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Enough Faith

Thomas J Parlette

“Enough Faith”

Matthew 15: 21-28

8/20/17

 

How do you feel when you pray to God and you don’t get what you want?

I imagine you might feel ignored…let down…confused.

You might feel disappointed…discouraged, maybe even angry. All of those could apply.

Our faith is definitely challenged when we don’t get what we ask for from God. Lots of people lose faith altogether when they pray for a cure from a disease, or help with a problem, or even victory in a football game – and their prayer goes unanswered. Still others pray and pray and pray, and they don’t get what they want – and they wonder, “Do I have enough faith?”

The Bible is full of miraculous healing stories – lepers being cleansed, the blind regaining their sight, the crippled being made able to walk, the bleeding woman healed, the daughter of Jairus raised from the dead, and as we read in today’s Gospel, the story of the Canaanite woman whose demon-possessed daughter was cured. The list could go on and on. Most of these stories, including today’s lesson, imply that the person gets what he or she wants, because they had enough faith.

So what is “enough faith.?”

Who gets it?…. How do we know if we have it?

If we don’t get the things we pray for, does that mean we don’t have enough faith?

The Canaanite woman in today’s story got what she wanted in large part because she was bold and persistent. She was willing to stand up to Jesus and argue her case. She boldly intruded upon Jesus’ time and even sounds a little rude as she kept shouting after Jesus and his disciples. She was so annoying that the disciples encouraged Jesus to get rid of her. That may have been because if Jesus talked to her, he would be risking his reputation. After all, she was a woman – and she was a Canaanite, and Canaanites were enemies of the Jewish people. They were considered to be a race of people that embodied all that was evil, wicked and godless.

Then again, the woman herself had to overcome some prejudices as well. The Canaanites had love of the Jews either – remember, the Israelites took the Promised Land from them. Out of love for her daughter, this woman put aside her personal feelings and came to Jesus because she believed that he could help her demon-possessed daughter.

Those called “demon-possessed” in the Bible could have had any number of afflictions, both physical and mental. Demon-possessed could have meant paralysis, loss of speech, blindness, epilepsy or even depression or migraines. Whatever the problem was, this woman was desperate to help her daughter – as any parent would be.

What is always surprising, and troubling, about this story is how Jesus reacts. Jesus is actually quite rude to this Canaanite woman. First – he ignored her. Then he said something rather cruel. He said, not directly to her, but to the disciples, that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. When he said this, Jesus was stating the common understanding of the time. The Jewish people were the chosen ones – he had come to bring the lost children of Israel back into the fold.

But this Canaanite mother kept on coming – she was persistent. She stood up for what she wanted – “Lord, help me.”

By calling Jesus “Lord”, she addressed him just as those who believed in him. Others who spoke to Jesus, his opponents or just the non-followers, called him “teacher” or rabbi. But not this woman. She calls Jesus, “Lord.”

But still, Jesus has a sharp-tongued response for her – “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Not the sort of answer they teach you in Seminary.

In other words, Jesus was saying, “How can I give the blessings meant for Israel to a Gentile?”

And we all know the remarkable reply of the woman – “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

I have always imagined that there was a long pause at this point – everyone held their breath, some in the back may have whispered, “Oh no she didn’t…she is arguing with Jesus!”

But I like to think that after a moment, Jesus’ face broke out into a huge grin, maybe he laughed a little bit and he said, “Ok, you got me – you’re right. You are a woman of great faith – your daughter is healed.”

The woman’s bold answer moved Jesus to acknowledge that this persistent, unnamed Canaanite woman did indeed have enough faith. He sensed the depth of her response and he healed her daughter. The Canaanite woman’s boldness and persistence showed that she had enough faith.

This story about the healing of this woman’s daughter is a pivotal one in Jesus’ ministry. The chosen people were the Israelites, the Jews – but faith has a way of breaking down the walls we build to separate ourselves. God’s mercy extends to the Gentiles as well. It is interesting to remember that within 100 years of this story, Paul had carried the Gospel to the Gentile world, and the Christian Church was made up of mostly Gentiles.

Unfortunately, we are slow to understand that. Within our communities, even within the church itself, there are still walls that divide people. There are many who do not feel accepted. They stay away from church because they don’t feel like they belong.

Perhaps some of you know the story of Ben Hooper. Ben was born in Tennessee in the late 1800’s to an unwed mother. In that era and in that community, he was called by a name that I’d rather not repeat in church. His classmates made fun of him. Even at church, he was not comfortable. He and his mother used to slip out the back door right as the service ended. One day, a new preacher came to their church and he said the benediction so fast that they couldn’t get out early enough, and they were caught in the crowd. Just about the time he got to the door, Ben felt a big hand on his shoulder and heard the preacher say, “And who might you be? Whose boy are you?” Ben felt the old weight of shame come upon him. But as the preacher looked down at Ben, studying his face, he began to smile. He said, “Wait just a minute, don’t tell me… I know who you are. I can see the family resemblance. You are a child of God.” And with that, he slapped Ben on the back and told him that he had a great inheritance waiting for him – and he should go ahead and claim it.

Ben Hooper said that was the most significant single sentence that had ever been spoken to him. “You are a child of God.” It was a new start for him. Later he got into politics – and went on to serve two terms as the Governor of Tennessee.

This intrusive, determined woman in this Gospel story reminds us that in Jesus Christ there is hope for each one of us. We are children of God – no matter who are. In Christ, we have a wonderful inheritance waiting for us – we only need to claim it. Whether we are young or old, rich or poor, black or white, born here or an immigrant, Jew or Gentile – we are God’s children. Enough faith is believing that God’s mercies are for you, and for all people.

You may be thinking, “Why haven’t I experienced God’s mercy? I have been bold and persistent in my prayers. I believe God’s mercies are for all people. But I haven’t gotten what I’ve asked for.”

Not everyone is as fortunate as this Canaanite woman. In fact, sometimes I have trouble with stories like this one. Some people could interpret this to mean that if you or a loved one is not healed, it is because you don’t have enough faith.

But I don’t think it works that way. That’s like saying, “God will not give you more burdens than you can bear.” That sounds reassuring – and I’ve said that myself on occasion – but it implies that God gives us our burdens. I don’t believe that God piles on burdens just to see how much we can take. No, the question for us today is, “Do you have enough faith to be bold and persistent and keep hope even if you don’t get what you want?”

It is not always easy to maintain faith in God when our lives are falling apart, the world seems to be closing in on us, and God remains silent to our desperate pleas. More often than not, we experience the silence of God such as the Psalmist who wrote, “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer.” And we know that Paul, a man of great faith, prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh be removed. It wasn’t. And Jesus himself prayed on the night he was betrayed that the cup of suffering might be removed. In fact, the cross is probably God’s greatest silence.

We have all experienced the silence of God in some way. We pray for something, but it doesn’t happen. We pray for reconciliation, but there is still divorce. We pray for the right job, but nothing comes up. We pray for health, but the test results come back negative. We pray for the life of a loved one, but they still pass away. We pray for peace, but nothing seems to change. We pray for an end to racism, bigotry and hate – and yet, still it is all around us.

The silence of God has been experienced by all of us. And this is where faith enters. Faith is keeping hope. Faith is believing that God is with us, working for good in all circumstances. Faith is believing that amid the violence, the chaos and the racist chants we see on the news – God is still present. Our faith assures us that God will stay silent forever. Remember, the cross, God’s greatest silence, led to an empty tomb, God’s greatest shout of victory over the power of sin and death.

Do you have enough faith? Are you bold and persistent? Do you believe that God’s blessings are for you even if you feel like an outsider? Do you keep the faith even if when you don’t get what you ask for?

Enough faith is not necessarily getting what we want. Having enough faith is knowing that Jesus is Lord, no matter who we are and what kind of chaos threatens us. Enough faith is to know that we are never alone. Enough faith is being patient, living in hope, and not giving up no matter what. It is being confident about the future no matter how bleak the present.

Having enough faith is knowing that whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord – and we are children of God.

May God give each of us enough faith. Amen.