Testing the Strength of Our Faith: Matthew 15:21-28

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In what some may call the most insensitive event in all the gospels, we come to a passage where it appears as though Jesus ignores someone asking for help, before out rightly insulting her. While this doesn’t sound at all like Jesus, part of me wonders if some of this was meant to be an example for those present and for us today regarding the idea of faith and persistence.

Let’s read what happened, and what we can discover from this event. Our passage and event are found in Matthew, chapter 15, and we will read it from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 21, Matthew tells us that:

21 Jesus left Galilee and went to the area of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A woman from Canaan lived near Tyre and Sidon. She came to him and cried out, “Lord! Son of David! Have mercy on me! A demon controls my daughter. She is suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not say a word. So his disciples came to him. They begged him, “Send her away. She keeps crying out after us.”

24 Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the people of Israel. They are like lost sheep.”

25 Then the woman fell to her knees in front of him. “Lord! Help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! You will be given what you are asking for.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This passage amazes me. On one hand, we see Jesus acting the most insensitive He has ever acted, while on the other hand, we don’t really know why Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon in the first place. These two towns were located in far north-west Israel, along the Mediterranean Sea, and they were likely some of the most secular, least Jewish places in the entire region. These towns are on the edges of most Bible maps of the region, and we might easily wonder if these two towns were even a part of Israel or not. The best-case scenario is that they were border towns.

In these towns, there were likely clusters of Jewish people, but being port towns, they were also very likely to be secularized and Roman.

With this in mind, I again wonder why Jesus went up to this region. Nothing else is said about what happened during this visit and both gospel writers who include this event share how Jesus leaves after this miracle to go elsewhere. According to what made it into the gospel record, it’s almost like Jesus made this trip to the region just to insult, though also to ultimately help, this gentile woman.

However, why would Jesus travel a decent distance to get to these two towns just so He could ignore the requests of a gentile woman? It doesn’t make sense, unless we can learn something in Jesus’ actions.

While I won’t begin to think I know all the reasons why Jesus did what He did, in this event, I see an amazing opportunity to demonstrate persistence in faith. I haven’t looked, but this might have been the only time Jesus traveled to this region, so this gentile woman likely knew that this was her only opportunity to get help for her daughter.

By this point in Jesus’ ministry, word had spread that Jesus could simply say the word and it would be done regardless of the distance, so while this took faith, it wasn’t faith without prior evidence.

However, this miracle is one of the only ones where it appears as though Jesus was reluctant to do it. I don’t think Jesus was actually reluctant to help someone in need, but I think He could see in this situation an opportunity to teach us about persistence.

In this situation, from very early on, Jesus knew that this gentile woman had an incredible, persistent faith. However, the only way to demonstrate this type of faith is by giving it resistance to push against it. If Jesus had shouted from a distance when the woman first was heard that her faith had saved her daughter, no one would know how persistent this faith was.

Instead, Jesus ignores and insults this woman to show everyone present that nothing would stop her, distract her, or shake her determination to get Jesus’ help. This gentile woman serves as an example for all of us. Regardless of whether we mess up, fall down, or fail God, the only way we truly fail is if we don’t get back up and press forward. If our faith disappears at the slightest push of resistance, it is worthless and weak.

In contrast, if we keep pushing forward, holding strong to our faith, and persistently pray for God to step in while moving forward in life knowing that He will direct our paths and step in when needed, we cultivate the faith that God is looking for. When we persist in prayer and don’t take “no” for an answer, we demonstrate the persistence this woman demonstrated and this woman ultimately received the answer to her prayer.

While I don’t believe God likes to ignore us, and I don’t believe His desire is to insult us, I believe that the only way to truly test the strength of faith is by giving it resistance. Without pushback, it is impossible to test the strength of faith. Without resistance, it’s impossible to become like the first century church heroes and model Christ to a world needing a Savior.

For too long, the Christian church has pressed for influence through any and every angle they have thought of, except the angle that mattered the most. As follower of Jesus, we should persist in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to grow our faith in the areas that matter, and help us live like Jesus lived, and love those who are hurting like Jesus loved those who were hurting. Our faith should persist against all obstacles until we ultimately reach heaven.

When we live our faith through prayer and persistence, we overcome every setback and we truly become the people God has called us to be!

As we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and live your faith in an intensely persistent way. Intentionally get back up when setbacks come, and always pray and move forward with the confidence that God will answer your prayers and that He will direct your steps forward.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. While other people can give you great things to think about, take everything to God personally as you pray, read, and study His Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 30: In one of the most insensitive events in the entire Bible, discover how Jesus teaches everyone present about persistence and how God tests the strength of our faith.

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