This sermon was preached at the Bread of Life Higher Things conferences. Pr. Riley preached this sermon at Wednesday Matins.
Rev. Donavon Riley
“And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:27-28)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen. Faith is the only correct answer to the question of God’s grace. Trust in Jesus is the only possible response. Jesus insists on it. The wrong question, then, is, “Do you have enough faith?” The right question is, “Do you have enough Jesus?” You can have great faith, but you can never have too much Jesus.
Jesus’ doing for this dog-Gentile wasn’t a, “Believe I’m God, go to church, clean up your life, and then I’ll perform an exorcism on your daughter” kind of transaction. It’s Jesus doing for her—for free—what she asks. All she’s got to do is believe it. Nothing else.
Jesus meant it when he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When people asked Him what they should do to work the work of God He said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom he sent.”
But then He goes even further and says, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him.” Jesus didn’t come to judge you. He comes to rescue you from shame, and guilt, and fear, and blame. He comes to deliver you from sin and death.
That’s why Jesus just won’t count this strange, foreign woman’s personal history for or against her: how far she’s walked; who watches her daughter while she’s searching for a miracle cure; whether her health insurance covers demon possession; where she worships on the Sabbath. None of it matters to Jesus.
But shouldn’t there be more to God’s doing for her than bare-naked faith? Wouldn’t it be helpful for everyone if God’s grace had a price tag dangling off of it? At least then you’d know it’s value and worth. That’d be something at least.
But look at it from God’s side of the checkout counter. Listen to Ephesians 1:4. “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
God chose her in Christ before the foundation of the world. We know this first, because God’s Word created this woman and created her daughter, too, and second, because Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh, and He’s present for her, there, now. No more proof needed.
That means that not only is the outcome of their conversation already a victory, the result was never in doubt. She was created and chosen to enjoy God being God for her “before the foundation of the world.”
It means, faith was fully present from the beginning in Christ. It’s God’s effort, not your effort to obey God, not your good intentions, not your happy thoughts, not even your heartfelt prayers, that wins the day. It’s His grace, not your works. That’s the thing. Look at yourself. Jesus’ already done everything terrifically for you. What more is there for you to do? What more can you do to add to His doing for you?
So then, why does Jesus just up and heal the woman’s daughter? Why doesn’t He tell her to do something to prove she’s worth the effort, or at least ask for proof of insurance? It’s simple. She’s been in Him all along. She’s been chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world.”
The only thing for her to do about such a fantastic arrangement is just shut up. Believe it. Enjoy it. She’s already got it. The God who created the heavens and the earth, who delighted in creating her, who wove a baby girl together in her womb, who stands in front of her right now, has already got a hold of her.
The only judgment you can make about what just happened between Jesus and this mother who worships the wrong god, in the wrong country, with the wrong people is that their whole back-and-forth is just Jesus hunting up faith so that she’s set free to worship true God… Set free to worship Jesus.
He’s not throwing her out. Jesus reveals that she’s been in the whole time. St. Paul writes that Jesus is God’s “yes” to every “no” the world issues. “There is now therefore no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus” (Roman 8:1).
He’s had you home-free from the start, too. No matter what’s happened, no matter how much you hurt, how powerless you feel, how angry, how beggarly, how alone…He’s always been here with you in your mess. You’ve been in Christ all along.
What saves you from sin, and rescues you from death, and delivers you from Satan is Jesus. The way you get a hold of him is through faith. And faith is something that doesn’t mean anything other than Jesus.
“Do you have great faith?” Wrong question.
“Do you have enough Jesus?” You can never have too much Jesus. Right answer.
Faith is simply saying “yes” to Him instead of “no.” It doesn’t involve any special theological training. You don’t have to work yourself up emotionally to trust Him. And above all, faith doesn’t depend on your custom-designed list of good works—whether you run in a charity marathon, find the cure for heart disease, or give away free hugs. Faith just trusts that you’ve been in Jesus since the beginning. Faith trusts that He’s been doing terrific things for you all along.
So enjoy what Jesus does for you. Have fun with His gifts. You’re that free. Free to act in faith. Free to burst expectations. Free to ask and free to demand. Free to fear and free to trust. Free to work…or take a nap.
You’re always in Christ. You’re in. You can’t lose even in sickness, and sickness unto death. You see, Jesus doesn’t wait for you to get to Him with the right question or with the right prayer or to believe the right stuff. He produces it. His love for you produces godly faith and works and prayers and worship.
In Christ, your hope isn’t a Savior waiting for you to be your best you now. It’s that He’s always with you: in faith and in works, in prayer and in praise, in life and life-eternal, when you’re at your best, and especially when you’re at your worst.
Your one true hope is the promise He breathes into you. It’s the flesh and the blood He feeds you. It’s that for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, He loves and cherishes you, ’til in death He does join you together with Him in life everlasting.
The Canaanite woman comes as desperate mother. She goes home as Bride of Christ. You come and go in the way of Bride and Bridegroom, too. Ashamed, fearful, guilt-ridden, shouldering blame, running from the truth, beaten down, or giving up, it doesn’t matter to Jesus.
In Christ, you’re always God’s beloved. In Christ, you’re Gospeled. In Christ, you’re Baptized. In Christ, you’re bodied and bloodied. In Christ, there’s no more crumbs for little dog-Gentile you. There’s a seat with Christ at His table. A feast is prepared for you. Christ the host and Christ the meal. Good Friday Body and Good Friday Blood. The wedding feast of the Lamb without end, and you, His beloved Bride, are the guest of honor. Believe it. Enjoy it. And why not… you’re in. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.