Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
August 20, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Texts: Matthew 15: 21-28
How is your faith doing? That might be the key question of this gospel text and this week. How is your faith doing? [I ask] Because, sometimes it is not that we feel like God is ignoring us, it is more like he is pushing against us, pushing us to go where we do not want to go.
August 20, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty
Before we tackle this gospel passage, perhaps we best listen to a parable similar in nature.
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge from Luke Chapter 18
Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
A Pharisee would not like the surface of this passage where Jesus compares God to an unjust Judge. It pushes against everything he has been taught about God and justice. Important to note that Jesus does not call God an unjust judge, but even the comparison between the two would be problematic to a Pharisee. Of course, Jesus gives himself some wiggle room. If even an unjust judge will grant the petition of the persistent widow, will not God who is justice likewise respond to one who is persistent in their call for justice. Also note, in the parable, Jesus does not promise that God will respond faster than the unjust judge, but has the assurance that God will indeed respond. The whole parable is about the need to pray always, not to lose heart, to keep the faith.
Those same themes apply to our gospel lesson today of the Canaanite woman. Her persistence, her not losing heart in the midst of a crisis, her great faith. The widow has a crisis, and Jesus doesn’t present her with a quick and easy answer. Jesus actually pushes against her. First he ignores her. Then he openly and publicly dismisses her and consequently her petition. He will not heal her daughter.
Just a hunch here, but I am guessing that God does not always give you quick and simple answers to the crises of your lives. I would imagine it seems like God rarely gives you quick and easy answers. It may be the challenge of healing or the challenge of dying or the challenge of our nation. Our lives face crises and God wants you to face whatever crisis is on top of your stack today with dogged persistence in prayer in faith.
We often make this Canaanite woman stand alone. [She stands alone] As if she was the only person Jesus offends, the only person that he pushes against. He also refers to the loss sheep of Israel. I do not know what you know about sheep, but calling people sheep is not complimentary and calling the lost sheep is even less complimentary. And the Pharisees are so lost they might not realize that he is talking to them. But then he has spoken to them bluntly other times. True also about the Jewish scribes and other leaders of the synagogue.
Here I offer you two verses from Matthew Chapter 23 where Jesus speaks clearly.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,[f] so that the outside also may become clean.
Woe. Maybe I should say wow as well as woe. To be frank, I dislike Jesus’ initial response to the mother this morning. Actually, I am offended by his rebuke to her. Now, if I continue to be frank, Jesus [really] does not need me to defend him. Ever. I am less offended by him calling others lost sheep, probably that should bother me as well.
The contrast becomes important. The contrast between the desperate mother and the lost Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus presents both with a crisis, he pushes against their expectations for God. Both the Pharisees and the woman say “God do this,” and “God be this.” Jesus wants both to know that God is even bigger. Both the mother and the Pharisees expect more from God than they initially get.
For the Pharisees and other Leaders of Israel, this becomes a crisis of faith. Jesus pushes against their knowledge of scripture, God and faith. They do not even realize he is calling them lost. They respond by plotting to kill Jesus. Not just plotting, they actually kill him on the cross. Their crisis of faith becomes Jesus’ cross.
Jesus also places the crisis in front of the mother. He does not respond as she would intend. He ignores her and dismisses her. Rather than having a crisis of health become a crisis of faith, the mother responds to her crisis with faith. She tells Jesus. “I only need a smidgen of what you got.” That is obviously a paraphrase. More literally, “I only need a crumb of what falls for your table for my daughter to be well.” She is persistent; she does not lose heart. She keeps the faith.
How is your faith doing? Faith in your nation, faith in God, faith in one another? There are forces at work that are pushing us away from one another. Dividing us into smaller and smaller subgroups and telling us you have no reason to get along. These forces of division also push us away from Sunday worship and the community of faith. To that I respond with persistence, with prayer, and with faith. So we can remind one another that God pushes us for a reason, so that we can grow and become better than what we are now. And as he pushes us, he also gathers us around the cross, because the cross is what pushed Jesus’ faith beyond his limits.
We need one another right now. We need the fellowship of faith right now. To come together rather than to push apart. This evening there will be a pot luck. Come to it. We will grill some sausages, some brauts. Elizabeth, I think is making a fruit salad. Kendrick has talked about Jello-Blocks. The meal will start around 5:30 pm. Around 6 PM we are going to start a movie, so if you don’t get here until 6:30 PM, there will still be food here. If you want to come for the meal, but not stay for the movie, come for the meal. You can bring a bag of chips to share or a box of cookies. This is low key. Not exactly impromptu but it has the feel to it. Because right now in this space are some of the most important people (besides family) some of the most important people in your lives. These are people who gather around the cross of faith with you. These people are an important part of your faith, who help sustain your faith when God pushes you. God does not push you away; God pushes you forward and beyond into his grace and mercy.