8/18/02, P13A

“The Woman of Persistent Faith”
Matthew 15: 21-28

oday's text tells two teriffic tales. First, we have a story about Jesus tantalizing the Pharisees by publicly challenging their age-old traditions concerning dietary customs. He said that, "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." (11, NRSV) Jesus said this in front of a large crowd, which contained some Pharisees just waiting for him to say the wrong thing. The Apostles probably felt that he had surely slipped up in his directness, and responded, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" (12) And then Jesus called the Pharisees, who had been building up these hundreds of dietary regulations for hundreds of years, "blind guides of the blind." (14) Jesus seemed frustrated with the Apostles' fear of the Pharisees. They wanted to tiptoe around the conflict and maybe they would leave them alone. But Jesus knew that it was not to be.

One of the first things that we notice about the adult Jesus is that he did not agree with the Pharisees, and they did not accept him either. In today's world, lots of un-churched people do not like church folks either. Both Jesus, and today's population who have not been reared in the Church, feel that many active in churches are not living up to their faith. They had, and often we appear to have, too many rules and regulations that miss the point. The Pharisees took the Ten Commandments and turned them into ten thousand commandments mostly dealing with the foods that a person was not supposed to eat. Today, many churches have developed mores that have little to do with true religion. Often, church members seem to feel that if they obey the cultural norms that they are measuring up. Yet, to outsiders, we appear to be self-righteous, exclusive and out of touch. However, Jesus seems more popular today than ever, as exemplified in the rise of non traditional movements like Promise Keepers and the WWJD phenomenon.

Jesus knew that this was a good time for his entourage to leave the country. The Apostles must have been relieved to "Get out of Dodge!" However, Jesus' purpose had a higher motivation. He was leading them on a mission to the Gentiles whom the Apostles had been reared to think were their mortal enemies. They had visited Gentile regions before, but this expedition seemed to be much more purposeful. In addition to exemplifying that non Jews would be included in the new Kingdom of God, Jesus was taking an excursion far from home to Syrophoenicia, an area north, along the Mediterranean coast near Tyre and Sidon, today's Lebanon and the original Phoenicia, which was a part of the Roman province of Syria in that day. Jesus' route included as big of a variety of Gentiles as could be met head on. Among Jesus' many motives must have been the practical matter of allowing the Apostles a glimpse into their future mission field. He was also teaching them that Gentiles are persons of sacred worth.

Along the way they encountered a Syrophonecian woman who believed that Jesus could heal her daughter. Mark's rendition of this story calls her a Greek, probably because she cried out to them in the Greek language of the international seaport region. Matthew uses the older name Phoenicians favored in calling themselves Canaanites.

However, in addition to a glimpse of the future world wide Christian Church, we come to an even deeper point of the story which is the annoyingly persistent crying out of the Gentile woman whose only purpose was to have Jesus do for her daughter what he had been doing for so many others. She really did not care if she annoyed the young Apostles. She did not care if they thought of her as a "Gentile Dog." Actually, Jesus did not call her a dog; he only proposed the question in the language of the day as to whether it was appropriate to give to the Gentiles the Covenant that belonged to the Jews only. Her answer incisively reflected what was happening in Jesus tour, "Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." (27) She was a serious student of religion and had kept up with the stories that were being passed around about Jesus' ministry, but her main asset was that her faith was focused upon her emergency need; her daughter's healing. As she followed Him along in his preaching mission she must have come to believe that Jesus was the Savior of the World. However, it is obvious that she believed that Jesus could heal her daughter and that she was never going to give up until He did it.

Anyone who has ever had a sick child can empathize with her dire predicament. Many of us have had medical emergencies, or similar catastrophic events that have required our total concentration. We remember that out of these traumatic times there has come a renewal of faith. Some of us are recalling how an accident or life threatening disease has turned out to be a life changing event that has been welded into our souls. Our life was changed forever by that terrifying experience. This is exactly what was going on in this persistent woman's life. All she wanted was to have Jesus heal her daughter: yet, in so doing she was confessing great faith in Jesus. She did not know all about Him; yet she knew that He could heal her daughter. Jesus met her need in a wonderful way: "Then Jesus said to her, 'O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once." (v. 28, NASV)

We learn from this story that petitionary prayer involves so much more that simply praying for our daily bread and other physical needs. Later, when Jesus faced his own death, he too lifted up his tearful eyes toward heaven and prayed that this cup might be taken from him. He was pleading for some other way to bring about the salvation of humanity, yet he continued in his heart breaking prayer with the words, "Yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matt. 26:39, NASV)

The key to petitionary prayer is to surrender to God's perfect will. And this is exactly why Jesus healed this woman's daughter. She never gave up and she bowed humbly at his feet with a heart full of faith.

And God will take care of us through all of the inevitable difficulty that we will face. He will never fail us as we persist in petitionary prayer and submission!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

8/18/02, P13A