The Second Sunday in Lent

by The Rev. Mark Buetow

St. Matthew 15:21-28

syrophoenician woman“O woman, great is your faith! May it be done for you as you desire.” The Canaanite woman had great faith. Do you? Is your faith great? Is it the kind that moves mountains? Most preaching you hear out in the world goes something like this: “If you have enough faith, that is if you REALLY believe, and if you REALLY have trust in God, good things will happen to you. If you're sick and you pray about it and nothing happens, it's because you don't have enough faith. If you are worried or you have troubles in your life, it's because you don't have enough faith. You must have more faith, in order to unlock God's promises and blessings. God has got all kinds of good things for you but He can't give them to you if you don't have enough faith!” Brothers and sisters in Christ, that sort of preaching is not from the Holy Spirit. It's not taught in the Scriptures and I hope you never hear it from a Lutheran pulpit. Nevertheless, that's just the sort of preaching that makes sense to our sinful flesh. If we have something in us called “faith” or call it “determination” or “stubbornness” or “persistence,” then God has to do what we say. Brothers and sisters in Christ, that sort of believing has little to do with Jesus and much to do with us. But when Jesus says to the woman, “Great is your faith!” He isn't complimenting her on something she's got going on. He's telling her that her confession of who He is is right on.

Let's back up to the beginning of the story. There were plenty of people who figured they could get in with Jesus because they were good Israelites. This lady wasn't an Israelite. She was a Gentile. But she knew the words. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” She could pray like someone who knew some Old Testament stuff and had heard about Jesus. But Jesus ignores her. His disciples know she doesn't belong. They try to get rid of her. She tries again, “Lord, help me!” People always have notions about how they can get in with the Lord. If they know the right words. If they do the right actions. Maybe they've been in church their whole life. Maybe they think they're good people. Maybe they do a lot for others. Maybe they learned the Catechism by heart and so think they're qualified for life. Maybe they're name is on the membership list of the church even if they don't come. Whatever it is, people find all kinds of reasons in themselves why God should pay attention to them and accept them and do something for them. Perhaps the woman thought that by using the right words she would grab Jesus' ear. Probably the disciples thought the opposite: “We're in with Jesus but she has no place. We're good to go. But she needs to go away!” If we think for a minute that God should hear us or pay any attention to us because we know some right words or because we thing we're good people or because we think we have “faith,” then let's stop right there and repent!

What does Jesus say? “I was not sent except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Wait a minute. He didn't say all sheep. He said the lost sheep. What does that mean? Who are the lost sheep? The lost sheep are those who have wandered from God. Who are hard boiled sinners who have no hoped except whatever the Lord's grace will give them. The lost sheep of the house of Israel are not those who crowd around Jesus and parade their religion all over the place as if they're worthy! The lost sheep are those who have no worthiness. To put it another way, the lost sheep of the house of Israel are those who have no hope but that some crumbs will fall from the Lord's table to feed them. If you're not a sinner, this is no good news. But if you're a sinner, one who throws God's gifts in His face, turns from Him and loves yourself more than others, then pay attention to God's grace for you in Jesus Christ. If you have no hope in yourself or anything you've done, listen up! Jesus has not come for people who don't need a Savior but for those who do. He has come for those whose sins are piled so high they would never dig themselves out. He has come to take away the sins of the whole world. That's why He goes to the cross. That's why He sheds His blood. That's why He rises from the dead. Because lost sheep can't find their way, Jesus comes to save them. Because sinners can't save themselves, Jesus saves them. Because sinners can't drive off the devil, Jesus does. Because sinners can't overcome death, Jesus triumphs over it.

That's the Jesus this Canaanite lady trusts in. That's her faith. You can tell what a person trusts in by listening to them talk. What does this lady say when she comes to Jesus? “Lord, I'm a pretty good person. I'm not perfect, but I try to live a good life. I'm kind to others and I go to church once in a while. I believe in God. So, I think that I deserve a little help.” No way! She cries out, “Jesus have mercy! Lord, help me! Even dogs get crumbs!” No matter how Jesus treats her or what He says, the only things she says are about Him. What He can do. Her faith clings to Jesus. What does your faith cling to? Your faith? Your believing? Your pretty good life? Throw all that away! Here's what the Lord gives you to trust in and cling to: In Baptism, HE makes you His own and washes away your sins, splashing forgiveness on you at the font. In the words of absolution, HE tells you that you are forgiven and saved, as this woman's daughter was. In the preaching of the Gospel HE declares that for you, the lost sheep of Israel He has come to save you. In His Supper, HE gives you not just crumbs but a rich feast of forgiveness and salvation. When someone asks you what you believe, what your faith is, don't say, “I believe in God.” Tell them, “I cling to Christ who died and rose. My salvation is my Baptism which gives me what He did for me. My hope is His body and blood which I eat and drink.” When the time comes to “share your faith” then speak boldly about what Christ has done and given you, not about yourself.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, understand this one thing about faith. Faith is not about “how much” you have but about “what it trusts in.” So faith is not about “how much” you believe in Jesus but that Jesus is the One who has saved you from your sins. The way of talking about faith that we started out with, that false notion of “having enough faith,” that isn't about Jesus at all. That puts it all on your. Listen carefully to what is going on with this Canaanite woman. Jesus is NOT saying, “Gee, you're really persistent and determined. Good for you! I wish more people had your faith! I'll do what you ask!” No, when He says to her, “Woman, great is your faith,” He's saying, “the thing your faith clings to, namely, ME, is great. I have the power to overcome the Devil and I do. You daughter is made well.” People love to talk about “having faith.” “I have a lot of faith.” “I have faith.” “I believe.” Faith in Jesus doesn't talk that way. Faith in Christ says, “Jesus died for me and rose again. I am baptized. My sins have been absolved in the Name of Jesus. I have eaten and drunk Jesus' body and blood. My sins are forgiven because of what Jesus had done and what He has given me.” That's how faith talks.

The Devil, the world and your own sinful nature want you to believe that God acts only depending on how much faith you have. The story of the Canaanite woman teaches us something else entirely. It teaches us that Jesus does what He does because that's who He is. He is the Savior of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Savior of sinners, the Savior of a Gentile woman and YOUR Savior. He doesn't save you because you have faith. He gives you faith to trust in His saving you. He doesn't forgive you because you ask, He forgives you so that you will ask and know you have it. Everything begins and ends with Jesus. So I'll ask again. Is your faith great? Well if by “faith” we mean something inside you, then no, it probably isn't. But if by “faith” we mean Jesus, then you bet it is! Your faith is huge! Infinite! Eternal! Because Jesus is your faith. Not sure you have enough faith? Then the answer is not more of you, it's more Jesus. More of the gifts of your Baptism! More absolutions! More Lord's Supper. More preaching of the Gospel. Those are the things that give you faith because those are the things that give you Jesus. O Christian, great is your faith because great is your Jesus! Amen.

Rev. Mark Buetow is Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. Pastor Buetow also is the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things.

Created: March 8th, 2009