Unconditional faith - Matthew 15:10-28
Close your eyes for a moment. I want to invite you to think of a time in your life when your faith was challenged the most. Maybe you lost someone or thought you were about to. Maybe it was when a loved one was arrested for a crime or when you felt trapped in the clutch of addiction. Maybe you got a bad diagnosis, or encountered another challenging event like your house burning down or your marriage falling apart. Times of trial and tragedy can make us feel like God is completely absent from our lives. But they can also have a way of making us feel closer and more trusting of God’s presence in our lives.
You can open your eyes now.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus meets a woman who is experiencing the scariest thing a mother can face. She fears she is about to lose her child. She is afraid, she is in anguish, she is desperate for anything that will help her daughter. There’s a couple ways we can interpret Jesus’ response. One is that through this experience Jesus himself learns that his mission is beyond just the people of Israel, as I talked about in the children’s message. That is a valid way of understanding of this text, and certainly Matthew felt this was important to include for his audience to understand that exact point. But today I’m more drawn to explore how this text relates to our own faith journeys and the trials and challenges we face to our faith.
This woman clearly believed Jesus had the power to heal her daughter. She sought him out and begged him for mercy. She was certain Jesus was caring and compassionate enough to heal her daughter. She is certain, but Jesus challenges that certainty with his words. Probably on purpose. He challenges her to believe in his love and mercy despite all appearances to the contrary. Even after some apparent rebuffs she refuses to doubt Jesus’ love and compassion.
Jesus tells her “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When we hear that we might ask ourselves: how often do I feel like God is willing to help others but not me? Other people who are more deserving. Other people who are more religious. Other people who truly believe in a God who answer prayer. When life throws our unworthiness in our face how do we respond? Do we doubt God’s willingness to help us, or do we believe in his mercy in spite of our supposed unworthiness?
The woman responds simply, “Lord, help me.” And Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. Here Jesus sounds like he’s insulting her. He sounds prejudice against Canaanites, Israel’s longtime enemy. How often do we feel like we’re not God’s children? Like God doesn’t care about us? How often do life’s messages tell us we are not important, not loveable, not deserving? Imagine hearing these words from Jesus Christ himself. Would that make you doubt God’s love for you? It probably would for me.
Yet this woman says “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus is incredibly impressed and says “Great is your faith!” and her daughter was healed instantly! That is the kind of faith that can move mountains. That refusal to give up hope, to give in to anger or doubt. That humility and trust and belief in Jesus’ love that she has is absolutely unstoppable. She has unconditional faith. We hear a lot about unconditional love; this is unconditional faith. Faith that wasn’t dependent on any conditions being met. Faith that did not need any signs or reasons to trust. Faith that did not need words of comfort. Faith that refused to doubt God’s love for her in spite of everything she experienced. And after this great trial of faith, her prayer was answered and her daughter was healed.
This is more than just a healing story. It is a model for our lives. Life has a way of constantly challenging our faith, tempting us to doubt God’s love for us. But through these trials, Jesus enables this woman to manifest the great faith she has. He challenges her, he pushes her, and her faith grows and grows. She matures to the point that nothing—not even Jesus’ apparent rejection—can convince her that Jesus does not love and care about her. That is the kind of faith God wants all of us to possess. That is the kind of faith we are called to manifest. That is the kind of faith that we are here to bear in our daily lives. Perhaps the purpose of all life’s trials and tribulations is to force us out of complacent faith and inspire us to unconditional faith—to believe in God’s love despite all evidence to the contrary. That is the kind of faith that can change the world.
So next time you are facing a trial of faith remember this woman’s story. Remember how Jesus refined her faith—which was already great—and helped her to manifest unconditional faith in him. Faith that wasn’t dependent on any outward conditions. Faith that wasn’t dependent on things going her way. Faith that didn’t rely on anything external. Faith that wasn’t fazed by Jesus’ apparent rejection or reminder of her supposed unworthiness. I pray we may all manifest unconditional faith in our lives.
It can be hard to have faith sometimes. But understand that it is a journey. Trials of faith are periods of pruning and growth. Trust that in those times of trial God is at work refining your heart and helping you grow. Because the Good News is that God uses even the feeling of God’s absence to help us grow closer to Him and deepen our trust in His love for us. Thanks be to God for this gift of faith and for the promise that one day we will no longer need faith, for we will see God face to face. Until then, we trust, we believe, we have faith. Amen.