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This devotional is part of a series in January that tells stories of “Bold Faith” written by CBF field personnel and members of a team composed of clergy and laity from across the Fellowship who are leading of process of prayerful discovery that will result in a faithful response. Find out more about this process called Toward Bold Faithfulness.
By Daniel Glaze
The gospel passage of Matthew 15:21-28 tells of Jesus meeting a desperate mother seeking help for her daughter. While it is one of my favorite biblical narratives, it is also one of the most difficult.
Here we meet a Jesus we’ve not seen before and one we do not recognize. Here is a Jesus who makes us uncomfortable; we cringe at the dialogue Matthew records. Here Jesus is not the loving, tender, welcoming rabbi who sets a place at the table for those previously shut out. This is no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” The Jesus in this story is disrespectful, dismissive, sorely lacking in grace and compassion. To be sure, he is exhausted; everywhere he goes, people need to be healed, taught, fed—you name it. He is trying to find some solace and quiet when this woman barges in. But does that excuse his behavior and language?
Many sermons, articles and commentary entries have been written to try to explain the Jesus we see here. I’ll not do the same; instead I’d like to concentrate on this Canaanite woman Jesus encounters. For me, she demonstrates a profound, expectant, bold, persistent faith.
Since I’m writing this in the middle of December, I can’t help but read this story through the lens of Advent. While it may be unconventional to say, I think this is a perfect Advent text. For one thing, this woman needs healing for her sick daughter, and she knows to whom she must turn. “Have mercy on me, Lord!” she cries. She summons every bit of courage she can muster, breaks through the others around Jesus, falls at his feet, and begs him to heal her child.
Advent is about realizing that we’ve made a mess of this world and we need Jesus to come and make things right again. Advent is about knowing that Christ alone can bring us healing and wholeness, as we wait expectantly for Him.
Second, this desperate mother is determined in her demands. Despite the offensive words Jesus initially uses toward her, she will not give up and she will not go away. Nevertheless, she persists until she receives the blessing her daughter needs.
During Advent, we trust that there is blessing to be had in the long journey (no shortcuts) to the manger. Though we’re tempted to give up and jump directly to Christmas Day, we persist in our waiting and hold fast to the God who blesses us as we await his arrival.
Last, I find it intriguing that when Jesus relents and answers this mother’s request, he doesn’t claim to have healed her daughter. Instead, he gives her all the credit: “Woman, great is your faith.” (I suppose that’s a first century way of saying “you go girl!”). In other words, she had what it took. It was within her all along.
One incredible way to conceptualize the Incarnation of Christ is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes.” That means that even while we await Christ’s arrival at Advent, we know that Christ is with us and within us all along.
My prayer for you and me, for our churches, and for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is that we can have the same brave faith that this Canaanite woman demonstrated. She knew the Source of healing and wholeness; she was persistent until she was blessed, and she had within her all the resources, giftedness and bold faith that Christ asked of her.
Daniel E. Glaze serves as pastor of River Road Church, Baptist in Richmond, Va., and as part of the Discovery Team for Toward Bold Faithfulness. Take a step in brave, bold faith to help shape the future of our Fellowship alongside him by taking our survey at www.cbf.net/survey.