore her daughter. She had to lean into faith in Jesus. Jesus took the time that was needed for this woman to humble herself and realize who Jesus was; just as we must do. God never turns his back on us when we have need, never on anyone who has need regardless of their background, their station in life, the color of one’s skin, the neighborhood in which they live, the money they have or do not have, God never turns his back on the needy. But we do have to surrender our pomposity, our arrogance and recognize the Lord and worship Him as true Savior.
All we need is crumb faith. Jesus can work with a tiny bit of faith, crumb faith and do miraculous works with it.
So when Jesus said it was not right to give what belonged to the children of Israel and throw it the heathens, it was a test of her faithfulness in Him. Because she responded to him while still as his feet, “Yes Lord, but even a heathen like me, an outsider, has a right to the crumbs of faith that fall from the table of the people of God.
In this Jesus recognized her faith. She’d relinquished her false gods for the One True God. She’d abandoned her old ways for Christ’s ways. And because of her faith Jesus sent her on her way with the news that her daughter was healed.
The disciples also learned a valuable lesson. That anyone who confessed faith in Jesus as Lord had a right at the table. They would not be turned away because of their past or what they believed. What mattered was a change of heart and what they came to believe. Everyone who needs the Lord and confesses faith in Him will always have a seat at the table of God. That is good news for us.
Because in Jesus Christ, persistence pays off. Persistence is pursuing Christ give time for the Holy Spirit to work in us a crumb faith. Crumb faith has its rewards. Jesus does not leave us neglected or forsaken. Crumb faith flowers and blooms in us and helps us to see Christ more clearly. Crumb faith brings spiritual direction to our off course journeys. Crumb faith revives a broken spirit and helps us draw on the strength of the Lord. Crumb faith brings the outsider in, turns a darkened heart to a heart of light. Crumb faith becomes great faith and great faith yields answered prayers. Thanks be to God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.