Faith of an OutsiderPosted: May 29, 2016
Faith of an Outsider
SLIDE 3: HEALINGS
One of the marks of the ministry of Jesus were the healings that happened as he interacted with people in his ministry. He taught. He fed people. He laid hands on the sick and prayed. Lame people got up and walked. Blind people found they were able to see. People with severe skin diseases were healed by his touch. But whatever power lay within Jesus to heal others he always pointed to the faith of the person who was healed. “Go in peace, your faith has made you well.”
SLIDE 4: SOME SPARK OF FAITH
Jesus could not heal people against their will. Healing only seems to have been possible, when some spark of faith was present either in the individual sick person or the community of people surrounding that person. Go your way, your faith has made you whole.
SLIDE 5: ROMAN CENTURION – GOD FEARER
A Roman Centurion, possibly a “God Fearer,” a gentile who was affiliated with the synagogue, contributed a large sum of money to the construction of the synagogue in Capernaum. So when his servant became deathly ill, leaders of the synagogue came to Jesus to ask him to heal the servant: “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even helped to build our synagogue,” they said. Jesus was generally not fond of gentiles, but he considered healing the servant as an act of mercy. The Centurion was sensitive to the position Jesus would be in if he entered the home of a gentile and a Roman army officer. So he sent word to Jesus, “Do not come into my home, for then you would become ritually unclean. I am an officer who gives orders, and I obey orders. If you just give the order, I am sure my servant will be made well.” Some people scoff at the idea of “healing at a distance,” but then what do we think we are doing, when we engage in intercessory prayer? Maybe the healing ministry of Jesus continues in the prayers of the community of faith.
SLIDE 6: GO ONLY TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL
According to the narrative, when Jesus heard of the Centurion’s remark, he answered, “Surely I have not seen this kind of faith in Israel.” And when the messengers returned to the home of the Centurion they found the servant well. Generally speaking, Jesus conducted his entire ministry among the Jews. For instance, in Matthew Chapter 10 he sent his disciples out to conduct ministry on their own with these instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; so freely give.”
SLIDE 7: JESUS RETREATED TO TYRE AND SIDON
Now lest we think these instructions were just for Jesus’ disciples, when they were making a first time venture into evangelism, let’s examine the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman. The story begins with Jesus receiving a warning from some fellow Pharisees that Herod’s secret police were looking for him. Jesus taking the hint took his disciples and traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon, well outside of Herod’s jurisdiction in predominantly Gentile territory. But even among the non-Jews Jesus’ reputation as a healer had preceded him.
SLIDE 8: HAVE MERCY, SON OF DAVID, MY DAUGHTER IS SICK
A woman with a sick little girl was desperate for help, so she sought out this Jewish healer. But as usual there was a crowd around him, so the woman tried to attract his attention by using a Jewish messianic title and shouting out, “Have mercy, Son of David, my daughter is sick.” But according to the narrative, Jesus did not answer her a word.
SLIDE 9: I WAS SENT ONLY TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL
The woman was such a pest, the disciples even asked Jesus to send her away. But Jesus only replied: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Sound familiar? Remember the instructions he gave to the 12 disciples? “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” So maybe Jesus did only conceive of his mission to the Jews. And that would certainly be consistent with the early church’s belief that first one had to be a good Jew, before they could be a follower of Jesus.
SLIDE 10: GENTILE DOG GO AWAY
But this amazingly persistent woman wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She managed to penetrate the crowd around Jesus and fell on her knees at Jesus’ feet and begged, “Lord, help me!”
Now Jesus could no longer ignore the woman, so he said flat out, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now this remark seems uncharacteristicly harsh for the all loving meek and mild Jesus. But there it is. “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Gentiles can go to hell. Sometimes I am amused when pious Christians claim they wish they could have met the historical Jesus. If only they could sit at his feet and hear the Master in person, as if we could have understood him speaking Aramaic with a Galilean accent. When the truth is, because we are gentiles, Jesus wouldn’t have had anything to do with us. He would have taken one look at us and said, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
SLIDE 11: EVEN THE DOGS EAT THE CRUMBS
And that is why this plucky Syrophoenician woman is so important to us. For rather than melting into tears and going away sorrowfully, because Jesus had been so mean to her, she looked up and eye balled Jesus and said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus was taken aback. This gentile woman who he had disrespected, had bested him in true Jewish rabbinical fashion. She had made up a midrash on his comment and stuck it to him.
SLIDE 12: FAITH IS FREE FOR THE ASKING
And then a light bulb went off inside Jesus’ head, not unlike the moment of recognition he had experienced with the Centurion in Capernaum. “Not even in Israel, have I run across this kind of faith!” Jesus discovered that faith was not for Jews only. Faith is free for the asking for anyone with the courage and tenacity to claim it.
And remember, faith is not for Christians only, or church members only, faith is free for the asking for anyone with the courage and tenacity to claim it! Faith is for all people willing to live their lives to the fullest. Faith is the difference between becoming alive to God or shuffling along with the walking dead.
SLIDE 13: FAITH IS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE COURAGE
So often I hear people talk about faith like it was something for sissies or silly people. Faith isn’t concrete. It’s not tangible or demonstrable. I’m from Missouri, show me! Real people don’t depend on faith they rely upon themselves. But my friends faith is for those who have courage, who dare to go beyond the limits, who embrace the challenge of living. Faith was the Centurion who believed that the healing power of God could transcend the barriers of time and space. Faith was a desperate mother who eye balled Jesus and told him that even an outsider might share in the healing power of God’s blessing.
SLIDE 14: WHERE DO YOU NEED FAITH?
So where in your life are you in need of faith? Are you struggling with a health issue? Maybe you have a relationship that has gone to hell? Do you feel your age creeping up on you? Are you facing a challenge at work or in your family life? Are you trying to put together a blended family? Perhaps you are trying to live with someone with mental health issues. Maybe you are the parent of teenagers! My guess is whoever you are you need a little faith.
SLIDE 15: GRATITUDE & PRAYER
And where does that faith come from? Two places, gratitude and prayer. Be grateful for the gift of life, and take time each day to pray and listen in the silence for God’s holy, healing presence. It isn’t hard. Surprising the number of people who don’t start the day by waking up and saying, “Thank you God!” Even more surprising the number of people who don’t pause for even 10 minutes in their day to listen for the silent presence of God.
So allow me to recommend to you: tomorrow morning wake up, make a list of ten gifts you have received from God and say, “Thank you.” Then during the day, take 20 minutes to sit in the silent presence of God’s love, and you will find the faith you need for the challenges in your life.