Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Faith to Question God

(as posted on by the way's blog)

by Dustin G. Wright, with a HUGE contribution by Crystal Mohrmann

The central passage of this week's upcoming Bread for Your Journey is Matthew 15: 21-28, the famous "Story of the Gentile Woman," who confront Jesus and questions his calling:

21Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  22A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” 

23But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
24Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
25But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
26Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
27She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
28“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

Man, this passage is certainly a tough passage to preach on... there's so much go on here, and so much to question as humans.  In my undergraduate Old Testament class, my professor said that this story (and it's counterpart of the Syrophoenician woman in the Gospel of Mark) was besides Jesus's death and resurrection, the most important part of the Bible.  From a scholarly perspective, I'd tend to agree- it's the point where Christ saw his call to save as expanding from just the Jewish population to humanity as a whole.  As most scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was written for a primarily Jewish-Christian audience, it really serves to highlight Paul's later argument that Christ was for all of humanity.

From a more theological perspective, this story is really important as well.

In all of the gospels (at the least the ones included in the Bible), we get to see very little of the human side of Jesus growing into his ministry and strengthening his sense of purpose.  Matthew 15: 21-28 definitely provides a glimpse into that process.  The persistence of the Gentile/ Syrophoenician woman, someone who would have been historically looked down upon by most Jews, had a faith strong enough to question Jesus, and thus she changed the world forever.  A second-class citizen, this strong woman encouraged Jesus to expand his ministry to all of humanity about 2000 years ago, and we're all saved by grace because of it.

Here's what Crystal wrote for this post:

The readings for this week’s bread for your journey are from Matthew, Chapter 15:21-28, and both discuss Jesus and his ability to heal.
Personally, I find this a particularly difficult scripture to reflect on because it is one among others that my family and I held on to when my mom was dying from cancer.  I held on to hopes of Jesus healing my mom, thinking that if anyone was worthy of a miracle, it would be her.  Unfortunately God had a different plan for her and one week from today, it will be five years since she passed away.
I share this personal connection to this scripture because I think it’s important to consider not just the many ways God answers our prayers through healing, but also the ways in which we are impacted when there is not healing and our prayers are not answered in the way we’d hoped they would be.
These people asked for healing for their loved ones and it was granted.  But, I wonder what their reaction to Jesus would have been had there not been healing.  Would they still say, “Everything he does is good!”?  Or would they back away angry and feeling forsaken?

I've lost my own mom in the last year, and I've certainly had some of the same questions that Crystal has... both of our mom's were great people.  It's easy to ask why good people die over people that we judge as not as good.  There's two final points I have to make.  First, this simply reflects that we're saved by grace and faith in God, not simply by our actions, no matter how great they may be.  Second, and in some ways I think even more importantly, God welcomes us questioning Him, strengthening our faith and understanding.

I'll conclude with one of my favorite songs called "Blessed," by Simon and Garfunkel.  Paul Simon's anguished questioning of God is really powerful here, and while some of the lyrics are challenging it really reflects on our Bible passage for the week... in the end, even the worst people can be saved through faith:

The last line is the only one I think Paul Simon got wrong... he wasn't 'tending his garden much to long' on his own... God was there with him, but he just might not have recognized it.

God's peace,

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