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. (Mat 15:21-28)
“O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus tells this to the Caananite woman. It is a startling compliment, one that has to shock the disciples who wanted to send her away. Perhaps it even shocked her. She wasn’t able to do anything, but ask Jesus for help, when Jesus says that the faith of a mustard seed could move mountains. Her faith only knows one hope, and for that hope she perseveres. It is the hope we all share as Christians, it is Jesus Christ our Lord, who can do all things. So she goes to Jesus Christ to cry for mercy, to pray for grace. She doesn’t let anyone get in her way. She is not turned away, she knows that her Lord is full of Grace and Mercy. That he alone could help, and he alone would help. That he would not care that she was a Canaanite and not a Jew. He would help her with her problem, because if he is Lord he is Lord of the world, and her Lord.
Lord Help me. Kyrie Eliason is her plea. Lord have mercy. It was a common expression in the ancient world, one that was often chanted as high ranking government officials visited a city. It was a manner of acknowledging that you were at their mercy. They did not need to help, and you needed help. Worse, you deserved the opposite of help. You show mercy on your enemies, on those who most likely deserve your scorn or punishment. To cry Lord have mercy is to confess that you are a sinner who does not deserve the help for which you ask. You ask that God would not look on your sin or deny you his grace because of them. It is to pray, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is what the woman wants, this is what her great faith asks for.
Her great faith. It is the opposite of what the world calls great faith. The world does not abide this sort of talk. The world would say this woman lacks self-esteem, and has no pride. This is what the world exalts. Today people think great faith is the kind of attitude that demands from God what it wants, and makes it happen. Great faith is great pride in personal accomplishment, as especially marked in those things which pass for sanctification today. Excelling in “good Christian fun” whatever that might be. Priding yourself on not using certain language, perhaps even looking down on others who do. Priding yourself on giving up the drink and not falling off the wagon, not using tobacco products. These are the great things of faith. Or maybe being able to speak in tongues, and do faith healings. It’s reflected in testimonials that talk of how far to seed one has gone, and look how good my life is now?!
There is none of that in this woman. No pride. She asks the Lord for mercy. Lord, help me. And she doesn’t even ask on behalf of herself, but on behalf of her daughter. The disciples don’t want her around. She isn’t one of them. And yet she is. Despite all earthly differences this woman believes in Jesus. She has heard of him. A small crumb has fallen from the table of the Lord, a little morsel of good news had come to her as those who had flocked to Galilee to see Jesus speak the good news to the poor, forgive sins, make the lame to run and give the blind their sight returned to their homes and went throughout all the world chewing on the meal of forgiveness they had been given, and dropping crumbs everywhere. She heard of him in passing and took it to heart. Now she is a believer like the Jewish disciples, and she will not have her faith taken from her. She wrestles for it, and prevails. Jesus compliments her on her great faith that knows nothing but Jesus. He heals her daughter.
This is faith. It isn’t always easy. It is at odds with the world. It doesn’t look glorious. Oh it has it’s moments of shine. But it is not always so. There are times when life is so hard you feel like giving up. Nothing seems to go right. Perhaps you wonder if you believe enough, or if you have strong enough faith. The world tells you to cheer up, to move on. Perhaps it even tells you to give up on Jesus. And we, do we act like the disciples in our own life? Do we of faith make premature judgments as to who is worthy or not worthy of the faith? Premature? It isn’t our job at all to judge whether they are worthy of the faith at any time. No, our job if any is to eat at the table of forgiveness and be as messy as possible with it so that even his dogs are well fed with the crumbs that fall from his table. To come to church as often as possible whether feeling happy or sad, depressed or cheerful, in celebration or somber remembrance through all seasons of life. Because our Lord, is Lord of life, he is Lord of all of our life. He isn’t there just for those who feel strong, or proud, or humble. No, he died on the cross that our lives being buried into his death would be resurrected to eternal life in him, that every day of our lives would be lived in service to him, no matter who we are, despite all our successes and failures in this world. And now he is Lord, not just of good Christian boys and girls, but Lord of all, his enemies a foot stool for his feet who has conquered all. And those who hear, those who grab hold of the crumbs that fall, well then they like this woman will want more, and perhaps they come at first thinking they are nothing but dogs fit only to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, but then they will also learn like this woman that in fact they are children of the father with their own place at this table of grace.
Great was her faith, not because she was strong willed. But because her faith was in him who is great. Great too is your faith, when you believe in Him who died for your sins, and rose for your justification, that the whole world would be restored to peace with God.
Now the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.