We have seen how Jesus dealt with those of His own nation, but how would He respond to a woman who was considered to be heathen? The Syrophenician woman (Canaanite in Matthew 15:21-28), was of Greek descent and her ancestors were the original occupiers of Israel. Because of this she was hated by the Jews. This woman had no claim upon Christ, yet her prayer was heard because her prayer was both passionate and persistent.
The passionate prayer
“And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:24-27).
This woman came to the Lord for help because she knew that no one else could deliver her daughter from the unclean spirit. In both humility and desperation she fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Him to do something for her. This heathen woman accepted the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David” (Matthew 15:22). She was praying for one who was unable to pray for herself. She could not rest until her prayer was answered and her daughter set free.
Though the passage is based upon the deliverance of the woman’s daughter, Mark is really teaching us about intercessory prayer, which is praying for others. James has this in mind when he writes, “Pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Parents, as the story indicates, ought to continue to pray until their children come to personal faith in Christ. They can give them life, but not a new heart. They can educate and encourage them, but they cannot be saved in their place. One thing all Christian parents can do for their young is pray for them until they can pray for themselves. Such prayers will always be heard and will receive the blessing.
The persistent prayer
“And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed” (Mark 7:28-30).
In Mathew 15:23-24 we read that Jesus pretended not to hear her prayer, and when He did answer, it at first appears to be discouraging, yet she did not give up or go away in despair, “But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Even in her pleading she worshipped Christ for who He was, “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25). Though she was not Jewish and did not enjoy the rich blessings God gave that nation, maybe she might be allowed to partake of a crumb of His mercy. Jesus’ comment was both a test of her faith and a thought provoker to those standing by Him. Though the Jews would have beaten her away like a dog, Jesus accepted her as someone truly crying out to God. She was an object lesson to those who ought to have had true faith in their hearts, so instead of going along with the merciless notions of that day, Jesus points out her great faith, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matthew 15:28).
How quickly our prayers grow cold when we do not receive what we think we deserve! Satan will offer us numerous reasons why it is foolish and a waste of time to persist in prayer for something that seems to be a lost cause. It is easy to become discouraged, especially when praying for the salvation of a friend or relative, but we ought to “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Hebrews 12:12). If we are tempted to cease praying for those who are hardened by sin, we need to remind ourselves that the Syrophenician woman did not give up even in the face of great discouragement. She went to her home rejoicing and found her daughter free from the demon. We need the grace and resolve to follow her example. She reminds us of Jacob who said to the angel he wrestled with, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
Very often prayer can become religious, monotonous and selfish. Though we might pray for others, are we passionate and persistent in prayer? We can pray for the most sin-hardened and unbelieving around us, and, even if it takes years, we can continue to do so until they come to repentance and faith in Christ. Praying is the greatest act of kindness we can do for others, because we are bringing their cause before the Lord Jesus Christ. One day we will see what our prayers have achieved, maybe not in this life, but certainly in Heaven.