August 14th: “Begging and Believing”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 15:21-28

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday August 14th in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

21-22 Jesus goes to remote seacoast towns, yet the people already know about him.

23-24 When have we cried out to God for healing and heard no response? When have we prayed and experienced only a stone wall? When has the church brushed our concerns away? When have we brushed aside requests from non-members because we were already busy?

25-26 Does Jesus help her by setting up an opportunity for her to make a statement of faith?

27 The “Sinner’s Prayer” in a different form.

28 Why was this conflict necessary? There are several other stories of Jesus healing those whom outsiders, even disciples, ignored. The woman shifts from wanting healing for her daughter to healing for herself, and in that healing, finds healing for her daughter.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The scene changes at verses 21 and 29 provide sharp boundaries for this story.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Mark 7:24-30 – Lists only Tyre. Places the context inside a house, as Jesus “did not want anyone to know he was there; yet he could not escape notice.” Woman was Greek-Syrophoenician. She knelt and begged, but direct speech is not included. Matthew adds that Jesus did not answer her at first. No comment from disciples to “send her away.” Jesus says: “For saying that, you may go, for the demon has left your daughter.”
  • Matthew 8:5-13 – The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant: Has many points in common: An outsider comes to Jesus and begs that another be cured. The outsider observes he does not deserve for Jesus to come under his roof and makes a greater statement of faith than found among the children of Israel. It differs significantly in that Jesus immediately offers to attend to the sick servant.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • /Kynarion/ = puppies. This word is typically used for household pets rather than stray dogs. The usage first by Jesus, and later by the woman, extends the metaphor the house of Israel as “children.”

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Follows the style of a controversy dialog, but here Jesus makes the hostile statement and the woman ends the controversy by making an irrefutable statement. None-the-less, Jesus does not grant the healing because he was bettered by the woman, but out of grace.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: To show that those outside the Jewish nation would also repent and recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior.
  • Emotional Center: Jesus response to persistent humble prayer.
  • Music: ““We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight””

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Could this be illustrated by the preacher receiving a phone call during the sermon and, after checking the caller ID, say: “Oh, its the hospital. Don’t they know I work on Sundays. Too many funerals and wedding already this week. …”

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gosple of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) reflects that Matthew intended this story to make three points: (1) God has a plan for salvation history first to the Jews and then broadening to all nations after Easter; (2) Worshipful struggle with God is not unbelief but great faith, he contrasts this with Peter’s previous statement: “if it is you Lord, then command me to come to you on the water (14:28);” and (3) Jesus crosses barriers of sex and race to make a vital connection.

Brian Stoffregen (Gospel Notes for Next Sunday on EcuNet 7 August 2005) concludes “The entire section of Matthew 15:1-28 is concerned with ritual purity—who is clean/unclean and what makes them that way?” He notes this is the only time Jesus affirms “great faith”, “Yet, she didn’t walk on water, as Peter did last week. She didn’t move a mountain. She probably had never been to church in her life. She certainly had never read the Bible.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus crosses theological and cultural boundaries to heal those who persistently and humbly pray.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Come to Christ with “great faith,” recognizing the absurdity of sinners even approaching the throne of grace and the incongruity of the Father sending his Son for us, yet persistently attempting connect so that the Spirit might have an opening to bend us to God’s will.

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