Blog / Book of the Month / Faith / Matthew 15:21-28 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 20th 2023 / The Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Faith / Matthew 15:21-28 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 20th 2023 / The Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Faith / Matthew 15:21-28 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 20th 2023 / The Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 20th 2023: Season of Pentecost / Matthew 15:21-28 “Faith”

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The world says that faith is important: it says that it isn’t important who you have faith in only that you have faith, but is this really the case? Do you wonder about your own faith from time to time? Today we have an account of faith and here we have a passage about faith that seems sort of peculiar. All by its self this is a curious passage, but Matthew’s Gospel arranges the event’s we’ve been looking at in the last couple of weeks in such a way that one passage mirrors and juxtaposes against another. Starting with the feeding of the 5,000 and ending with the feeding of the 4,000 the passages inter-relate with each other. The miraculous feedings are like bookends and the passage with this Canaanite woman with persistent ‘great faith’ has its counterpart in the passage with Saint Peter the Israelite and disciple with sinking ‘little faith.’   

Last week we heard of Saint Peter (frightened by the demonic storm) who while sinking into the water that he was walking on, calls out to Jesus “Lord, Save Me!,” This week we hear of the Canaanite woman who’s daughter is plagued by a demon who call’s out to Jesus, “Lord, Help Me!” Peter is an Israelite, Jesus says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet when we look at these two accounts side by side Jesus chides Peter for having little faith and here we have this Canaanite woman, one who lives outside the covenant and Jesus calls her faith great. Take note, Jesus didn’t help the one and spurn the other; His help is not based on how much faith they have. He didn’t let Peter slip into the depths of the sea because his faith was little and Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t say that the Canaanite woman was rewarded for her great faith. Jesus simply saved and helped them both because they had “Faith,” in Him. Already in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus has taught that you need only, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”[1] We see this here with these two people; the disciple Saint Peter who already has a very close relationship with Jesus, has heard Him preach and teach and has seen Jesus perform miracles he calls out in his time of need “Lord, Save Me!,” and the Canaanite woman a gentile, a non-Jew, who had not spent time around Jesus yet who has great faith calls out, “Lord, Help Me!”

How would this gentile, a non-Jew, have faith to begin with? The same way you do! Last week our Epistle reading from Romans ended with the phrase, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” She heard the good news of Jesus and the Holy Spirit created faith in her heart. She addresses Jesus as Lord, she knows who Jesus is ... the messiah, the fulfilment of God’s promise to King David when she addresses Jesus as, “Son of David.” This is a woman who’s catechesis has already begun, she has been taught that Jesus can help her daughter who has been oppressed by a demon otherwise she wouldn’t come to him for help! Would you take a suit to be tailored at an accountant’s office, no! Would you take your receipts or taxes to a tailor, no! The two might be good at figures but one is not like the other. The Canaanite woman has come to the right place: She knows what Jesus can do; She knows who Jesus is; She has faith that He can do for her what she asks.[2]  

How do we talk to Jesus? Peter on the water called out, the Canaanite woman walking behind them called out and in both cases Jesus stood there and heard them. How do we talk to Jesus? We talk to Jesus in prayer: we pray - He listens; we ask - He answers. You’ve heard it said that God answers prayers: with a ‘yes,’ a ‘no,’ or with a ‘not yet.’ Sadly some teach that the number of people praying makes a difference, as if prayer is some sort of a petition that gets fast tracked or taken seriously only if there are enough signatures. Or some teach that the petitions of our prayers are answered with a yes if our faith is strong enough. How sad it is to hear that some people say to one another, “if only your faith was stronger Jesus would have cured your cancer,” “if only your faith wasn’t so weak God would have given you that job,” “if only your faith was more pure you’d have the money you need.”[3] HOGWASH:[4] This sort of talk heaps worry and doubt and pain and suffering on the back of the one who prays. Remember Jesus promises that His “yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light.”[5] Let no one heap troubles on you, you are God’s adopted child, adopted into the family of God through baptism, washed clean from your sins in the blood of Christ. Prayers answered with a “yes” only ought not to be the measurement of your faith.   

Even still we all find ourselves asking from time to time, ‘What sort of faith do I have? Is my faith weak, is it little faith, is it great faith, can it remove mountains,[6] is it as small as a mustard seed?’[7] Whether your faith is great or small is not as important as Who your faith is In. Whether you are plagued by doubts or if your faith is firm in the face of trial is not as important as Who your faith is In. The one true faith is faith in Christ Jesus; the one true faith is faith in the Holy Trinity of which He is the second person. Outside of this faith there is no true faith; outside of this faith there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth; outside this faith there is only illusion and false teaching. Peter and the Canaanite woman both believed in their heart and confessed with their mouth that their only salvation, their only help is in the LORD.[8] Let Jesus be the judge of your faith and trust in Him when you pray.

This goes for our neighbours to, this goes for those we are asked to serve and to care for, let Jesus be the judge of their faith: we are often quick to pass judgment on people. The disciples were doing just that with this woman. They wanted Jesus to send her away, because she was following after them and bothering them; the suggestion is that they wanted her to go away because she wasn’t a Jew. Do you ever ask Jesus the same sort of thing? Is there ever a person in your life who seeks your help for whom you say, “Jesus, send them away, for they are crying out after us!” This request sounds a lot like their plea to Jesus just before the feeding of the 5,000 when the disciples came to Jesus saying, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over, send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” You’d think they’d have learned this lesson, you’d think they’d expect Jesus to do the opposite of what they asked, yet there they are asking it anyways! “Send her away, for she is crying out after us!” You’d think they’d take care of it themselves, Jesus had previously sent them out to heal the sick and cast out demons, any one of the disciples could do what the woman asked![9] They could have asked Jesus, ‘I know she isn’t one of the lost sheep of Israel but can one of us help this woman and her daughter?’ Maybe Peter who was just saved from drowning by Jesus might think, ‘Jesus saved me! Surly I can help this woman’s daughter!’ but no. Instead they judged the Canaanite woman as outside the Kingdome and not worthy of being helped. Jesus’ interaction with this woman of great faith is less, it seems, for the building up her faith and more, it seems, for the building up of the disciples’ faith.

Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”  Translated into English Jesus’ response to the woman’s request seems harsh but in the Greek it’s more gentle. The word Jesus uses for children is an affectionate one and the word Jesus uses for dogs, would better be translated as puppies. It brings to mind a family home and a kitchen with a little puppy under the table looking for dinner scraps.  

There is more ‘yes’ in this than ‘no’  Jesus is being more kind with His words than the disciples were being with theirs. She is asking Jesus for the table scraps of the Jews and one might ask, ‘do they have anything left over to give to her?’ Maybe those twelve baskets full of leftovers from the feeding of the 5,000! There is enough Jesus to go around. For her part she humbled herself to the point of being like a puppy begging for scraps from the table of the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus would later instruct His disciples saying, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”[10] Here the disciples had an object lesson of this very teaching.  

The Canaanite woman, while not a Jew had great faith in Jesus. Saint Peter who we imagine always to have great faith is shown to be one who at times had little faith, yet Jesus loves them both and does for each as they asked of Him. Seeing this and remembering the ways in which Jesus has cared for us we remember that, “We love because He first loved us.”[11] And when questions of faith, questions of the quality or quantity of faith trouble you, you need not be anxious; because you, my dear ones, do have faith in Christ Jesus, how do I know this? Because those of you who are baptised have been given faith by the working of the Holy Spirit; and now you can point back to that baptism and say, there ... there is the place where I know for certain that the Holy Spirit has created faith in me and assigned to me my measure of faith:[12] And those of you who have yet to be baptised; you who have heard the Word of God and believed in your heart and have confessed with your tongue you would not in honesty say “Jesus is Lord!” unless you have faith. Faith that Jesus lived, died, was raised and lives for you, faith that His word is true, faith that He will save you and help you no matter how little or great your faith is. So whether you are like saint Peter or like the Canaanite woman, trust the faith you’ve been given, trust your faith is Christ Jesus (It is the one true faith in the face of many false deceptions) and remember while you can be judged on many things by the World and those who live in it, Jesus alone judges your faith.  Amen.

Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Matthew 7:7-8
[2] Hebrews 11:6

(Here is an example of someone who heaps imaginary guilt on the Christian whose prayers are not being answered with a ‘yes,’ by saying that if you only fasted more your prayers would be answered).

[4] Hogwash [hawg-wosh] noun, refuse given to hogs; swill. any worthless stuff.
[5] Matthew 11:30
[6] 1 Corinthians 13:2
[7] Matthew 17:20
[8] Romans 10:9
[9] Matthew 10:5-15
[10] Matthew 23:12
[11] 1 John 4:19
[12] Romans 13:3

Photo Credit: main photo of puppy begging for crumbs from pexels.