August 16, 2020
11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Let’s do a little word study. When you hear or use the word “faith” what comes to mind?
Faith, I think, is one of those words we use often without really giving thought to what it really means.
How many of you are hearing Inigo Montoya saying: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
So what does “faith” mean?
If you ask Merriam-Webster you get:
“Allegiance to duty or a person” & “Belief and trust in and loyalty to God.”
If you ask Google you get:
“Complete trust or faith in someone or something.”
I didn’t ask Alexa. She doesn’t live at our house.
The Greek word we translate as faith could also mean trust.
These definitions seem incomplete to me because they relay a bit of a passive connotation – we believe or trust that someone else will do something or be as we predict them to be; these definitions don’t take into account what the person who has “faith” does.
If we look at how Jesus uses the words, at the people to whom he says “your faith is great” or “your faith has made you well,” these are the folks who “stepped out of line” and who demanded what their faith promised them.
Jesus and his disciples are in Gentile territory and a Canaanite woman approaches them. In her desperation, she shouts at them and tells them her daughter is tormented by a demon.
And the disciples aren’t comfortable with it even though they’ve seen it before. Like they tried to do with the crowds on the other side of the lake, the disciples ask Jesus to send her away.
These very men who themselves had been on the lower and outer edges of society until Jesus called to them, now considered themselves the privileged ones and didn’t want to share the joys of heaven on earth Jesus has shown them.
This woman was loud and somewhat impolite. She stepped outside the preferred role of women to be quiet and timid and accepting of whatever the world does to her.
She does the very thing that Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well – this Canaanite woman approached a Jewish teacher and spoke directly to him.
People tend to interpret this passage in one of two ways – either Jesus was arguing with this woman and she somehow changes his mind as to what his divine and eternal mission really should be, or Jesus is making a dramatic point for the disciples and crowd’s sake, wanting this woman to stand strong and show them all what courage and strength our faith provides. I go with the latter interpretation. I think the first one goes against who scripture tells us plainly God is and the reason Jesus came to us (but it gives our human egos a boost – we can change God – so we like it).
This woman is what we’d call a momma bear today – willing to do whatever it takes to defend and protect her child. Like all the mommas who stood with locked elbows to protest the murder of George Floyd, this woman comes prepared to fight for what she knows is right, for what really matters.
Jesus doesn’t answer her at first because he’s waiting to see if his disciples had learned the “you give them something to eat” lesson from the feeding of the 5000. And when they behave as if they didn’t know Jesus at all, he turns this into another learning point for them.
I imagine Jesus looking this woman square in the face, with a knowing look in his eyes and speaking directly to her. She must have understood the look because she approaches closer and kneels before him.
This woman, this so called outsider, addresses Jesus as “Lord.” She shows him the honor of who she knows him to be. She knows he is capable of curing her daughter. She trusts the stories she’s heard. She believes the words of compassion and love she has heard him speak. It didn’t matter to her that she wasn’t “one of them.” And she knows it doesn’t matter to Jesus, either.
She stays strong and courageous. She sees the knowing look in Jesus’ eyes and she speaks words that are meant to pierce the souls of those who hear them, just as Jesus wanted her to do.
This is the faith that makes us all well; a bold and courageous faith that proclaims loudly that God is for everyone. It is the faith that speaks for those who can’t stand for themselves and stands with those who’ve been told they don’t matter. It is the faith that trusts and believes and knows that we have more to do than just show up on Sunday morning.
When we step out of our own comfort zone, following Jesus’ on the Way of Love, we do so with the same courage and boldness of the Canaanite woman. We know, deep in our souls, deep in that God Image within each and every one of us, that all of the free floating anxiety and anger of this world isn’t The Way God intends for us.
The world feeds us anger and self-centeredness. Jesus feeds us love and compassion and grace and then he says, “you give them something to eat.”
Together, connected in our faith that loudly proclaims God’s Love is the better way, we stand courageously against those in this world who had told this woman – and so many people throughout history – that some people aren’t worthy of God or of our Jesus-led efforts to bring heaven to earth.
Everyone deserves the food from God’s table.
In faith, we look away from ourselves to the people around us and say, “you are worthy, how can I serve you?”
Jesus teaches us and shows us that our faith is both trust and action. We know that God is true to God’s promises of unconditional love and continuous presence. And because we know these things, we do the things that God calls us to do.
Our actions of faith help make us well and whole and who God created us to be. Let’s give the world a feast of God’s love. Amen.