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Persistent Pleading
September 4, 1994

MARK 7:24-37

She was a woman who didn't know her place! Remember Geraldine Ferraro's T-shirt? It read, A woman's place is in the white house. Thank God, times have changed. Through the centuries, up to our present day, a woman's place was defined and restricted by men. In the Scripture lesson read this morning, however, the woman couldn't care less. She didn't care who said what. She didn't care what the rules were. She didn't care what the customs were. She didn't care what was considered proper. She only cared about her desperate need, and she knew Jesus could help.

So, she cast aside her inhibitions. She cast aside the concern for her prestige and reputation. She cast aside the rules, and she, a nonJew approached a Jew. Not only that, she was a woman, and even though women did not speak to men in public, she approached and spoke to a Jewish man. Furthermore, not only did she speak, she pleaded, and wore him down with her persistence. The result? Jesus met her need. She was blessed beyond measure. Her prayer was answered. Her request, her persistent pleading, was honored.

This morning, let's lay aside our pseudo sophistication. Lay aside our educated, cultured taboos. Lay aside our inhibitions and overconcern with what other people think. Can you imagine what your life would be like, can you imagine what a church we would have, if we approached Jesus as did this woman?

First, she had a need, a desperate need. Her daughter was possessed by a demon. We are not told what that specifically meant. Perhaps she was emotionally disturbed. Perhaps she had a physical illness. Whatever it was, the daughter was very ill, and the mother was distraught with worry. She probably had tried all the doctors, psychiatrists, Stanford Hospital, Mayo Clinic, Valley Children's Hospital. But, the medical people of that day could not help her. She was desperate. Somewhere there was help for her daughter. Somewhere there was someone who could help. The woman had a need.

We, too, have needs. Often, however, we do not recognize our needs, nor define them in terms of needs for God. Perhaps we are too comfortable. But not underneath, are we? We moderns have the same agonies, the same spirit needs, the same deep longing and yearning for God that drove Martin Luther to his knees climbing the stairs in Rome, seeking God. We have the same needs that drove John Wesley to Aldersgate Street, seeking forgiveness, seeking a relationship with God. We have the same needs, but too often we don't recognize them as needs for God, as cries for Christ. We give our needs psychological names, or sociological titles, or we blame our parents or society. Or, we feel that if we had enough education, or money, or fame, we would be happy. But, things don't satisfy.

I'm talking about our inner spirit, the depths of your being, your soul, your heart. Down inside you where no one else has gone, what no one knows about you, or has rarely touched. Down inside you where you may feel lonely; where you may feel deserted, worthless, useless; down where you may feel dirty, unclean; where you may feel unloved, unwanted; where you may question your purpose, why you were born; down inside you where you may doubt. Those are the needs of the soul.

The woman had a need, a demonstrable need: her daughter was possessed by a demon; and secondly, the Gentile woman believed Jesus could meet her need. She had a faith, a simple faith, a direct faith. Her faith was not wrapped in layers of sophistication, nor confused by intellectual reasoning, nor obscured by layers of theology. She had a simple faith: "My daughter is ill, and I know Jesus can heal her." She believed Jesus could meet her need.

Jesus Christ can satisfy the needs of the soul. God's grace can cleanse, heal, restore, rejuvenate, revive. Jesus Christ can drive out the demons and restore sanity. Jesus can banish illness and restore health. Jesus can destroy disease and heal the body. Jesus can take dull, drab, listless, directionless lives, and create exciting, adventurous, thrilling lives. Jesus can give churches new life, new vitality.

The woman believed Jesus could heal her daughter. Do you believe Jesus can touch your hurt, heal your pains, give direction to your life? Teenagers, with your future before you, with decisions to make about school, career, marriage, do you believe Jesus can lead you? Do you believe God has a will for your life, a purpose? Can you imagine what your life would be like if you had a simple faith in Jesus, like the woman's? Recognizing your needs, admitting your needs, can you imagine what you would be like if you trusted Jesus? A childlike trust. Put your hand in his hand and walk with him.

Our deepest need is not for things. Our deepest need is not even for healing, or anything else we think we need. Our deepest need is for God. Love God is the first commandment. Your deepest need is for a relationship with Jesus, not for things, but Jesus. A young man said to his sweetheart, "Honey, I love you. I know I can't give you diamonds or jewels like Jerome. I don't have a Porsche or a yacht like Jerome, but I love you with all that I am." She replied, "I love you, too, dear, but tell me more about Jerome!" Your deepest need is not for things, but a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The woman had a desperate need. She believed Jesus could meet her need. Thirdly, she asked Jesus for help. She not only asked, she persisted. She begged, pleaded with Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. According to Matthew's version, Jesus did not immediately answer her. I don't know about you, but I have had the experience of not receiving immediate answers to prayer. Have you? Doesn't it sometimes make you wonder if God is listening? Usually, we give up; not wanting to be impolite or persistent. But, the woman was beyond caring whether she was polite. She kept it up, kept insisting, kept pleading, persistently pleading. Jesus then said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs," meaning that he was a Jew and had come to the Jews. But, she was undaunted, "Even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Jesus was impressed! Impressed with her persistence, impressed with her faith, Jesus healed her daughter immediately.

Perhaps our experience of Christ is not vivid or dramatic because we don't ask, we don't plead, we don't persistently plead. Prayer is persistent. Prayer is impertinent. What is often missing in polite Christianity today is the pursuit of God. Yes, grace is free, but to receive grace in its fullness requires dedication, commitment, persistence, and perseverance.

Do you have a need for God? Do you believe Jesus can meet your need? Have you asked? Have you persisted? Open your heart to Christ during Communion this morning. As you receive Christ's life--body and blood--into your body, open your spirit as well. Ask and you will receive.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris