This week we have a couple very unique passages. The first and focus of the sermon is about a mother whose daughter has been afflicted by a "demon". The second is an introduction to what we will be talking about in worship on the 24th August. Here the two passages play off each other in a very striking and powerful way.
As you know from my other writings, Roma ns is Paul's most "flushed out" letter. Written later in his life, the letter to the Romans has the most developed understandings and approaches to faith, life and works. In this particular passage, which will lead into the discussion on gifts, lays the foundation in an understanding that once someone has accepted their salvation they cannot run from it. Moreover, Paul holds our feet to the fire to say that just as we were saved, so too could others remind us that we are not the "holier then though" people we always purport to be, even though we try.
In fact, Paul goes so far to say that God has bound us all into a situation that will forever cause us to be disobedient. He does this so that we can come back and receive mercy. To a novice in faith this could seem silly, or even mean. The idea that God planned a game that went back and forth between belief and disobedience.
For Paul, as explained by the reformers and other theologians, we have this innate defect, which often places us in positions that are often contrary to God. This defect is our humanity and our nature that wants to put our personal comfort and safety before anything else. This is where the second passage from Matthew is enlightening.
I see this as another one of the comical interactions in the Bible. As you read the text of Matthew 15:21-28 you think of what a crazy scene this must be, a desperate woman running down the road, Jesus acting as if she were non-existent and the disciples shooing her away like an annoying dog. Here is the interesting part.
The woman is not Hebrew; we do not know what she is, that is not important other than the fact that she is not. Thus, she has no place asking Christ for anything. It also means that she really would not have been allowed to be in this situation and the Disciples are really asking if they can have her arrested. Jesus, finally giving in, plays up the role that she is not Hebrew, in order to further a point that it is not her ethnicity, background, or even situation that is rewarded; rather, it is her faith.
Some come back and say that this was an act of opportunity for the woman, but the fact of the matter is that the woman had to have an incredible faith to risk so much.
Together the passages paint a vibrant picture of faith and calling. On the one hand the Matthew passage shows that God can extend grace to all who show their faith. In the Romans passage, Paul recognizes that even when we have received God's favor, we will fall, and need to find our way back and God will accept us with open arms.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen