When Our Prayers Hit a Wall

Mark 7:24-30

Today’s Gospel story is intriguing because of this Greek woman's response to Jesus in the face of a seeming impossibility. She's a sign of hope for all of us when we're hitting the proverbial wall, and there seems to be no door through it. Her persistence and her confidence in Jesus, the ultimate barrier-breaker, are traits that we should all emulate.

 

At first, Jesus seemed to be saying "no" to the woman's prayer request. And in those days, and in that culture, “no” might have been expected, even on the part of a religious leader, because she wasn’t Jewish - non-Jews were considered second-rate. Not only that, but she was a woman! So she was "inferior" to Jesus in not just one, but two ways!

 

However, Jesus had already begun to teach that the kingdom of God surpasses all human limitations. He was already treating women with equal dignity, raising them to the same level of importance as men. He had already preached about putting new wine into new wineskins.  He had already broken Sabbath laws in order to minister to people, breaking from old traditions that were used without compassion. So why did he say no to this desperate mother?

 

Think about the barriers that we all seem to be up against. When it seems like our prayers are hitting a hard wall, it's time to assess why. Is Jesus really saying no? Has he erected a wall to blockade us?

 

Sometimes he does erect walls, but only for our protection, because it might be harmful for us to proceed with the plans we’ve created. Jesus may be saying “no” to us, but his “no” is not likely a rejection.  Rather, it’s a re-direction.

 

There’s a story that’s been told of a British woman who had to endure an entire summer overseas in the US, away from her children, and was quite anxious to get back to them. When she learned that all the rooms on a certain passenger ship were taken, she wept bitterly. Because she couldn't get a passage on any other ship, she was detained two weeks in NYC. But the sorrow of being delayed was turned into thanksgiving when, within a few days, she learned that the vessel that denied her passage was buried at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. She didn't see the "no" as a wonderful answer to prayer until the whole story unfolded.

 

Sometimes we get discouraged in prayer by thinking God has said no when in fact he's said nothing at all. "Wait" is an answer. Delay is not denial. God may delay his answer to cultivate patience and persistence, and build our faith, or to bring our will around to conform to his own.

 

Sometimes Jesus is prepared to give us a “yes”, which would allow us to break through our barriers, but we’ve become so consumed with how thick the wall is that we’ve encountered, that we thwart our own progress.  We’ve forgotten how big God is in relation to our problem.

 

If, because of pride, we have limited Jesus’ access to our lives by keeping him in a box that we only bring out when it’s time to petition him, maybe that box needs to be disassembled.  We need to revisit our conversation with Jesus, and this time ask using a heavy dose of listening and a “not my will but your will be done” disposition. Maybe then our prayers will produce more clarity.  Jesus wanted to test this woman’s faith and persistence, for her sake. He does the same with us.

 

Today's first reading arrives nicely on Valentine’s Day. It speaks of the permanence of the unitive bond of marriage. When we're hitting a wall in marriage and it seems like our unity is being challenged, it's God's intention to keep the marriage together.  If it was he who joined the husband and wife together, then the two have indeed become one. No wall or division in that relationship is stronger than God. But the husband and wife must both choose to "cling" to each other.  When it feels like healing is impossible, God may just have another plan. If husband and wife cling to each other as they wait at the wall for Jesus, he can lead them towards a breakthrough.

 

The kingdom of God surpasses all human limitations. No prayer bounces off a brick wall forever. If we humbly approach God, and that wall, with a persistence and a willingness to serve him first, he will likely lead us to a new angle to overcome our biggest challenges.

 

I saw this saying in a Facebook post recently: It said, “When we encounter a wall, don’t worry. God is never blind to your tears, never deaf to your prayers, and never silent to your pain.  He sees, he hears, and he will deliver.” 

 

And so we pray today, Dear Jesus, thank you for being our barrier breaker. When we encounter our next wall, we will resolutely seek your solution first.  We know that your answer to our prayer will not always be yes, but we’ll take with us the confidence of knowing that the path that you point us to, will never lead us astray. For whatever we ask, we know that nothing is impossible with you. And for whatever we receive, we’ll give all the glory to you. Amen!

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