St. Stephen Lutheran Church
I love the Olympics. I love watching the entire world get together to stand behind their country's athletes - to put forth the best and the brightest, to put aside differences and unite as one people. I love watching all of the different events, the swimming, the running, the jumping, the throwing, the horses, kayaks, table tennis - all of it. I love the stories of the athletes, the hardship and struggle, the effort put into their passion, the spirit that shows through in all of the games. I love the dedication, the tenacity and the endurance these men and women display.
These stories of Olympic-level courage and tenacity appear in the Bible as well. We read such a story in Matthew 15:10-28. This text is a story of courage, tenacity and faith, even in the face of great adversity. The story begins with Jesus rejecting the law. He takes all of the laws which have stood for thousands of years, and in front of the Pharisees says that they are meaningless. He says, "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." With this one statement, Jesus dismisses thousands of years of tradition and ritual. He sort of sounds like an Olympic athlete, confident in their ability to break a world record: "You Pharisees, I am going to smash all of your laws." And when the disciples point out to Jesus that what he has said has offended the Pharisees terribly, he responds like that (over)confident athlete by saying, "Yes, that's what I came here to do - to smash the laws of the Pharisees."
But what happens next is the amazing thing. A woman, a Canaanite woman, comes up to Jesus and asks for mercy and healing. She has heard of this Jesus and knows that he can give life, grace and salvation. Jesus, in an uncharacteristic response, ignores her cries. But this woman shows her courage and tenacity, and does not give up on the Lord. She continues to ask for mercy, and the disciples get fed up and tell Jesus to send her away. And Jesus tries to do that. He again channels the overconfident Olympic athlete and responds to this woman with what is really an offensive statement. Jesus says, "it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." This is not a compliment. He's not calling her a dog and meaning a loyal, cuddly, human's best friend. He means something more along the lines of, "get away from me you mangy fleabag." I have no idea why Jesus responds in this way. Yet, in spite of this offensive response, this woman again does not give up. She has faith, she trusts in the Lord. She responds to the challenge like the American gymnastics team responded in the team event in London. With determination and tenacity, she reaches out to Jesus and says, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." You've got to give me something - you have grace and salvation to give - give it to me, give it to all. And Jesus praises this woman for her great faith, and her daughter is healed instantly.
There are times in our lives when we are faced with great adversity. There are times in our lives when we are faced with great challenge. There are times in our lives when we are offended greatly. And it is in these times that we cling to the promise of God. Cling to the hope of forgiveness, cling to the assurance of salvation, cling to the gift of grace. God who is with us will never let us falter, will not let us fail. Whether we feel like children seated at the table or we feel like unwanted stray dogs, the promise made by God through Jesus Christ is real and is for us. In these times God is our strength, God is our courage, God is our tenacity and steadfastness. Do not give up on God, and more importantly, know that no matter what, God will never give up on you.