Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 15:21-28
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
The first four lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I.
Portia’s plea for mercy is set in a venetian Court of Justice, as she begs Shylock for mercy. Shylock is the Jewish moneylender in the play, who is looking for his ‘pound of flesh’ from Antonio, a merchant in Venice who has defaulted on his loan.
Portia, a woman disguised as a man, is calling Shylock to a higher level of humanity. She also uses some manipulation tactics in citing technicalities in the law. All of which result in Portia winning the case, and Antonio, receiving much more than he had received in the original loan.
I see the woman in today’s scripture reading as similar to Portia. This woman not only has faith that Jesus can heal her daughter, she also doesn’t give up when pleading her case before Jesus.
Matthew 15:21-23, ‘Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all.” And his disciples came and urged him saying, “Send her away for she keeps shouting after us.”’
Does the woman slink quietly away? No, she persists, because she has great faith in Jesus’ healing power, and she wants her daughter healed.
Faith is often seen as a passive action, one that comes in difficult times like terminal illness or a death in the family. This passive faith is simply what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” And Jesus has promised to be with us in all things, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20). This kind of faith gives us hope and strength in our earthly struggles.
However, this kind of passive, accepting faith can also be an excuse for not doing anything, especially in the face of injustice. In situations like this, the claim of passive accepting faith is bad faith if it’s any faith at all. When we see what’s going on in our country which is not directly affecting us, we may think, ‘It’s not my problem.’ As American Christians, it is our problem.
The prophet Micah tells us in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I see this Canaanite woman reminding Jesus what God is calling all people to live out. She persists, “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.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24-26)
Scholars continue to debate this verbal exchange between Jesus and this Canaanite woman.
Why did he speak to her the way he did? I have my own theory.
I empathize with Jesus in this passage. Jesus has been doing supernatural miracles, with the feeding of thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. He has been healing the sick by the hundreds, walking on water in a storm to encourage his disciples’ faith, and battling the established religious leaders with words at which they take offense. Jesus has had little time to spend being spiritually fed by spending time with his Father God.
I think Jesus is physically exhausted, and spiritually depleted. Remember He is fully human as well as fully divine. When I am physically exhausted and spiritually depleted, I do not have the patience I should have. When you are physically exhausted and spiritually depleted, do you have patience with other people, especially the difficult ones? This woman was not only being difficult, she was also a Gentile, someone who is not a Jew. A Jewish man and a woman, especially a Gentile woman should not even be having a conversation in that day and time.
However, the Canaanite woman demonstrates a proactive type faith. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (v. 27) Her humility and persistence pays off. “Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28)
By her example, we learn that great faith is faith that seeks justice persistently. It doesn’t give up. It uses the nonviolent weapon of actively seeking the truth with humility. People of great faith do not resort to violence to defeat their opponent. Instead they invite their opponent to a higher level of humanity. This week’s Gospel teaches us that great faith is a persistent faith that doesn’t give up.
Jesus did not find great faith in his disciples. No where can I find where he ever said to Peter, James, and John: Great is your faith. More often the words he spoke to them were. ‘You of little faith.’ On only one other occasion did Jesus praise a person for their faith. The centurion stationed in Capernaum. The Roman soldier, a Gentile, was also pleading with Jesus to heal someone he loved. Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith, saying, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” – “Go, let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.’ (Matthew 8:10, 13).
Jesus knew he had been sent to God’s chosen people of Israel, however, it was in the Gentiles that he found great faith. You and I are Christian Gentiles. We believe in the One True God of the Jews, however, we go one step farther, we also believe in God’s Son Jesus, the Savior of the world. Can Jesus say of us, ‘Great is your faith!’
America has just experienced another week of hate and violence. The hate group came ready for violence. The group protesting the hate group, did not. Yet, if you read the eye-witness accounts of the Charlottesville riots, you will see that both sides resorted to violence, with the tragic outcome being the death of a young woman. A man associated with the hate group, drove into a crowd, and killed the young woman with his car. Violence will never solve problems, and I condemn all violence. However, hate and violence in this country and in our world, have been happening since creation and will continue until Jesus returns.
Meanwhile, what can we Christian Americans do. I believe we have to have great faith in the One True God, be persistent in prayer, and practice what we say we believe.
God hears our prayers, He knows our needs. There is great power in uniting together, turning our hearts towards God, and praying on behalf of our country and our future. We are “One Nation Under God.” He is where our real hope is found. There is a sign in front of the Ontonagon Christian Centre that asks the question, ‘Have you prayed for America today?’ People who come on Thursday night to praise and worship also pray; for America, for our communities, for people who are ill, and for people grieving the loss of loved ones. Prayer is a powerful weapon against sickness, sorrow, and sin.
God does not want us to give up on Him and God does not want us to give up on the difference we can make in our country; if we persist in prayer, we walk humbly with God, and we live the faith we claim to have.
I would like us this morning to come as the persistent woman did, humbling ourselves before Jesus and saying, ‘Lord help us. Have mercy on us.’
Lord Jesus, we come pleading with you to heal our land. As a nation, we are in great distress. America has turned from you and given in to Satan. Forgive us. Have mercy on us, and empower us to have mercy on others, with whom we disagree. We do not want to give up on our country, and we will not give up on you! We believe that you can heal our land. We will be persistent in our prayer for healing. We will be persistent in living out the faith we claim; loving you, above all else, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our desire is to hear your words, ‘Great is your faith.’
Pastor Rosemary DeHut