By Pastor Glenn Pease
Lucy Webb Hayes was one of the greatest mothers to ever live in the White House. She was the wife of the 19th President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, who was elected in 1877. She was the first college educated first lady of the United States, but more important, she brought to the White House a deep Christian faith. Daily it was hallowed by family prayers, and she departed from the custom of serving alcoholic beverages. She said, "It is true I shall violate a precedent, but I shall not violate the constitution, which is all that, through my husband, I have taken the oath to obey.
Because of her stand she was dubbed, "Lemonade Lucy." It was a small price to pay to be the mother she knew God wanted her to be. She explained to a friend, "I had three sons just coming to manhood and starting out in society, and I did not feel as if I could be the first to put the wine cup to their lips." She had two smaller children, and three sons who had died in childhood. She had a powerful impact on her children, and on the whole country, because of her leadership in Christian women's organizations. The Lucy Webb Hayes Training School for Deaconesses in Washington is named in her honor. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier said of her, " her presence lends its warmth and health to all who come before it; If woman lost us Eden, then such as she alone restore it."
There is much truth to what the poet says, for Godly women, and especially Godly mothers, have played a major role in God's plan to restore man to the beauty of Eden. From Mary, the mother of our Lord, all through Christian history it has been true that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Most of the great men of God that changed the course of history, and whose influence never dies, were men who had Godly mothers. Men like Augustine, or John Chrysostom who, even though they lived over 1500 years ago, have their sermons yet in every library right along with those of Billy Graham. Men like Bernard of Clairvoux whose mother taught him early to love Jesus, and 500 years later, Martin Luther said of him, "Bernard loved Jesus as much as any man." Now over 1000 years later we still sing his love song, Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee.
We could go on for hours praising the powerful influence of mothers in history, but even though it is true, it will not have the impact on us that our text can have, for in this text we see Jesus confronting one of the most amazing mothers of all time. Jesus never complimented anyone in a higher way than her, and yet she was a nobody. She was not the wife of a great man, or the mother of outstanding children. We don't even know her name. Her only claim to fame was her faith, for it was great, and it was motivated by her love as a mother.
Here is a mother whose life and love has a message for all mothers, for all mothers cannot raise children in the White House as a national example, and all mothers cannot raise world famous preachers, but every mother can, like this mother, see to it that their children get God's best for them. In her case God's best was only dog food, as we will explain, but it was enough, and because of her success her story is made known around the world by both Matthew and Mark. We want to examine the characteristics of this famous nobody of a mother, for though she is very unique her story is instructive for us all. First we observe she is-
I. A COURAGEOUS MOTHER.
Her very approach to Christ took courage, for she was a Canaanite woman. If you know anything about the Old Testament, you know that her people were the hopelessly wicked people the Jews were commanded to destroy, and drive out of the promise land. She was a descendent of these hated enemies of the Jews. She was a Gentile from the area of Tyre and Sidon, two of the most godless cities of antiquity. Yet in spite of this background, she had the courage to come to a band of Jews and cry for help. She heard stories of what Jesus could do, and she believed Him to be the Messiah of Israel.
Just as a lovely lily can grow out of a putrid pond, so here is a woman of fantastic faith and compelling courage coming out of a corrupt society. She had one strike against her before she started, but she had the courage to start because of her love for her daughter. She may have been a pagan, but we are blind to the realities of life if we think non-Christians do not possess the blessings of mother love. God's grace is universal in mother love, and you will find mother's honored, loved, and exalted the world over. We sometimes think, or rather unthinkingly assume, that mothers who lose children in some pagan land do not suffer as do Christian mothers. This is foolish, for they have the same love and compassion, and are driven to acts of desperation to save their children.
Mother love which sacrifices to protect the offspring is even seen in the animal kingdom. I remember reading of a farmer who was kicking objects around after his barn burned down. As his foot pushed a pile of burnt material off to the side, out ran some little chicks. A closer examination revealed that the mother hen had gathered them under her and perished in the flames, but had saved them by her sacrifice. Jesus only once portrayed Himself in the role of mother. He did so by saying, "Like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, so would I have gathered the children of Israel." Only God's love is greater than that of a mother.
As we look at this Canaanite mother coming courageously to plead for her sick daughter, we all can feel her love and desperation. Certainly Jesus, the most compassionate man who ever lived, would be immediately touched by her need. But her plea falls on deaf ears, and Jesus ignores her and answers not a word. That must have been a blow to her faith, but with two strikes against her she goes on courageously swinging. We will examine the fascinating reasons for why Jesus reacted this way in the next message, but for now we want to concentrate on the characteristics of this mother.
She is an outsider in the first place, and now she is clearly rebuffed, and you would think she would face reality and go away, but she persists. She apparently began bugging the Apostles to get Jesus to respond to her, for in Matt. 15:23 they came begging Jesus to get her out of their hair. What nerve! She was like a Jacob wrestling with an angel, and she wasn't going to let go until He blessed her. If the leader won't talk to you, and the followers are all clamoring for you to get lost, you would tend to get a feeling of being unwanted. Who would bother to seek help from people who treat you like that. No one but a courageous mother.
She finally did get Jesus to say something, but what He said was even worse than silence, and was like the third strike against her. He said in Matthew's account that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In other words, you just as well go away, for I cannot help you. My flock is Israel and you are from another flock not under my jurisdiction, so you had better look elsewhere for help. That was strike three, but like so many mothers she didn't care beans about the rules of the game. She kept on swinging. It was apparent that she didn't realize that she was out of the game. Then Jesus adds insult to injury and tells her that it is not fair to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.
That should have been the last straw. Jesus was referring to the fact that the Jews were the children of the kingdom, and the Gentiles were considered the dogs. She was one of the dogs, and had no right to expect the Messiah of the Jews to take what He had for their benefit and give it to a Gentile. She got the point, for it was as clear as a ton of brick on her head, but she did not slink away like a defeated dog. With courage she went on until she gained the victory. Here was a mother who had more cold water thrown on her flame of love than anyone in the Bible, yet she continued to burn and prove that water cannot quench the fire of love. Billy Sunday said, "If the devils in hell ever turned pale, it was the day mother love flamed up for the first time in a woman's heart."
Here was a mother's love that overcame even divine resistance. Demons had her daughter, and the only power that could release her from their possession was resisting, but mother love never gave up. That poor demon possessed girl had no idea what her mother was going through to help her, and this is true for most children. Few ever realize what motherhood is all about until they go through it themselves. The poet spoke truly who wrote,
Until the stars are old
And the sun grows cold,
And the leaves of the judgment book unfold,
No one will ever know the full measure of service
The mother's of earth
have rendered to their children.
This mother's little girl probably never knew of the courage of her mother as we do, and most of will never know until eternity what our mothers went through for us, but it is safe to assume it wasWWe We see next that she was not only a courageous mother, she was-
II. A CLEVER MOTHER.
It would seem that Jesus had said the last word when He told her He could not take the children's bread and give it to the dogs. But this mother had the wit to come back with an answer as clever as those that Jesus used in dealing with the Pharisees. She said, "You are right Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master's table." Jesus was overwhelmed by the force of her faith, and He granted her request.
She agreed with Jesus. She did not argue and say, "I am no dog," and, "How dare you insinuate I am." Instead, she agreed that it is not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs, but then even dogs are not allowed to starve. The scraps and crumbs from the table are eaten by the dogs, and nothing is taken from the children. All she was asking for was dog food. All she wanted was the crumbs. "I do not ask to be seated at the table with the children. I only ask for that which any dog receives, and that will be sufficient for my need." There is no defeat for a faith like that. Call her a dog and instead of biting you she says, "Okay treat me like one and pass the dog food." This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is overwhelmed by the cleverness of another. Many said of Him, "Never man spoke as He speaks," but now He stands before this mother who spoke as none had spoken before.
Some of the most clever people in the world are mothers. They are not always educated and brilliant in the things of the world, but when it comes to getting what they feel is right for their children they are clever beyond compare. Moses would never have survived to become the channel through whom God influenced all of history had it not been for the cleverness of his loving mother whose scheme to save his life worked out even better than she could have dreamed. Billy Sunday said, "I expect to meet Moses mother in heaven, and I am going to ask her how much old Pharoah had to pay her for the job. I think that is one of the best jokes, that old sinner having to pay the mother to take care of her own baby." Who knows how many marvels of salvation have been due to the cleverness of mothers. This one in our text is one of the greatest, for by her wit in asking only for dog food, she opened the door to God's best for her child. In our final point we want to see the foundation for her courage and cleverness. It was due to the fact that she was-
III. A CONFIDENT MOTHER.
In verse 28 Jesus exclaims, "O woman, great is your faith." Jesus was impressed with her unwavering confidence. She was a woman whose faith in Him could not be shaken, even when He was doing the shaking Himself. She knew He could heal, and she was confident He would if she could only get Him to see that it was right that He do so. Without that confidence that love and compassion would win out over His resistance, she would have given up, but faith gave her the victory. Faith the victory that overcomes all obstacles; even those placed in our path by God Himself to test our perseverance. Faith believes God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, and this mother would let nothing shake her faith in that kind of a God. She kept seeking and expecting to be rewarded even when it seemed God was doing His best to hide.