Here we are with what sounds like a parody of the whole, “send ’em away we can’t feed ’em whine of the disciples from two week’s back.” I mean, damn. Jesus just fed 5,000+ who were not vetted and declared clean and now the disciples get their knickers-in-a-knot over one loud, crumb-hungry, self-assured foreigner—-I swear there’s a wicked part of me that wants for Jesus to turn around and say to the disciples, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
And speaking of knowing nothing…..take 10-15 minutes and do a search of “the net” for this week’s gospel text and you will find all sorts of sermons—-some worthy of note born of “great faith,” some unfit to be chow for the cyberpuppy….for,”they know nothing, Jon Snow.”
My late night 30-45 minute search garnered sermons that stopped barely centimeters short of calling Jesus a bigot (problematic if you teach God to be love), and a few praised this Canaanite woman’s intellect and wit so loudly that I wondered if it wasn’t she who was the focus (problematic since the Gospels are written about Jesus for people, not about people for Jesus), and others seemed to be on the cusp of grasping some dimension of faith. I re-posted one such “cusp” example from The Listening Hermit, ’cause I actually think this text is rife with faith/faithfulness (but primarily that of Jesus) and although the Hermit didn’t take it directly to the faithfulness of Jesus….I re-posted it because “golly-gee-whittakers” I enjoy that guy’s blogs. He like me, seems to find the Canaanite woman to be a “hottie,” and based on the number of posted sermons that dote on her I see we are not alone.
The Canaanite woman is so attractive to us. She rolls up to Jesus. First she shouts, then she comes close and kneels, and when abruptly rebuffed by Jesus she pops him with a zinger that astounds. Any person with this much force of character and will is attractive—I mean—really—is there anything sexier than self-confidence? This determined gal commands attention. No wonder we turn our gaze her way. And….unfortunately that often means our preaching and teaching joins our gaze….and just like that the focus is off of Jesus.
This gal is a” hottie” but shouldn’t we keep our eye on Jesus? After all….she isn’t the one barking and yelping about her “great faith,” the one barking and yelping over that crumb is Jesus. Jesus has the last word—and since he was the focus of v. 10 (beginning verse) and v.28 (last verse) then perhaps he is the focus of the verses in between. Doesn’t seem like a stretch to me.
But what if Jesus is not the focus? What then? Might the preaching and teaching this Sunday sound like:
- push through until Jesus finally answers your plea/prayer and you get your blessing (makes Jesus sound imperiously stingy and humans seem doggedly noble—noble humans? Fat chance!)
- how we ask makes all the difference, so come to Jesus down on your knees in your private prayer closet not shouting from the sidelines (Yeah, NO! Prayer aerobics? Really? Where is that in this text? Nowhere.)
- racist views—Jesus must’ve had ’em, so we should explore our own racist views and work on them (Again, addressing racism is a noble pursuit, but not the point of the text? And, again, very problematic if any part of the Triune God, in some sense, has bought into race prejudice—kind of rubs against the whole God-is-love-thing doesn’t it?)
- shame on those disciples who try to get Jesus to send this gal away, shame on us, too, for who do we send away? Should we send them away—of course, not! (well, now we might be getting somewhere with this notion but still this doesn’t “say jack” about Jesus)
But what if Jesus is the focus? What might that mean? Might the preaching and teaching this Sunday sound like:
- Jesus entered an area where culture and religion, even values of 1st century Jewish people were competing against those of others—and in that hodge-podge an outsider is drawn to Jesus (now there’s a concept—Jesus drawing outsiders and not sending them away–and pissing us off ’cause it isn’t who we want around us, or it isn’t how we’d like it to be done)
- Jesus, who’d only recently blessed bread and fish to feed 5000+ people (most likely not all Jewish, not all kosher), is shown to be the blessed bread. 5000+ people had been fed, and they all were totally sated —-and with 12 baskets of leftovers to boot. And now a short while later, Jesus metaphorically tosses a crumb to a crowd of one, and it is shown that there is plenty of Jesus left over to boot. (Jesus is more than enough—more than enough to meet the needs of those he draws—enough for us, enough for others—enough.)
- Jesus, says that the γυνὴ Χαναναία (Canaanite woman) has “great faith.” (What? Wait! Hold up! Did Jesus point out something? Time to explore.)
Jesus lifts up “great faith.” And this great faith—v. 28 μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις—comes packaged in a woman with no religious pedigree, no connection to the promises Israel’s God made to Ancient Israel, no insider connections, acting like a beggar. Only a chapter before Jesus says that Peter—clearly no beggar in his mind, a big time disciple—has “little faith.” Now, a chapter later, Jesus says to this woman—with no claims to recommend her—“Great is your faith.”
Could it be that great faith can be found in the common, the everyday, the mundane, even from the unexpected, the unforeseen? Could it be that “great faith” is not rooted in our religiosity, charter memberships, forms, rituals, and the like? Could it be that “great faith” is rooted and nourished in the reality that Jesus is God, magnetic mercy itself, unbounded by literal and metaphoric human-made walls, fences and borders, drawing people to “great faith” through God’s great faithfulness—yes, even over our cherished border-lines—even if we are those who join the disciples who want these “being drawn ones” sent off into town for food (ch. 14) or sent off—way off—because their shrieking about their personal problem draws attention our way (ch.15)?
Great faith seems to claim, perhaps even know, that Jesus is more than enough….more than enough to grant an audience to an outsider, more than enough to draw her past the all-star pro blockers, more than enough to meet her face to face, more than enough to draw her beyond a rude remark, more than enough to heal a daughter some distance away, more than enough……yep, that’s “great faith.” Jesus—more than enough….no “Lord-if-you-are’s” about it. This is “Lord-since-you-are faith” rather than “Lord-if-you-are faith.”
Consider this…….Peter (ch. 14, v. 28) sounds so dubious and even tempting in saying to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you.” This woman (ch.15, v. 22) seemingly has no doubts as to Jesus’ identity when she addresses him saying, “…Lord, Son of David.”
Yet—faith is faith—and this text really seems less about faith and more about Jesus, doesn’t it?
And this is really good news for humans…..so keep your eye on Jesus.
For here’s the beauty of Jesus—in that–dubious, tempting Peter was lifted from the water by Jesus….not on account of his certain-uncertain faith. This woman, so certain who Jesus was, yet perhaps not so certain of what he’d do, received the healing of her daughter….but Jesus was the Source of the healing—it was not a function of the “great faith.” Jesus is wonderfully loose, even extravagantly so, in sharing himself with these two characters—both of them—-not because of faith, but because it is Jesus.
Jesus faithfully draws near to both and claims them….uncertainties, certainties—little faith, great faith….not the point….because it is Jesus who is the point….and in the end both are claimed by Jesus, and both their needs are met—Peter isn’t sucked into hell by some churning maelstrom and the woman’s daughter is healed—–and why? Because Jesus is more than enough—-whether 12 baskets full or even a crumb—Jesus is more than enough.
And for my part I find this to be delightfully good news….for even if we can’t keep our eye on Jesus—or even if our faith makes us feel pumped up like He-Man and Xena Warrior Princess—-and even if we think our faith needs a shot of viagra, ivermectin, B-12 or geritol—-this more-than-enough Jesus is keeping an eye on me and you…and he is walking towards us in storms and tossing crumbs our way. Whether or not he praises or chides some quality of faith, he loves us and meets us all the same. I mean after all, in chapters soon to come we will hear this more-than-enough-Jesus say, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” You just can’t find greater faith than that—-you just can’t….not even in a crumb hungry “hottie.”
Happy teaching and preaching!