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Faith That Breaks Down Walls

Today we are looking at what appears to be a simple message about Jesus and a Canaanite woman, but it is also a passage that talks a little about faith, tradition, and the power of the word of God, Jesus Christ.

It is an account of a woman whose unwavering faith not only breaks through societal and cultural barriers but also challenges the essence of tradition itself.

I have always looked at this story and thought it as about the breaking down of traditions of the outer church, things that get in the way of those who may otherwise be on their way to Christ. These sorts of traditions are often laws that are not in the bible, but that we add ourselves, like insistences on certain types of vestments, service orders, where we preach from, or even who may preach.

And while I still see this in the story, I have realized that the traditions that hold us back are often internal ones, that we ourselves need the help of God to break down, so that he can rebuild us to be more like Jesus.

The reason I said it is hard to preach on this text, is because it seems to all the world like this is a story about Jesus being heartless and cruel. Not something we are familiar with. His seemingly insulting answers are based on the Jewish dislike and distrust of the native Canaanites, and the way that women were treated in Jesus' time.

But in the face of these struggles we can see:

Firstly: The Persistence of Faith (Matthew 15:21-22): The cultural divide between Jews and Canaanites was deeply entrenched in tradition and theology, and yet, this woman's faith compelled her to push past the boundaries that society had placed on her. Despite being an outsider, she approached Jesus with a heart full of desperation and determination. Her faith broke through the norms of her time, reminding us that a genuine connection with God transcends the barriers of culture and heritage.

Second: The Test of Tradition (Matthew 15:23-27): Upon the woman's plea, Jesus initially responded in a way that, while it may surprise many today, would be not at all surprising to a Jewish audience. He seemingly upheld the societal norms of the time by emphasizing his mission to the "lost sheep of Israel."

It seems harsh to us, but raises a question about tradition: Are all traditions good, or can they sometimes get in the way of compassion and grace? Now am definitely not saying that all traditions are bad, but when they get in the way, and place a stumbling block in the path of someone’s faith, then we MUST get rid of them. Those that help us in our faith, we keep as useful tools.

So how do we react when we butt up against prejudices and practices based on them that have been enshrined in the church? In our gospel lesson, this Canaanite woman, instead of being cowed and beaten, becomes even more persistent in the face of this test. She presses on, acknowledging her status as an outsider but appealing to the mercy of Jesus. She does not allow tradition to deter her; instead, her faith compels her to push on.

And then we see along with the persistence of faith and the test of tradition,

The triumph of Faith. (Matthew 15:28): In response to the woman's unwavering confidence in him, Jesus commends her for her great faith and grants her request, healing her daughter by the power of his spoken word. This high point of the story shows us that faith can rise above tradition. The woman's faith not only shattered cultural barriers but also challenged Jesus himself, and he was moved by it.

Now, while we can be amazed and impressed at this woman’s boldness, and the tenacity of her faith, it is also important to realise that it was not any of these things that saved her daughter. It was the one in whom she had faith. People can trust with all their might in all sorts of other religions, practices, mediums, horoscopes, miracle cures and the even in themselves, but none of those things can save us, and they could not save this woman’s daughter. It was only through realising that the source of life and healing was Jesus, that she was able to get the help she needed.

Now we reach the point where we need to ask a very useful question based in Lutheran tradition, what does this mean for us?

Sometimes it is easier to try to go to war with what we see as the traditions and practises that hold us back. There is always a temptation to blame institutions and church bodies and really everything outside of ourselves for any perceived failing. If the church isn’t growing it’s their fault. But if we're going to be honest with ourselves, perhaps we should look closer to home.

I've found constantly in my life that the customs, traditions and practises that hold me back in my spiritual life don't come from the outside. But they are the very real, very human practises that I run back to time and time again.

Whenever I have conflict with another, instead of being reconciled, repenting and forgiving them in turn my ego jumps in trying to tell me that I have done nothing wrong. It is all their fault. I am blameless.

But we know in the light of God's word that you and I have never been blameless.

When I am hurting I run back to things that do not satisfy or heal. I surround myself with people who say what I want to hear. I find comfort and solace in things that were never meant to provide it. In anger I lash out in word or thought when no-one can hear me.

The battle against these traditions cultures and practises of my life and heart is so much harder to fight.

There is no one to see me when I win, and there is no one to blame when I lose.

For all of us just the same as it was for the Canaanite woman the object of our faith is the most important thing. We are called as followers of Jesus to follow Jesus. Sounds simple. But what it means is to not trust in ourselves or our ability or our methods. But to give our human fallen methods of dealing with hardship and pain to Jesus and ask him to work a miracle.

What that looks like for us is asking Jesus to take our human way of working and not to leave us with nothing but to replace it with his way, his creativity, his new life in us.

Every day as baptised children of God we ask him to drown the old self and to create in us a new heart. And then we will really be transformed to be more like him, as we ask the presence and the life and the power and the word of Jesus into the vacuum left behind by the old way of living. This is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. This is how we breakdown traditions and barriers in our lives and as we make room for him we come to know him more and more.

I will finish with a simple prayer:

Jesus heal us.


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