What Makes a Great Faith?
13th Sunday after Pentecost
What Makes a Great Faith?
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
What Makes a Great Faith? Have you wondered that before? What is it that makes someone’s faith great? You probably know it when you see it. Maybe you’ve said things like, “That guy is a man of faith,” or “Wow! She really has faith.” We might be able to identify great faith when we see it. But bigger questions are What Makes a Great Faith? and, How do I get it?
Maybe who you are and what you do makes your faith great. The Pharisees thought so. They weren’t content with simply obeying God’s laws, they had to add several hundred of their own so they could look more holy. They proudly paraded around town like their sandals didn’t stink. Jesus even told the story of a Pharisee praying out loud, “I thank you Lord that I am not like that tax collector.” The Pharisees certainly thought they had great faith because of who they were and what they did.
The disciples weren’t quite like that. The knew they weren’t a special breed of Jews. Some of them were simple fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector—not exactly the most respected profession among the Jews. They seemed to always be caught by Jesus in fear or doubt. Like two weeks ago when they were dumbfounded when Jesus asked them to feed the 5,000. Or like last week when they thought Jesus was a ghost walking on water. It’s hard to think you have great faith when Jesus himself tells you, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
And yet, even the disciples had a trace of elitism running through their blood. Two weeks ago, when the disciples realized it was getting late and there were more than 5,000 people still hanging around, what did they want to do? Send the people away. A different time when Jesus was mobbed by little munchkins, what did they want to do? Get these kids out of here! And what do we hear today? A Canaanite, Gentile woman came up to Jesus and begged him for mercy. What did they do? “So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”
It would seem that at times the disciples were more than happy to live in their little bubble of an inner circle. How annoying that the poor and needy and sick and the noisy children would mob Jesus! Didn’t they know he was busy! Oh and even worse on this day! A Gentile woman from the gross, pagan, heathen region of Tyre and Sidon. Yuck! “Send her away, Lord!” After all, they were the ones Jesus chose to be his disciples. What did she do to deserve being around him? Judging this Canaanite woman’s book by its cover, they seemed to think their faith was great because of who they were. They were Jews! They were disciples of Jesus!
Have you ever caught yourself thinking that way? Maybe your eyes glance down the row at church on Sunday morning, and those eyes roll back, “Oh boy. Look what the cat dragged into church today.” You see that person who is completely different than you—looks different, dresses different, shaped different, colored different. “Oh I’ve seen people like that before,” you think. “I know what they’re like,” you think. “Great. Just what we need. More of those kinds of people,” you think.
And when we aren’t here at church looking down our noses at other people, we certainly do out in the community. How many times have you seen the people unloading the moving truck next door or down the street and thought immediately, “Well, there goes the neighborhood?” How many times have you been driving to or from church and seen people out and about on Sunday morning and shook your head, “What kind of people are they? Thank God I go to church at least.”
We all do this. Yes, even pastors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made house visits to prospects or canvassed door to door and done this same thing. I’ve walked up the driveway and seen the house or the cars or the New York Yankees bumper stickers and thought, “Oh boy, this will be a fun one.” And then a person opens the door and the thought crosses my mind quickly, “This won’t get very far.” But sometimes those end up being the most fruitful visits.
Similarly, I’ve had more than a few visits to homes where I’ve thought, “Oh, this will be great! These people are awesome. They seem like a good family and a lot of fun. They’ll be perfect for our church!” But then they aren’t even close to interested in the church.
Why would I do this? Why would I instantly assume such things? That’s easy. That great prospect family looks like me. They talk like me or act like me. They are a similar age or have similar interests. And we all know, when someone is similar to me, that makes them great.
It isn’t just the Pharisees. It isn’t just the disciples. We too have pride and elitism pumping through our veins. I’m better because of who I am. Look at what I’ve been through. Look at what I’ve done. I have great faith because of who I am and what I’ve done, too. After all, I’m a Christian. I go to church, unlike those other hypocrites. I’m a real Christian. I’m even a Lutheran. And, best of all, I’m a WELS Lutheran.
We all have thoughts like this from time to time—maybe even all the time. But friends, this isn’t just pride or elitism. This is pure sin. This is my sinful nature trying to get me to forget the many, many things I have done wrong. This is my sinful self trying to tell me that I’m better than others, even though I sin just as much (or even more than others). This is my sinful flesh trying to convince me that all I need to get to heaven is me, myself, and I.
I think my faith is so great because of who I am or what I’ve done, but as Jesus sees me covered in sin he simply says, “O you of little faith.” So what is it that makes a great faith?
We return to the story today. The very first verse says, “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” It’s important to know where he left and why. You see, over the last few chapters of Matthew has been recording how the Pharisees and Jews were rejecting Jesus. They didn’t think they needed him. Or they didn’t want him. Or if they did want him, they wanted him for all the wrong reasons. All these people who should have had great faith—Jews, Pharisees—they were rejecting Jesus. So he went somewhere else. He left Judea and his own people and went to the heathen, pagan region of Tyre and Sidon to the northwest along the coast.
Then this woman approaches him. Not only a woman, but a Canaanite woman. Not only a Canaanite woman, but a Canaanite woman that was probably poor and definitely very needy. “[She] came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’”
Jesus was going to put her to the test. He didn’t answer a word. So the disciples jumped in with that brilliant suggestion about this castaway—“Send her away.”
Jesus puts her to the test even further, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” “The Israelites are God’s chosen people, and you’re a Canaanite.” But the woman was undaunted. Verse 25: “The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.”
Jesus tests her one last time, “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’” Meanwhile the disciples must have been beaming on the inside. “That’s right, Jesus. You tell her! She’s a Canaanite dog and she doesn’t deserve you.” Clearly Jesus was not only testing the woman but also about to teach the disciples a big lesson.
Bold and fearless the woman replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She knew she wasn’t a Jew. She knew she wasn’t one of God’s chosen people. She knew she didn’t have big names like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as her forefathers. But she also knew that even a few crumbs from the feast that is Jesus would be enough for her, and only a few crumbs of Jesus’ power were enough to heal her daughter.
“Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” What do you suppose the disciples thought after this? “Say what? I don’t think we heard you right? She has great faith? This woman? This Canaanite? She has great faith?” Or maybe they just stood there silent with jaws dropped to the ground.
Maybe we are right there with them. How could this poor, needy, begging Canaanite woman have great faith? She wasn’t a Jew. She wasn’t a Christian. She wasn’t an American. She wasn’t a WELS Lutheran. She’s not like me. Her daughter was demon possessed! How could she have great faith?
But let’s review one more time what this woman did. She had a great need and her daughter was suffering terribly. She didn’t read her horoscope. She didn’t buy a self-help book. She didn’t ask Siri. This woman went and found Jesus.
And what did she say, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” You want to know what she said in Greek? Kyrie, eleison. It means, Lord, have mercy and it’s the exact same thing we said a few minutes ago when we confessed our sins—Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Clearly this woman knew she was a sinner. And clearly she knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ, calling him Lord and Son of David.
But Jesus didn’t answer right away. Did she pout? Did she get angry at God? Did she give up? No! She prayed even harder. She came and knelt before Jesus and begged, “Lord, help me!”
But Jesus told her, “You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve me. You’re a sinner.” Did she pout? Did she get angry with God? Did she give up? No! She agreed. She knew she was a sinner. She knew she didn’t deserve Jesus and the riches of dining at his heavenly banquet. So she continued to plead, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” “Even a few crumbs of your love and forgiveness, Jesus, even a few crumbs of your power are enough. That’s all I need.”
This woman knew clearly who she was. She was a sinner. She was a nothing. She deserved nothing. But she knew there was a Savior and she knew it was Jesus. So she came to him. Not proudly. Not entitled with her hand out. She came to Jesus with humility and repentance. And then boldly and confidently she held Jesus to who he is, our loving Savior who has mercy on the repentant and who can forgive our every sin with even a tiny crumb of his grace. It’s no wonder Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith!”
You know, come to think of it, that woman really is not all that different from us. She doesn’t live today. She doesn’t look like us. She’s not an American. She’s not a Lutheran. But she is just like us.
We also clearly know who we are. We are sinners. We are nothings. We deserve nothing. But we also know that there is a Savior whose name is Jesus. So like the woman, we go to Jesus. We go to him in prayer. We go to him in worship. We go to him at his altar in Communion. But we don’t go to Jesus proudly. We don’t go to Jesus feeling entitled, like we deserve salvation because of who I am or what I’ve done.
We go to Jesus with humility and repentance. We fold our hands and bow our heads. We confess our sins in worship not with a smirk or a smile, but with seriousness and gravity. And we call out to him, Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison—Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy.
Sometimes Jesus tests our faith. Sometimes he allows troubles. Sometimes he doesn’t answer our prayers right away. Sometimes he lets our troubles remind us that we are unworthy sinners.
But we don’t pout. We don’t get angry with God. We don’t give up. We know he’s right. We don’t deserve anything from him. But boldly and confidently we return to him on our knees and hold Jesus to who he is—our loving Savior who has mercy on the repentant. And we plead, “Lord, just a crumb of your grace. That’s all I need.”
This is what makes a great faith. It’s not who I am. It’s not what I look like. It’s not what I’ve done. What makes my faith great is the one I have faith in—Jesus. We know and believe that we are sinners. But we know and believe that he is our merciful Savior. We have absolute confidence in his love and forgiveness. So as Jesus sees us begging for even a crumb of grace from his table, he smiles. “Man/Woman,” he says, “You have great faith! Your request is granted.”
Posted on September 7, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Church, Crumbs, Disciples, Faith, Great Faith, Kyrie Eleison, Little Faith, Lord Have Mercy, Matthew, Matthew 15, Mercy, Pharisees, Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.