07 Pentecost 05 Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost Matthew 15.21-28
My friends, I greet you today in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our lesson comes to us from the 15th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, beginning with the 21st verse.
This morning, I would like to try something a little different. Boy, doesn’t that strike fear into your hearts? There is nothing quite as scary as when a pastor says, that we are going to try something different. This text is an awesome text and I want us to have a discussion about it. I am going to ask a series of questions, and you can answer them out loud, or you may think the answers in your heart or write them down on your bulletin. It is my prayer that in doing this the text will come alive in a whole new way.
How would you define the word “faith”? What do you think of? … Is it a religion, as in my faith is Christian. Is it a series of beliefs? Is it a way of getting God to do whatever we want him to do, as in, if you have enough faith, then God will…?
As we mentioned earlier, faith is the hand that holds onto the promises of God. It grips them tightly, knowing that those promises will be kept, because the one who made those promises is faithful. So then, faith lives within and according to those promises. It influences everything that we do, not because we are now bound by a whole bunch of rules. You can do this, but you can’t do that. Rather, faith lives in the reality of the promises that it holds onto, no matter what the situation may be. Faith is persistent. Think about this for a moment. Because it impacts how we live our lives, and the things that we do, and the witness that we give…
I can’t help it. No matter how hard I try to resist, I am powerless against it. I would like to think that I’m not, but the reality of the situation is, that it is actually my kryptonite. When it hits me, it hits me hard, like a ton of bricks and then, well then I’m a goner.
It’s just two words, but there is nothing I can do to stop them. “Pleeeeaaaaaaaassssseeeeeeeee, Daddy!” They are always said with a killer smile and the biggest blue eyes. And the worse part, is that they are persistent. I mean, this isn’t fair. I’ve tried to say “no.” I really have, but the kryptonite gets stronger and stronger. “Pleeeaaassseee, Daddy!” The more I resist, the harder it comes. I think I’m sweating just talking about it. She is a persistent one I’ll tell you what. But it works, and she knows that it works. That is why she keeps it up, she is too smart for me. Her faith that I will cave is greater than my initial responses. She knows that all she has to do is flash those big blues at me and…bingo.
The woman in our text is an example of faith. She is a wonderful example of faith, because she models the persistence and what it is to live in the expectations of the promises made. She knows that Jesus heals. She knows that Jesus will heal her daughter, whether he does that at the moment she asks, or whether he does that with his second coming, she knows that her daughter will be healed, and so she acts on that.
What does she do? She is amazingly bold. Do you know why? Well, she has three strikes against her. This woman is a gentile, that’s strike one. She is not a Jew, and in those days gentiles were not looked upon very highly. She was in the area of Tyre and Sidon, that’s strike two. Tyre and Sidon weren’t exactly popular vacation destinations. In fact, in the Old Testament these two towns came to be symbols of evil and enemies of God. And she is a woman. Now, this point of view is not something that we condone in our world, but back in that culture, being a woman would be strike three. In other words, there was no conceivable reason why this person should be talking to Jesus. Except for one. Faith.
Life with faith looks different. Because life with faith is not reactionary, you just hunker down and hope for the best, you deal with the problems as they come and pray that those problems are few and far between. Is that something you can relate to? Does it feel like that is really the way it is sometimes?
But the life with faith, lives in the promises of God. For example, we know that when Jesus returns, he will make all things new. Heaven and earth will be restored. That must mean that heaven and earth are important, right? Therefore we should care for our planet and be good stewards with what God has given to us. Or how about the life with faith living in the promises of communion? What does that look like? … The body and blood of Jesus are in, with and under the bread and the wine. And so we receive forgiveness of sins, life that never ends and salvation. When you receive those you can live in the forgiveness of our God, not in guilt. But is that usually the way we think about it?
Or what about baptism? We know that in the waters of baptism that we are not only made God’s own dear daughters and sons, but we are also made brothers and sisters with one another. Therefore the ways that we interact with one another, the ways that we share our lives together is to reflect that reality.
No matter what happens, life with faith says that we know God made these promises and we are going to live according to them. And the woman in our text is an example of that. What is going on here? What is her situation? What happens? Not only did she have the three strikes against her, but then in her dialogue with Jesus it seemed as if he was not going to grant her request.
First he ignores her. He gives no reply, not even a word. Talk about an awkward silence. The disciples in their brilliance have come up with a solution, “Hey Jesus, get rid of her.” What does she do? Common sense would say to give up and go home. It was a good try, but really the deck was stacked against you. No, instead she goes and she kneels before Jesus. But this is not just respectful or nice kind of kneeling. This is worship. She is worshiping Jesus. Why? It must be motivated by faith. From the position of faith, worship happens because God is worthy of worship, no matter what. He is not only worthy of worship, but worthy of the trust that says, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
But know this, the worship of the woman here is not worship that is being done to manipulate God into giving her what she wants. This is not pushing the right buttons to make God bend his will to ours, as if God is some kind of heavenly ATM that hands out whatever we want if we push the right buttons. No, this is worship that is always the proper response to God, because of who he is. As Job said in the Old Testament, The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
She worships and begs another time for Jesus to heal her daughter and what is Jesus’ response? “It’s not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.” Ouch. What in the world is going on here? To use the term dog here could be an insult. Why isn’t this woman giving up yet? What is Jesus doing here? … Let’s pause for a moment. How are you tracking with this? Would you have given up? And yet she boldly responds, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” And with that her daughter is healed.
Now I can’t express enough how this is not a name it and claim it type of theology. This is not if you believe enough you can get whatever you want. This is not faith as a carrot that gets God to do what we want him to do. Rather this is a picture of faith in action. Faith is the hand that holds onto the promises of God. So what do we hold on to in our lives? What are the things that we cling to? What drives us and moves us? What strikes fear into our hearts? I believe that there is another lesson here also. So then what in the world is Jesus doing in these verses? It seems kind of harsh doesn’t it? Especially when we know that Jesus is loving and merciful and compassionate. Well, scholars have debated quite a bit about this one. I personally think that what is going on here is that Jesus is teaching his disciples (and you and me too) a very important lesson. That lesson has to do with a difference between our religion and our relationship with God. In other words, don’t let your religion get in the way of your relationship with God. You see it is all to easy for those things that are designed to assist us in our relationship with our God to become a distraction and then we miss the point.
This constantly was an issue for the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They would put their rules and laws and expectations, which came into being for good reason, but they would put these things into the most important place and in the process they failed to bear the kind of witness that God had established them to bear. It would be like associating a certain Bible translation with the one whom that Bible proclaims so much so that all other translations become a threat. Or like associating a color of hymnal or a style of worship with the one who is being worship, so much so that all other forms of worship become a threat. This is the lesson that Jesus is teaching his disciples.
So here is the really hard question to ask, does our religion get in the way of our relationship with God, or in our witness? That is really uncomfortable to think about isn’t it? But this is what Jesus is reacting to. From the disciples perspective, this woman was totally outside of the system. She was one of “those people.” So they could have blown her off, and… This story, not only encourages to live our lives with faith and in the expectation that God keeps his promises no matter what, but to also make sure that our religion doesn’t get in the way of our relationship with God or in our witness to his love in Jesus Christ. You see, no matter how many strikes they have against them, no matter how much who they are or what they do offends or upsets. Because they are human beings and because Jesus died to redeem all human beings, then they should be treated accordingly.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that anarchy should rule the day. I’m not saying that there is no place for rules and that they are unimportant. God established 10 rules. I am also not saying that there is no such thing as right and wrong and that everything is relative.
However, what I am saying, is how we respond to people who are outside of our system of rules and understanding of how things works, in other words, people who are different from us, how we respond to them needs to be in line with what we know about the mission that God has given to us, it needs to be in line with the witness that God has established us to bear. So that they might come to know of his love and grace and mercy in Jesus.
May you always know the peace, hope and joy that comes from living in the expectation of the promises of God being kept. Amen.