Sunday 2nd August 2020

Call to Worship: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after you, O God.’ Psalm 42:1

Reading: Matthew 15:21-28 The Story of the Syro-Phoenician Woman

Reflection: Tenacious Faith

Let me begin by asking a question:

  • How is your faith today?
  • How would you describe your faith?
  • Do you feel your faith in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord is strong, robust no matter what life throws at you?
  • Or have you found these weeks and months a test of faith?
  • Might you even say a better description could be, ‘hanging on by a thread’?

Sorry, that’s more than one question! Where are you when it comes to your own personal faith and does it matter? It does – it a matters a great deal. Why? Faith is a gift from God – but we too have our part to play:

  • The Bible is clear – we are people who are saved by faith – we are part of God’s people through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord – Apostle Paul writes – ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…’ Ephesians 2:8
  • Paul would also flesh that out for us a little when he wrote: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Galatians 2:20.

Jesus, not surprisingly, had a great deal to say about faith:

  • Rebuking his own disciples at times as: ‘of little faith’.

But also commending the faith of others, particularly those who came to him in desperate need:

  • The woman who reached out to touch his robe in the hope of healing – ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you…’
  • The Centurion whose servant was sick and who came to Jesus for help – Jesus described as someone with, great faith’.
  • And in our intriguing reading for today, we hear Jesus again declaring that someone had, ‘great faith!’

We are a people saved by faith – Jesus clearly prizes faith….Faith matters, it matters a lot, and that’s a major understatement….So, wherever you feel you are in your life of faith today, however you might describe yourself, if you long for a stronger, more robust, resilient, faith, in Matthew 15, we have a rich teaching and an encounter that can help us all, as it points to what tenacious faith looks like and the difference it makes…

Before we delve into Matthew 15, let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, once more we are so grateful for this opportunity to gather around your precious word. Lord, you call us to come to you by faith, and you call us to live by that same faith. Help us Lord to be open to all you teach us this morning; come by Your Spirit and open our hearts to You, for we come before You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

So, our text – The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman:

Jesus had left Galilee and headed north to the region of Tyre, near modern day Lebanon. Perhaps both He and His disciples needed some time of rest away from the crowds…. Mark in his account, tells us Jesus wanted His presence to be a secret, but the secret was soon out. A foreign woman, a gentile, whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit, had clearly heard Jesus was in the vicinity and had heard too that He was a Healer…so she came begging Him to drive a demon out of her daughter, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly…’ Her request is simple: “Please Lord, help my little girl!”

SO, AT THE OUTSET, WE HAVE A SIMPLE FAITH LESSON: Having faith means bringing our requests to Jesus – like this woman – Jesus is the One to go to….And Jesus’ response to her request? He is strangely quiet…He makes no response at first, but not His disciples:

A Canaanite woman? A Gentile? Why is SHE bothering the Master?

Master, send her away, get rid of her, she keeps crying out after us…’

They are not interested in this woman, her request, her daughter, or anything else about her…..They see her as nothing but an unwelcome interruption…”Send her away…”

So, having heard the woman’s plea and the disciples’ response what does Jesus now say? His words are recorded for us in verse 24: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel….” Now, this is troubling for us because that sounds rather exclusive and cold….this woman is begging for help… So, what is going on?

Could it be, that things are not quite as they seem and that Jesus is not rebuking her at all but testing her, as if responding, ‘Okay, you’ve come to me for help, you’ve shown some faith in me, but how strong is that faith and trust, let’s see….’ And at the same time is Jesus taking the opportunity to teach his disciples something about inclusion and compassion? So, another faith lesson: at times, perhaps difficult times, Jesus may test our faith…Remember, at the end of this conversation, Jesus will describe her faith as ‘great’, so let’s listen for how the conversation proceeds:

  • The woman cries for help,
  • Jesus seems at first glance to brush her off and the disciples simply want rid of her….but she is going nowhere…
  • She now falls on her knees before Jesus – and pleads again – “Lord, help me!”
  • One translation puts it, ‘She came and worshipped Him, pleading again…’

Her faith in Jesus is clearly not a faith that is easily put off, in fact, under such testing it is shown as all the stronger….

What happens next? Jesus, I imagine with a glance towards the disciples, takes things up another notch and seems to rebuke her yet again, this time with seemingly even harsher words: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs…”

If this is a test it’s a tough one – how will she respond now? Will it be:

  • Well, some healer you are!
  • I should have known this was how I’d be treated!
  • Or will her faith in Jesus and her love for her daughter keep her there?

The tension is broken by her reply: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs…”

What an astonishing reply! What a gracious response! Did she know this could be a test? Maybe….She accepts what could have been taken as an insult, and turns it, with a touch of humour, into a renewed request – a translation of her words could be: “Yes, I know that in your eyes we may appear as little dogs, and as dogs we deserve nothing. But even the dogs are thrown the little pieces of bread at the end of the meal. I still call you Lord and Master. I know that You can heal and have compassion for all. Do you not have a crumb for my daughter?”

Remember too as she speaks, the disciples are watching and listening to all of this – probably thinking, “Why is she even still here!” But with her words their jaws must have nearly dropped to the ground! She neither seems embarrassed nor hurt….Her response and her faith is a deadly blow to their ideas and prejudices…

Faith matters:

  • Her faith is expressed in her unfailing confidence in Jesus – the One she bows before and addresses as Lord….
  • And she is willing to pay the price, even public humiliation, to receive grace and the blessings of the kingdom….
  • She has shown herself to have love, humility, grit, wisdom, persistence…tenacious faith…

And the result and rewards of such a faith: Woman, [I’m sure Jesus said that with a welcoming smile] you have great faith! Your request is granted…”

And then this woman did another amazing thing. She believed Jesus. We are told in Mark’s account, she believed, she took Jesus at His word, and perhaps wiping back the tears, she hurried home, and there she found the child lying on the bed, the demon gone…Another lesson for us: believe, and respond as if you believe, in the promises and Word of God.

Faith is a gift from God – but we, of course, have our part to play. So, if you long for a stronger, more tenacious faith, then make that your prayer – go to Jesus and ask for more faith – He is the One to go to. A faith, like this woman that is:

  • Expressed in unfailing confidence,
  • That is persistent– not easily put off,
  • That takes risks; is willing to put up with potential humiliation,
  • That causes us to be gracious, humble, persistent and wise,
  • That draws us into worship, even when things seem at their most challenging…
  • That believes in the promises of Jesus no matter what…
  • Tenacious faith….
  • Faith that says alongside the Apostle Paul: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’

And faith like that will make a difference, not only to us, but to others as well…think back once more to this passage: Neighbours must have found out that her daughter was freed from this terrible illness and perhaps running over to the house, they too must have shed tears of joy….and I am as certain as I can be… that they would have listened to this woman speak about Jesus….Think of the impact on the disciples (who had wanted to send her away) – they would receive a lesson on inclusion and faith. And who knows, perhaps this woman’s faith paved the way for others to become followers of Jesus in the community at Tyre for some thirty years later when Paul visited this place on one of his missionary journeys, we find a thriving Christian community (Acts 21) – perhaps the seeds were sown that day….

Let’s go back to our original question: How is your faith today? Wherever you feel you are on the spectrum of faith, let’s all go to the One who hears and answers prayer, let’s pray together now:

Lord Jesus,

We want to thank you for the encouragement and challenge of this account within our Bible of tenacious faith. Lord help us, by your Spirit, to always come to you in humility, to be persistent in our prayers, always remembering, that we too are wholly dependent on your grace. Lord, strengthen our faith we pray. We are your humble servants, and in your name we offer this prayer, Amen.