O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, I pray the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts will be acceptable to you. Amen
There are at least 156 gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary from which we get our scriptures for each Sunday. This Lectionary is used by the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, and others. The gospel reading today is probably one of the most difficult, or at least it is on the surface. There are all kinds of difficult and inappropriate questions. Why is Jesus so harsh and offensive to this person? Does she finally get the best of him in an argument? What would it mean for someone to have Christian faith in this setting? What ever happened to the woman? Did she become a disciple?
The problem is she’s a double outsider—a woman and a gentile. She’s the wrong gender to receive any respect and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. Who exactly does she think she is to even ask Jesus to heal her daughter?
But the story goes much farther than these questions. A legitimate case can be made that it was about God’s plan for salvation. Salvation was first to the Jews, then the Gentiles. It can also legitimately be said that the story is about racism and sexism, both then and now.
But more importantly, it’s about faith more than anything else. We tend to identify with Jesus and his affirmation of God’s order (Jews first, then Gentiles). However, the story invites us to place ourselves in the role of the other, to struggle not only with God but also our own perceptions of the other, the woman and then to pronounce such a struggle to be a great faith.
The Syrophoenician, or Canaanite woman had faith. That can’t be denied. We don’t know how she obtained her faith—it maybe that really doesn’t matter. Maybe she just heard that this rabbi from Galilee could heal the sick and drive out demons. She was convinced this man could help her daughter. At first, Jesus wanted nothing to do with her. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David (Jesus’ Jewish messianic title, she was a Gentile); my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Jesus ignores her. The disciples wanted to send her away; she was disrupting the place. Jesus answers the disciples (which she heard also): “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and knelt in front of him: “Lord, help me.” Jesus replies, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Dogs is more literally translated as puppy. The Jews did not typically keep dogs as pets. The dogs that roamed the streets were half wild, certainly not in a house where they could get scraps from a table. Only Gentiles would have puppies in their houses. Here’s where the woman turns the table: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She only wanted the leftover crumbs! Jesus then recognized what great faith she had! “Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed immediately!
It’s significant that three times the unnamed woman called Jesus Lord. It is him that she is subject to and obeys. But she is not shy about asking her Lord what she needs.
This was not the first time Jesus had an encounter with a Gentile who needed his help in curing someone. We remember back in the 8th chapter of Matthew he was confronted by a centurion in Capernaum who requested that his servant be healed. In much the same manner the servant was cured from a distance. Both ended similarly. What great faith they each had!
Contrast this with Peter, just a few verses previous, who began walking across the water to meet Jesus realized where he was, and nothing like that was supposed to happen, began to sink. Peter cried out, “Lord save me!” Jesus reached out grabbed Peter’s hand and said to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus saved the one who at the time had little faith. But Peter knew who to call on.
God gives us everything—even the capacity to have faith. Each of us develops our faith, that is to have a deeper faith, a strong faith by the things that happen to us and around us.
My father took care of all the finances of he and my mother. He had always been the bread winner. My mother never worked outside home. They gardened together. They went to church together. They had a wonderful relationship. Then my father died suddenly in February of 1987. She was not with him when he had a massive heart attack and collapsed in the barn. It was she that found him. She was lost without him. She got mad at God for taking away her husband of 51+ years. The pastor to whom she confided told her that getting mad was OK; have it out with him; tell him how you feel. All this knowing the strong faith she had. And finally the relationship was restored. But it was a long, long struggle.
We all struggle sometimes. Many times the struggle is over the loss of a loved one because of death or a broken relationship. These are the times when we feel the worst. When our body hurts, maybe our fingers, the body is trying to tell us something. Maybe it’s arthritis in them and they want attention. When we hurt spiritually, our hearts are also trying to tell us something. It needs fixing. It needs a cure. That’s when we struggle with God. not that we’re going to set him straight, but we come to a better understanding that even though we hurt, God is there with us, bearing the hurt we feel. He carries us. The relationship changes; it deepens.
The two Gentile people, the woman we read about today and the centurion knew very little about Jesus, only that he could make the sick well, they had confidence, they had faith. Peter, although he lived and traveled with Jesus for some two to three years was learning—learning firsthand. This man Peter, who had little faith, became the leader of the church, preaching, teaching, and healing those who came to him. He became the leader of this band of common people on Pentecost Sunday when he received the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gave him the gift.
God gives us gifts. One of those gifts is the ability to understand our relationship with God. And that understanding is a little bit different for each of us. We still believe and have the same doctrine, but because of our life differences our relations ship with God is a little different. We pray to him, have faith in him, but our relationship with him affects the way we pray, the way we communicate. And every time there’s a change in our life and we struggle, our faith becomes stronger and deeper.
The bottom line is: we are all God’s children, God will not reject us. Have faith and you will have joy as your relationship deepens!