Year A Proper 15 Matthew 15 2011
Great Is Your Faith
Matthew 15: (1-10) 21-28

What would you think if I told you that on your tombstone would be inscribed a four-word epitaph? Well, you might respond, it would depend on who would write this epitaph--an enemy or a loved one. It might also depend, you might say, on how well this person knew and understood you. If a newspaper critic wrote of a concert pianist the four words: "He was a failure," you could always say: That was his opinion. But if one of the world's great musicians wrote, “He was a genius,” then you are apt to take the remark more seriously.

There was a character in the Gospel who Jesus once described with four immortal words: Great is your faith. She was a Canaanite woman who came from the country to the north of Palestine, a country hostile to the Jews. She was presumably married, she had at least one child; but that’s all we know about her. We don't know whether she was a good woman or a bad woman. We don’t know her name. All we know of her is that in this single encounter with Jesus he spoke to her this four-word epitaph: Great is your faith.

Only four words but they are enough to make her immortal. We can trust these words as being true because the expert on faith spoke them. Jesus searched for faith, as a gem collector would fine jewels. He did not always find it in his disciples. On no occasion that we know did he ever say of Peter, James, and John: Great is your faith. More often the words he spoke to them: You of little faith. On only one other occasion did Jesus praise a person for their faith. Interestingly, that was a Roman soldier stationed in Capernaum.

We regard this Canaanite woman with more than just an academic interest. She awakens in us a feeling of admiration, perhaps even envy, because she stands where most of us would like to stand. What faithful Christian would not like it said of him or her: Great is your faith? Think of what it would mean if an aspiring young artist had Picasso place his hand on his shoulder and say: You have a great talent. How wonderful it would be then to a believer in God, if Jesus would place his hand on our shoulder and say: You have a remarkable talent for faith. But how does one qualify for this praise? What does one have to do? To answer these questions let us take a closer look at her story.

  1. Crossing Barriers
  2. Refusing to Be Put Off
  3. Going in Faith and Humility

Live and Learn
Matthew 15: (1-10) 21-28

Is anyone's memory of study hall a fun one?

Either you were the studious type, who really wanted to use that hour of enforced peace and quiet to get some work done, or you were the kid that was bored, trying to think of ways to sneak out, send notes, shoot spit-wads, or otherwise somehow liven up that deadly hour.

But the shushings of study hall monitors and librarians aren't common to all cultures.

At traditional Orthodox yeshivas, the bais midrash, the study hall, is filled with noise. Not just noise, but debates and sweat, as matched chavrusas - learning partners - verbally battle it out over how best to interpret the texts and traditions of the Jewish faith. The "bais midrash," the study hall or library that holds all the necessary reference books for the yeshiva students, was NEVER quiet.

The traditional study of Talmud is with a partner, your "chavrusas," with whom head-to-head, nose-to-nose debate, dialogue, even shouting-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, is part of the learning process. These face-to-face exercises, testing the depth and breadth of the students' knowledge, is what the yeshiva call learning. In fact, a yeshiva student won't ask, "What are you studying?" Rather, the appropriate question is "What are you learning?" Studying infers a solitary, sedentary ingestion of information. Learning is a social, active, expectorating exercise - a dialogue that must necessarily engage two or more individuals in order for true learning to be accomplished. In the Jewish tradition, "learning" is a verb, a never-finished action.

The apostle Paul, a learned Pharisee, well-schooled in the Torah, in the learning traditions of the rabbis, bolding preached Christ's imminent return throughout his early letters. Yet as time went by, as the Christian message began to spread, as Christian churches were planted and began to grow, and Jesus still did not return, Paul's learning curve began to deepen. The communities he was now addressing had second, even third generation Christians in their midst. The first believers began to pass away. Somewhere between Paul's writing of 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, a span of about fourteen years or so, the apostle gradually came to a new understanding.

In short, Paul changed his mind. Christ's return may NOT be imminent, and Christians should be prepared to live and die as a faith community without ever experiencing that event.

Yet changing one's mind has gotten nothing but bad press. In the feeding-frenzy of political campaigns, any evidence that any candidate re-positioned, re-thought, or simply re-considered their original views on any given issue is lambasted as flip-flopping or wishy-washy. In the Main Stream Media's (MSM) judgment, any adjustment of one's stand, or one's understanding, over the course of twenty or thirty years is deemed a sign of weakness and used as evidence of a morally and/or intellectually deficient mind.

Learning, continually interacting with and challenging the experiences and informational input that surrounds us, is a life-long process. Gerontologists are now recommending that as we age we intentionally set up new, unexpected circumstances or encounters for ourselves every single day, in order to keep our brains fit and flexible. Such simple learning exercises as taking a different route to the store, doing a crossword puzzle, planning and executing a sewing, building, or other creative project, all help contribute to keeping our neurons firing, our brains healthy, and strengthening our mind's ability to learn.

In fact, there are really only two questions to ask yourself. 1. Am I learning something? 2. Am I contributing something? If the answer to either is no, then get out of there. If the answer to both is yes, you're right where God wants you to be... presents Leonard Sweet