St. Matthew xv. 28.
“Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman great
is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
Lent is especially a season of prayer; and these are in many ways Lenten
days, days of sorrow and anguish of heart, days of penitence, days of humiliation,
days, in which, by our cries, to awaken our Lord, “Arise and help us, and
deliver us for Thy mercies sake.” And so our Lord, through the Church,
set before us this great example of humble, penitent, persevering prayer,
to shame us Christians by the lowly fervor of a Heathen woman.
Our Lord had withdrawn Himself for a time, from the thanklessness of
the Jews, and come to the border-country of Tyre and Sidon. He would
not be known, that is, He willed to do those things whereby He should be
hidden. But He willed too to be a blessing to the Canaanitish woman,
to help her, and to teach us by the way in which He helped her.
He had come into those coasts. “He could not be hid;” because His
Divine love would not. He willed to be hid to those who sought Him
not earnestly. This poor outcast, He drew by His secret grace, and
willed to be found by her. And so He brought her out of her heathen
country, its ignorance and its sins. He was sent first to the Jewish
people, and He had said to His disciples, “go not into the way of the Gentiles,”
and so He held Himself in the border-country. But He received her
when she came unto Him.
Us too He draws inwardly; yet He wills that we should, of ourselves,
be at pains to find Him. So when the prodigal son was among the swine-husks,
He put it into his heart to say, “I will arise and go to my Father.”
He gave him strength to arise and go; He ran to meet him, while yet a great
way off, and fell on his neck. Still He willed that he should himself
arise and go. So this poor woman had “to go forth out of these coasts.”
She, a Gentile woman in her heathenish sins, was a picture of as many of
us, as have at any time, in our sins, forgotten our Lord. The sinful
soul, if it would by true repentance, return to God, must not only turn
away from sin, but must leave the whole coast of sin. If thou wouldest
repent, thou must not venture on the borders of sin, thou must not do lesser
acts which lead to sin. Else most surely thou wilt fall back and
not find Jesus, not be healed. So she “went forth out of those coasts.”
In thy soul, thou must avoid all thoughts, which border upon the things
thou repentest of, or which have led to them. In thy body, thou must
keep clear of all houses or streets, or acts, or circumstances, or amusements
or society, which are the certain or frequent occasions of deadly sin to
thee. [Author's note: To make this clearer by
instances. It would be sin for one to hunt who found that hunting
always caused him to swear; or for one to frequent a tavern or society,
in which he drank too much; or for one to play, who is continually tempted
to dishonest play. The cases in which the necessity is most stringent,
are those which fall under the seventh commandment.]
“She cried out.” It is a great word, which God uses of this poor
sinner. It is a loud cry. He uses the same word of the loud
cry by which our Lord called Lazarus out to the grave, and of the strong
cry whereby the Son, when in the “flesh, offered up prayers and supplications,
with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death,
and was heard in that He feared.”
This is the second condition of being heard; earnest prayer. The
first was, to forsake sin, and to seek Jesus. The second when she
saw Him, though afar off, to cry aloud to Him, and that earnestly.
“The Lord,” says the Psalmist, “hath not despised nor abhorred the low
estate of the poor,” but when he called unto Him, He heard him. “He
saith not,” says a holy man [St. Bernard Sermon 16. in Ps.
qui habitat.], “he was worthy, he was just and righteous, innocent
in hands and of a pure heart, therefore will I deliver him, I will protect
him and hear him. For if He said these, or the like things, who would
not mistrust? Who shall boast that he has a clean heart? But
now ‘there is mercy with Thee, therefore shalt Thou be feared.’ Sweet
law, which places the ground of hearing in the loud cry for helping!
‘He cried unto Me and I will hear him.’ Deservedly is he not heard,
who fails to cry aloud, either not asking, or asking luke-warmly or remissly.
Earnest longing is a loud cry in the ears of God; relaxed earnestness is
a low voice. How should it pierce the clouds? how be heard in Heaven?
To teach us that we must cry aloud, our Lord admonishes us in the beginning
of His Prayer, that our Father to Whom we are about to pray, is in Heaven;
that we may remember that we are, with a certain might of spirit, to dart
up our prayers thither. God is a Spirit, and he must cry aloud in
the Spirit, who desireth that his cry should reach to Him. For as
God looketh not, like man, on the face of man, but rather beholdeth his
heart; so the ears of God are to the voice of the heart; rather than of
the body. And truly is He called ‘Thou God of my heart.’ Hence
although Moses spake not a word, he was heard within, and the Lord said
‘Why criest thou unto Me?”
And what did she cry? “Lord have mercy upon me, Thou Son of David.”
She cried in love, for her daughter’s sufferings were to her, as her own.
“Have mercy upon me,” she cries. She cries in faith, for she knows
Him Whom she calls, to be God and Man; our Lord, yet, after the flesh,
one with us; Mighty as Lord, but “for us men and for our salvation, became
Man”; Very God and Very Man; David’s Lord and David’s Son; The Lord of
Heaven, but the Son of man. She cries also in humility. Her
only plea is Mercy, “Have mercy upon me,” All Merciful! She pleads
no ddesert, not good conscience, nothing of her own. She goes forth
out of herself to the mercy of her Redeemer, the boundless, unfathomable
Ocean of His Goodness. “Have mercy upon me.” The depth of her
misery cries aloud to the depth of His Mercy. She cries also wisely.
She tells her griefs only, and leaves it to His Almighty Wisdom to deal
with her as He sees fit. So Martha and Mary whom Jesus loved, sent
to Him, “Lord, behold he who Thou lovest is sick.” She owns Him All-Powerful.
Her daughter was grievously vexed, possessed by a devil, not vexed nor
haunted without, but possessed within; not possessed nor harassed nor driven
to and fro, only, but grievously, the sport of devils.
Such was the faith, which Jesus tried, and by trying, purified and heightened
it; and having purified it, rewarded it. And how did He try her?
“He answered her not a word.” This was a heavy trial even to David’s
faith. “Unto Thee do I cry, O Lord my God; be not silent unto me,
lest if Thou be silent unto me, I become like them that go down into the
pit.” And if so to David, how much more to this poor heathen!
He Who healed all the sick who were brought unto Him, Who, when “multitudes
came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed,
and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet, healed them,” this
once alone seemed to be asked in vain. “He knew,” says a Father [St.
Chrysostom, Hom 49. in Gen. # 3. tom. iv. p. 451], “the pearl hidden in
the woman, and willed that we should know it, and therefore delays, and
vouchsafes no answer, that her great perseverance might be a lesson to
And not she alone, but the disciples ask for her, in vain. They
say “send her away,” knowing that their Lord sent none empty away.
It may be, that they ignorantly dreaded, lest His answering her not might
bring an evil report. “Dismiss her,” they say, “For she crieth aloud
after us.” Our Lord’s answer was a death-blow to her hopes.
“I am not sent, save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In
His Own Person, it pleased our Lord, to preach to the Jews only; us, His
other sheep whom He would gather, He called by His Apostles. He was
not probably withdrawn within the house, where St. Mark speaks of the cure.
But her faith and love followed Him even here. He had refused even
Apostles: He had spoken of her as not belonging to His care, not
one of the sheep to whom He was sent. She who had been afar off,
turns not away, but, being refused, neglected, an outcast, presses into
His very Presence; she came to Him, fell at His Feet, doubtless held those
sacred Feet, which had gone to and fro to seek the lost, worshipped them
and said, “Lord help me.” As though she would say, “True! I
have not been one of Thy sheep, yet I would be now. I lie at Thy
Feet, I look up to Thee, as a sheep to its Shepherd. Lord help me.
Nay, rather she lays aside all pleas, except her sorrows. She kneels
before Him, as if in the whole world there were only He and herself, “Lord,
help me.” “Thou art Almighty; I, in need: Thou canst help; I
need help: Thou art the Creator; I, Thy creature: Thou camest to save the
lost; I am as one lost. Lord help me.”
Such is often the inmost prayer of the soul in need. It seeks
not many words, knows not what to ask for; for it needs all. It needs
forgiveness, purity, holiness, faith, hope, love, humility, freedom from
Satan, power to pray. It knows not what first to ask for, or how,
and so gathers all its needs in one, “Lord, help me.” “Thou knowest
all I need; I need all. Thou canst forgive all my sins; Thou canst
heal all my infirmities. ‘Lord, help me’” The soul may ask
for the more, in that it only shows to God all its leprous sores, and says
to Him, “Lord, Who canst, and willest, and knowest what is best for me,
help me as Thou knowest.”
One more trial remained, and it seemed the hardest. She seemed
to have done her all; she was at His Knees. He does not say “I will
not;” but He seems to say more, as it were, “I may not.” “It
is not meet,” not good, not becoming Me, “to take the children’s bread,
and cast it unto dogs.” It was, as it were, robbery, to take from
those whom God chose for His children and give it to the unclean, the unholy,
the profane. Truly with God, we are children, not by nature, but
by grace; and so without God and without grace, we are as brutes.
“Man being in honour, hath no understanding, but is compared unto the beasts
that perish.” “True, Lord,” she answers, “it is as Thou hast said,
I deserve not the children’s bread; I am what Thou callest me, a whelp.
Yet even as a whelp, I would be Thine. Deal with me, then, as Thine.
Thou art my Master; Thou canst not cast me out. With thee are exhaustless
stores of mercy. Thou ever feedest all, and never failest.
Thou fillest and yet overflowest. Thy choicest gifts will not satisfy
thy children less; Thy store for them will not be lessened, if Thou give
me too the portion of a dog, the crumbs which fall from Thy, my Master’s,
Her humility was completed, her perseverance accomplished, her faith
perfected. Almighty God had allowed her to plead with Himself, and
Himself to be vanquished. He had been pleased to allow His own words
to be turned back upon Himself, with eloquent humility, which prevailed.
Like the Patriarch Jacob, who said, “I will not let Thee go unless Thou
bless me,” she had power with God, and prevailed. She had accepted
the likeness of the dog and our Lord gave her the very title, which He
gave His Mother, “O woman.” She asked help for her child; she received,
over and above, the praise of God, “O woman, great is thy faith.”
“Thou hast not,” says a Father [Chrysostom, de Chananaea, # 11. tom. iii.
p. 443], “seen the dead raised, nor lepers cleansed, nor heard the Prophets,
nor meditated on the law; thou hast not seen the sea divided, nor any other
miracle wrought by Me; nay, thou hast been reproached and perplexed by
Me; I have rejected thy suffering and thou wentest not away, but didst
persevere. Now therefore do thou too receive a worthy and becoming
praise from Me. ‘O woman great is thy faith.’
“The woman is dead, and her praise remains brighter than a diadem.
Whithersoever thou goest, thou hearest Christ saying, ‘Great is thy faith.’
Go to the Church of Persia, and thou hearest Christ saying, ‘great is thy
faith!’ Go to the Goths, the barbarians, the Indians, the Moors,
the whole earth which the sun surveyeth. One word did Christ utter,
and that word is not silent, but with a loud voice proclaims her faith,
saying, ‘O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee as thou willest.’
He said not, ‘be thy daughter healed,’ but ‘as thou willest.’ Thyself
heal her; be thou the physician; to thee I entrust the medicine; go thy
way; apply it; be it unto thee as thou willest. The woman neither
commanded, nor bade the devil, but only willed, and the will of the woman
healed and cast out devils.”
Great was her faith, and so, abundant was the grace, “Be it unto thee
even as thou wilt.” Humble, trustful, loving, persevering, faith
obtains all it willeth. Being itself according to the will of God,
its will is done. The Divine will is as it willeth. “Be it
unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from
that very hour,” when Jesus spake. For He, as God, “spake and it
was done.” He spake, as God spake in the beginning, “be there light,
and there was light.”
And was it not good then, for the woman, that Jesus delayed to hear
her prayer? Not only because the praise of the Master Whom she owned,
had for 1800 years echoed through all lands, but because He thereby worked
deeper grace in her soul. He not only freed her daughter from Satan’s
bodily possession, but enlightened her mind, and strengthened her faith,
and taught her, by experience, how persevering prayer avails with Him,
and deepened her humility; and surely He who dwelleth in the High and Holy
Place, and also in the humble and contrite heart, dwelt in her cleansed
heart, and made it everlastingly, a dwelling place for Himself. This
heathen woman alone, and the heathen Centurion, drew down by their faith,
the praises of the Son of God.
God hears, by delaying to hear. He never hears more deeply, than
when He delays to hear. He delays only, in order to repay with usury.
He delays only, in order to draw out of the inmost soul yet deeper longings,
that He may satisfy them. He would but increase our hunger and thirst,
that He may fill us with Himself. God is not poor and powerless,
that He cannot give. But He giveth us, as we are able to bear.
He giveth as a tender father giveth to his tender children. He giveth
them not what will hurt them, giveth them not as will hurt
them. A loving father will give a child bread; he will not give it
poison. A wise father will give it food as it needs; he will not
give what will surfeit it. A careful father will even make his child
wait for the fitting time, when he may receive it more healthfully.
A Christian father will not give at once, what is asked impatiently, lest
the child, while supplied in body, should be hurt in soul.
This is the trial of our faith. Our whole life is a trial of faith.
The very end of prayer is to nourish our faith and love, that we may trust
in God, speak to God, and through speaking to God, love God; through trusting
in God, be grateful to God. But we see not that God hears us.
“So often as I speak of prayer,’ says a holy man [St. Bernard in Quadr.
Serm. v. paragraph 5], “I seem to hear in your hearts some words of human
thoughts, which I have both often heard from others, and sometimes have
experienced in my own heart. How is it that, although we never cease
from prayer, scarce any of us seem ever to experience what is the fruit
of his prayer? As we go to prayer, so also we seem to return. No
one answereth us a word. No one giveth us anything; but we seem to
have toiled in vain. But what saith the Lord in the Gospel?
‘Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgement.’
What is righteous judgement, but the judgement of faith? For ‘the
just shall live by faith!’ Follow then the judgement of faith, not
thine own experience. For faith is true, experience deceitful.
What then is the truth of faith, save what the Son of God Himself promises?
‘All things, whatsoever ye ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive.’
Let none of you, brethren, hold his prayer cheap; He, to Whom we pray,
holdeth it not cheap. Ere it is gone forth out of our mouth, He hath
it written in His book. One of two things we may without doubt hope,
that He will either give us what we ask, or what He knoweth to be more
useful to us. For ‘we know not what to pray for, as we ought,’ but
He hath pity on our ignorance. He graciously receiveth prayer; but
He giveth not, either what is altogether not good for us, or what need
not be given so speedily. Yet will not the prayer be without fruit.”
But the human heart faints through delay; some prayers God hears, some
He hears not. How shall we know whether ours be such prayers as He
God hears not the prayers of those who will go on in sin.
“Though ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full
of blood.” God hears not our prayers, if we pray for what will hurt
us, or will not further our salvation, (as when St. Paul prayed for the
removal of the thorn in the flesh, or the two sons of Zebedee, although
He loved them,) or if we pray with a double heart, one heart for God, and
the other for the world. God hears not self-satisfied prayers like
the Pharisee’s, or if we pray with lukewarm hearts; or if we have pleasure
in evil thoughts, or cherish anger or displeasure against another, or secret
grudge, or dislike, or hard thoughts and words towards one who has wronged
us. God then in mercy hears not, that we, seeing in ourselves, what
hinders our prayers and His grace, may, by His grace, become such as He
Flee these things, and seek things pleasing to God, and yourselves,
to please God, and God will hear you, when and as He sees fit, but more
than you can desire or deserve.
Pray, modestly, as to the things of this life; earnestly, for what may
be helps to your salvation; intensely, for salvation itself, that you may
for ever behold God, love God.
Cleanse your heart now; for “the pure in heart shall see God.”
Be alone with God, that your soul may be free to speak to Him, and to
hear Him. But be alone in your inmost hearts, shutting out busy,
anxious thoughts, that they throng not in with thy prayers, and cloud not
the sight and thought of God.
Practise in life whatever thou prayest for, and God will give it thee
Bear patiently and humbly all daily crosses, contradictions, rebukes,
and whatsoever is against thine own will. They will conform thee
to the mind of God, be channels of grace which will cleanse thy soul for
yet further grace.
Deny thyself things earthly, if thou wouldest taste the sweetness of
But this day, our Lord teaches, above all things to persevere in prayer.
Many begin well; many hold on for a time well; many pray well from time
to time; some alas! can even work themselves up from time to time, to think
they pray well, and to feel what they pray; many begin, again and again,
well. Few persevere; for few they be, who find the straight gate
and narrow way which leadeth unto life.
If thou hast begun, pray that thou mayest pray better. If thou
hast failed, pray to begin again, and to persevere. All who pray
to persevere, gain what they pray for. None who so prayed has perished.
He Who heard the poor woman of the Gospel, still heareth us. He
is present with us, when two or three are gathered together in His Name.
He is more specially present when He, as now, is Himself the Priest, Himself
the Sacrifice, Himself giveth to us His own Body and Blood. He Himself
to Whom we pray, He, in Heaven, prayeth for us; He presents before the
Father the tokens of His Passion in that Human Nature which for us He took,
to plead for us. How should he not obtain all things, for whom, in
whom Christ prayeth? Prayer, in faith, hope, charity, humility, is
the voice of God in our secret hearts. It goes up to God; it speaketh
to God; it converseth with our Judge; not in our name, but in Christ’s.
What should hinder it from ascending to the Presence of God, to be presented
by Him, not for our unworthiness, but for His worthiness, Who gave it to
us, gives to it the value of His own Blood?
God is not as man, that He should change, or fail His promise.
Which should fail, His Truth, or His Mercy, or His Almightiness, or His
All-bountifulness, or His Love, which is Himself? All He has pledged
to thee, if thou persevere in asking. Thou wilt persevere, if thou
askest to persevere. Persevere in asking, and thou canst not perish.
For “He is faithful Who hath promised. He also will do it.”