Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jesus sees the unseen Matthew 14:10-28

In Matthew 14 Jesus had encounters with people from 2 very different groups who called Palestine their home. The people Jesus met considered themselves differently in their relationship with God and with their neighbors.

  • The first encounter in Matthew 14:1-20 was with true insiders: the Pharisees.
  • The second encounter in Matthew 14:21-28 was with a true outsider: a Canaanite woman.
Listening to Jesus interaction with the Pharisees and the Canaanite woman allows us, 2000 years later, to hear the presumptions of power or weakness that existed in Jesus' day in Judah.

The Pharisees assumed they held a unique position in Judah. They were close to God because they followed the law completely and dedicated their lives to following God as the law and tradition revealed. They questioned Jesus from this position of power,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” Matthew 15:2 NRSV
Jesus responded to their questions naming their own broken laws. They assumed they were always faithful to God through but Jesus turned the law toward them...
... God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. Matthew 15:4-6 NRSV
Jesus words went to the very center of their lives and faith. Outwardly following the law was everything for them. But Jesus' would hear it. He used a different standard; what's inside the heart to judge a person. And now turning toward the whole crowd he challenged the Pharisees again. His disciples could tell that the Pharisees were offended. Jesus wasn't deterred by their offense. The unseen human heart is what matters. You can see what a person does, but you can never see what's inside of a human heart.

A new world view begins. In the old world view shaped by law ritual purity mattered; for Jesus purity of heart matters. In the old world view the appearances that other humans saw mattered; in Jesus world view the intentions that God sees matter. Jesus did not end the law; rather he put everything into a different perspective.

The Canaanite Woman presumed no position of privilege in her interaction with Jesus. She just believed he could release her daughter from demons; she begged for help. Jesus was silent. The disciples wanted to shoo her away. He answered her requests and not theirs, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24 NRSV The desperate mother kept begging. She was pushing Jesus begging him to reach out.
 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:26-28 NRSV
Jesus words about dogs and the children's food stun us. But she was not about to stop. She believed Jesus could heal her daughter. She was ready to hold on in faith trusting that he had the power to set her, body and soul, free. Martin Luther compared her to Jacob wrestling in the night in Genesis 32.
In this manner God is conquered when faith does not leave off, is not wearied, and does not cease but presses and urges on. So it makes its appearance in the Canaanite woman, with whom Jesus was wrestling when He said: “You are a dog, the bread of the sons does not belong to you” (cf. Matt. 15:26). The woman did not yield here but offered opposition, saying: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” And so she was victorious and heard the excellent word of praise: “O woman, great is your faith!”
Such examples teach us that faith should not yield or cease urging or pressing on even when it is already feeling God’s wrath and not only death and sin. This is the power and strength of the Spirit. Luther's Works, Vol. 6 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37, Vol 6:139 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1970).
Jesus boldly invites us to hold on in faith. Now the outsider is truly the model for all people who are distant from God. She teaches us to hold on.

note to any regular readers: sorry for the delayed posting. I attended the funeral of Christopher Stander in Minneapolis this week and have been a little behind getting ready for preaching this weekend. Please add his mom and dad, Isabel and John, and his brothers, Hans and Eric, their wives, and kids to your prayers. Thanks

1 comment:

LawAndGospel said...

Thanks for this post. Prayers for you in the time of sadness for you and the family of Christopher.