Saturday, November 26, 2011

Matthew 15: The Faith of a Gentile Woman

She came pleading.  She came asking for mercy, calling Jesus "Lord, Son of David."  Why did He turn away from her?  Why did He not speak a word?  He came to heal, to seek and save that which is lost.  To this woman He spared not even a word.  Did it make so great a difference that she was a Gentile?  Nowhere else does it say that He turned away Gentiles.  When He refused to do miracles it was because the people had no faith, or the hypocritical leaders demanded a sign to satisfy their own opinions.  Why here?  Why the harsh reply?
Elsewhere it says Jesus knew what was in people's hearts.  It could be there were attitudes in this woman's heart that needed to be defeated.  Maybe she needed that humbling before she could have faith.  Maybe to her former way of thinking it would have been contradictory to say, "Lord," and "Son of David" to the same person, and that pride needed to die.  Maybe it was just to show that the Living God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not with the gods of the Gentiles.
But then she worshipped Him; said, "Lord, help me!"  Is that not a humble and contrite spirit?  And Jesus' answer is hard.  "It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to their dogs."  This isn't for you.
"Yes, Lord," she says, humbly, before answering with pert and pleading wisdom, "Yes, Lord, but even dogs are permitted to eat crumbs that fall beneath their master's table."
What did Jesus' friends and followers think of such an exchange I wonder.  And did Jesus act surprised at finding belief in this corner, like with the centurion?  "You have great faith," He tells her.  But was He pleased at all?  Was He saddened by the comparison to Israel?
If without faith it is impossible to please God, does this faith please God?  I think it does.  And maybe there was more in "You have great faith" than "You believe what is true."  You have great faith, you believe well.  You have great faith, you act on it.  You have great faith, you place your trust outside yourself and walk in humility.  You have great faith, you are bold in pursuing what that faith holds as right.  You have great faith, you can plead, brokenhearted, and be boldly persistent.
I wish these accounts said whether Jesus smiled at her, or looked favourably at her at all when He said, "You request is granted."  I wish I knew His reaction, and the disciples reactions, when she took His metaphor for her own request.  It reminds me of Abraham, pleading for Sodom.  He never asks God not to destroy Sodom.  He simply asks, "Would You spare it, for a few righteous men?"  And attitude of , "Yes, Lord, but is this in Your nature?"  The woman says, "Yes, Lord," but will You be more merciful than our deserving?
I wonder if she knew the history of Israel, of Rahab and Ruth, the Gentile women in the lineage of the Son of David, the ancestors of Jesus. 
In Mark's account Jesus says, "First I should help my own family, the Jews," and then, "Good answer!" in place of "You have great faith."
I am a Gentile.  And I think Jesus was pleased to have mercy on this woman.  I hope to have such great and humble faith.

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