Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




The Gospel for today brings us a lesson in the practice of intercessory prayer. A mother is interceding for her daughter. The mother is a Canaanitish woman. She belonged to a nation more alien to the Jews than any heathen. She had no rights of a favored people to justify her. She was, and she knew herself to be in the eyes of the Jews, a mere dog of a heathen. Her grief made her bold. She cried for mercy. "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David." Her cry was the universal cry of agonized motherhood. She boldly followed. She refused to be silenced or sent away.

Then follows in the narrative the strange sentence, "But he answered her not a word." What can it mean? Then the disciples besought Our Lord to send her away. And Our Lord answered them, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." What can it mean?

She was undaunted. She struggled through the crowd and came near Our Lord and worshipped Him, and repeated her supplication, saying, "Lord, help me." Then the narrative records another strange sentence. But he answered, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." We notice that Our Lord does not use the harsher word outcast dog, but the gentler word household dog. Though a gentle rebuff, it was a rebuff. Why? Let us go on and see. The woman refused to be rebuffed. "Truth, Lord; yet the household dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Then came Our Lord's answer, "0 woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Now let us look back and trace the points in the development of that prayer. First there was the grief. Then the impulse to follow Our Lord. Then to cry out to Him. Then the discouragement. Then the silence which seemed to be refusal. Then the humiliation. And running through everything the unshaken faith. So the prayer grew more perfect. What was happening was that the woman had come nearer to Our Lord. By the time the experience had come to a happy ending, she had learned the supreme lesson of prayer. She had learned to stay with Our Lord in grief, discouragement, silence, humiliation, refusal and all the bewildering darkness and numbness which is well known to those who have lived through such an experience.

Who, I wonder has not at some time or another? Whether there was a happy ending or not, if we learned how to live through grief, discouragement, silence, humiliation, refusal, darkness and numbness that deprived us of all consolation, and yet, in spite of it all, held on to our faith and found Our Lord in the darkness and were content to have no one else but Him, then we learned to know Him, as we could have learned in no other way. It is easy enough to live with Our Lord in sweetness and light. The real test is in living with Him in bitterness and darkness.

When we come to Passiontide we shall not find the people who had happy miracles and gone home rejoicing, standing by Our Lord in his bitterness and darkness. The real people in Passiontide, as we shall see, will be the people who forgot all about sweetness and light and bitterness and darkness and only thought of their Lord. The real- people, in real life, are the people who have learned how to do this. Some of them do get miracles. And some do not. But they live on, they keep their faith, and they say their prayers. The prayers, though, are not like the prayers they used to say. They are wonderfully humble, patient, brave, selfless, intimate, simple, understanding prayers.

The people who have learned how to pray in this way have an extraordinary power to stop and listen. They must hear wonderful words from Our Lord, because their faces show a kind of peace that this world cannot give. Sometimes their faces when they are in repose, light up in a wonderful way. What do they hear? Who knows? Perhaps they hear Our Lord say, "Ye are they which have continued with me." So they are content to continue.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury