Badgering God

by | Sep 14, 2016 | Formation, Reflections


Badgering God

(Mt 15: 21-28)

Recently I came across an interesting take on this incident of the Canaanite woman not letting Jesus up in an argument. I read their interchange as “badgering God for the future.”

From many indications it’s clear that in their time, both Jesus and his disciples had their eyes fixed on the conversion of Israel alone. These were God’s promise-bearing people, the ones through whom God’s new life was to come into the rest of the world. Israel was special to God, and that’s why Israel had to hear the message first. Jesus and his followers limited their work almost entirely to the Jewish people.

But different incursions of non-Jewish faith start to intrude on their outlook. A few chapters earlier, we see Jesus admiring the remarkable faith of the Gentile centurion. Now here’s this very clever and persistent non-Jewish woman from way north of Israel chipping away again at his conception of the scope of his mission. I say persistent because of her assertiveness in coming back at him. I say clever because she starts out by calling Jesus by the Jewish Messianic title, “Son of David!” Even with this, Jesus is still resistant because he’s working from his present view of how things should go.  But something gets in there — he gets “taken by surprise” at her faith.

And so couldn’t we look at this as an instance of the future (the way things are going to be in God’s Kingdom) breaking into the present. That is to say, in two more generations the proclamation Jesus and his disciples were making only to the Jews in that time would be re-directed outward to the Gentile world. And the fierce fights in those early generations between Jerusalem and Antioch about who could be included in the dispensation (i.e., the Gentiles) gave ample testimony to that.

And so here’s this woman, badgering Jesus to change his perspective. She makes the argument, “If Israel is indeed the promise-bearing people, then Israel’s Messiah will ultimately bring that blessing to the whole world. And you, Jesus, are the Messiah!” That’s followed by her unforgettable comeback, “Even the dogs will share the scraps that fall from the children’s table!”

The woman wasn’t ready to postpone that “sharing.”  She would override the waiting period, and insist that what was going to happen in the future should begin to show up now.

How about that as a pattern for all those people who are impatient for things of the future (God’s future), and are pressing for them to begin to show themselves in the present? How about those who find themselves very dissatisfied with the way things are right now and find they just can’t sit around and wait for that future to come on its own?  How about those who not only act out of that impatience, but also pray that way. How about Vincent and his followers who would “sweat and strain” to bring this “future of God” into their day?

As one writer put it: “Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer. It wants to do now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future.”

All of us know those people who in their work and prayer devote themselves to this insistence that what would happen in the future should begin to happen (by God’s power) in the present as well. Some of these believers live among us as our friends, families and especially our co-workers in the Vincentian Family. And from this Gospel incident, isn’t this just the kind of faith upon which Jesus congratulates that woman – and us?

And so: a story of someone badgering God, in God’s person Jesus, for the coming of the future, for the arrival of those things that are in The Lord’s future. It’s a story of someone impatient with the pace of “Thy Kingdom Coming on Earth” – and having that impatience show up in her prayer, her faith, and most likely her work to bring about that future world. Behold the “holy impatience” that marks the followers of Jesus.