Second Sunday in Lent
[Read Matthew 15:21-28]
Great Faith: Clinging to God’s “Yes” Through Many “No’s”
“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire,” our Lord said. And her daughter was healed that very hour. The woman received God’s “Yes”. “Yes, your daughter will be healed.”
And the woman is said to have great faith. You are bound to hear about “great faith” if you listen long to radio or TV Christianity. You are bound to hear about “great faith” if you read from the Christian self-help section of the bookstore. Is it the same “great faith” that Jesus speaks about?
“Great faith” on TV, the radio, and in the books is so often depicted as a faith on fire – a burning, blazing power within you. Supposedly, whatever your struggle is – sickness, money shortage, depression, this or that sin – “great faith” will fix it in a flash – it’ll move that mountain in a snap. If you truly believe.
If you truly believe, the problem will be fixed. Which implies that if the problem – whether it’s bodily, spiritual, or sin-related – isn’t fixed by your prayer of faith, you might not truly believe. This false view of “great faith” can be very destructive in times of trial. Many are left with that nagging torment: “Do I truly have faith?” “Is my faith too weak to save me?” “Do I truly believe? – because my prayer of faith did not receive its ‘Yes’ from God – do I truly believe enough?” A destructive misunderstanding.
Our Gospel reading today ends with that statement, “And her daughter was healed instantly – (“that hour”, the Greek says)”. And, yes, the woman’s daughter was made well in that hour – but that hour of “Yes” from Jesus came after a string of how many “No’s” from Jesus?
Your prayer goes unanswered. You struggle with making the same dumb mistake over and over. You use the same bad judgment over and over. You hate this about yourself. You beg Christ, “help me to do better!” And He keeps handing you the answer “No” – as is evidenced by your continued struggle.
You fall into the same sin – a real damning sin – again and again. Each time resolving never to do that again! And each time, crying “Lord, HELP!” And, again and again, you get the apparent answer, “No”. Only the Lord can help; you sought His help; yet you are the same man you were yesterday.
Or, it’s your health. You prayed for healing for your shipwreck of a body – injured, diseased, cut on by doctors. Or you prayed for help for your shipwreck of a monthly budget. Or, like this woman in the Gospel, you prayed for help for your shipwreck of a daughter or son or husband or mom or dad or wife or whoever. THEY are hurting – THEY are losing their faith in Christ – You love them – yet Christ keeps telling you “No” - “I am not fixing this right now”. You see the “No” as the struggle continues.
Great faith. The woman of great faith in our Gospel today believed in the Lord’s final “Yes” throughout all of His immediate “No’s”. Great faith does get told “No”. Yet great faith continues to believe in God’s “Yes” throughout all of His “No’s”.
The woman in our Gospel lesson is referred to as a Canaanite woman. This means she is not of the children of Israel. Instead, she descends from the old pagan tribes that lived in the land of Israel before it was the land of Israel. She is descended from the Canaanites whom, in fact, many centuries before, God had commanded they be driven from the land.
This woman, a Canaanite, has a daughter who is “severely oppressed by a demon.” Now, it should be noted that this woman, as a Canaanite – as a non-Israelite – in the land, very likely was a person who had not been worshiping the true God. This woman, very likely, is a woman who worshiped false gods in her pagan religion, yet now, later in life, has come to know Jesus Christ as the true God.
This woman’s daughter is severely oppressed by a demon – a situation that might not be unrelated to the mother’s own false, pagan religion and worship. In short, what a son or daughter suffers, often, is not unrelated to the mistakes of mom and dad.
This is hard to face. Imagine: this mother, she has come to know Christ later in life, but her daughter currently is still suffering because of the mother’s previous un-Christian life. This is hard for moms and dads to face. We don’t want our kids to suffer – and we don’t want it to be our fault. But healing begins with the acknowledgment of past sins and with repentance.
This Canaanite woman, however, for the sake of her hurting daughter, has now turned to the true Lord with her request – only to be turned down. The woman came out, crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” – “My daughter needs you.” “But Jesus did not answer her a word.” This is the “No” of the Lord’s silence.
The disciples of Jesus then begged Jesus to send this woman away – a “No” from the Church, so to speak. Jesus, at this point, responds with words: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” – “I am not here to help this woman right now” – the Lord’s second “No”.
Next, this Canaanite woman kneels before Jesus, pleading again, “Lord, help me.” Jesus, this poor woman’s Lord and God, now responds only with a biting statement: “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (“Dog” was a derogatory way of referring to non-Jews.) This was the Lord’s third “No” – “Help is not for you right now.”
After receiving these three “No’s”, this Canaanite woman still trusts Jesus for His final “Yes” - She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” “I know Lord – I’ve heard Your “No”; but I also believe, nevertheless, that You will help and that You do have a ‘Yes’ for me.” “O woman, great is your faith.”
Great faith believes without an immediate good answer. Great faith does not feel entitled to the “Yes”, yet still clings to it. Great faith believes its own unworthiness – great faith is willing to be called the Lord’s dog and not His superstar. Great faith believes the undeserved “Yes” throughout all the deserved “No’s”. This Canaanite woman’s daughter is the beneficiary of her mother’s enduring faith.
So, in the Gospel, we hear of this Canaanite woman. In the Old Testament reading [Genesis 32:22-32], we hear a similar story of Jacob who wrestled with the Lord all night, refusing to let the Lord go until the Lord blesses him. The Lord wants us to struggle with Him and to hold Him to the “Yes” He has promised.
My struggle might be health; my struggle might be money; but my greatest danger is my own sinful nature. Your children and grandchildren, the greatest danger for them is their own sinful nature. And so is yours. I ask the Lord for help in this struggle against my sin – I ask the Lord to help others in their same struggle - but I am so often faced with only “No’s” as the Lord’s answer.
Nevertheless, I trust is the “Yes” of God’s will: “For this is the will of God – your sanctification.” [1 Thessalonians 4:3] Being made holy, “sanctification”, is the Lord’s will. It is His ultimate gift – His ultimate “Yes”. Whether its sexual immorality; whether its living in sin (in some way or another); whether its selfishness; whether its anger or pride; whether its doubts; whether its nagging unbelief – No matter what sin it is, the Lord’s will is your sanctification – that you will indeed be made holy.
The Lord’s will is the Lord’s “Yes”. The Lord’s will is the Lord’s promise of what He will do. The Lord’s will is sometimes done after many “No’s”, but His good and gracious will is done. You pray for yourselves to be delivered – you pray for others. Brothers and sisters, be men and women of great faith. Believe in God’s “Yes” even in the midst of today’s “No”. Amen.