In his book, Muscular Faith, Ben Patterson writes, ”There is something deep in the character of God that responds to the prayers of parents, and to all who pray the way parents pray.”
That statement was honestly a bit shocking. I immediately wanted to believe it because of the obvious harmony is shares with this blog, but at the same time I demanded an explanation for such a radical statement: Could God have special ears for the prayers of parents?
- “For the sake of her son, the Shunammite woman threw herself to the earth and clung to the prophet Elijah (see 2 Kings 4:27).
- “The nobleman of Capernaum cried to Jesus, ‘Lord, please come now before my little boy dies’ (John 4:49).
- “Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to heal his ‘little daughter’ before she died (Mark 5:22-23).
- “A desperate father brought his demonized son to Jesus and pleaded not only for his boy, but for his own faith (Mark 9:24).”
But why are these prayers included in Scripture? And why does God seem to have a soft-spot for them?
God loves kids
Jesus made this abundantly clear. Runny noses dripping on his clothes, sticky hands pulling his beard, little bodies jumping on his lap — he loved all of it. In fact, when his disciples tried to get the parents to get their kids away from Rabbi Jesus, he got all “indignant” on them and said, “Let the children come to me!” God loves kids.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would heal the children in these Bible stories. But Jesus healed lots of people — not just kids. There is still something unique in the prayers of these parents to warrant their place in Scripture.
God loves parents
Maybe God loves parent prayers because they are good faith-builders for the parents. For instance, take the dad in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to heal his son, “If you can…help us!” Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Out of desperation, the dad responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24).
Beyond that, many of the examples of parents coming to Jesus are not people who would normally be found asking a Jew for help. Most notably, the anonymous Canaanite mother in Matthew 15.
“A Canaanite woman from that region [Tyre and Sidon] came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’”
This story is particularly intriguing, though. Because Jesus, “did not answer her a word.” Even worse, his disciples “begged him to send her away” because of her insistent cries for help for her daughter.
Patterson paints the picture,
But nevertheless the woman clung to the silent Jesus…and when Jesus finally spoke, what she heard was worse than what she hadn’t heard. “Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep — the people of Israel” (v. 24). In other words, he said to her, “You’re not on my agenda. I have higher priorities than you and your little girl.”…But instead of walking away, she pressed her case…Undeterred, “she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’” (v. 25). And when she did, things got even worse! “Jesus responded, ‘It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs’” (v. 26).
Who wouldn’t write Jesus off as a jerk at this? A mom, that’s who. Her concern is her daughter, not herself. And that makes all the difference.
Without missing a beat, she responded to Jesus, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (v. 27).
Far from taking personal offense at this deliberate rebuff, the woman gracefully turned the last shred of her pride into a burnt offering for her suffering daughter. And Jesus answered her, “Dear woman…your faith is great. Your request is granted” (v. 28). Her daughter was instantly healed.
At what length does a mother stop to save her child? None.
So it is with God.
Parenting is a drama of the gospel
I’m convinced that Jesus pushed this mother as a director (sometimes insensitively) pushes his actors to cling to the story they are enacting. He was displaying something wonderful in his rash comments. It was a living parable.
He showed her, his disciples, and billions throughout history–who still read this story–the lengths to which he would go to save the children of God.
Jesus is the scrap
You see, it may have been insulting to call the Canaanite woman a dog, it may have been humiliating for the woman to swallow that designation and to say, “but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” But Jesus is more humble still.
Jesus identifies himself with the scrap. The refuse of Israel’s table, left for the dogs.
Psalm 22:16-18, David’s very particular prophecy regarding Jesus’ death, says,
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet — I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
So yes, God has a soft-spot for the prayers of parents. He loves their desperate, humiliating pleas because in them the gospel is abundantly dramatized.
In Jesus, God accepted the humiliation of loving his children. May you as well, and demonstrate the gospel.