George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
O woman, great is thy faith--Mat 15:28
The Greatness of Faith Measured by the Obstacles It Overcomes
The greatness of faith often can be measured by the obstacles it overcomes. Our Lord evidently had that in mind when He spoke of faith like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed, when it is grown, is nothing extraordinarily beautiful or useful. One does not love it as one loves the lilies, nor is it fashioned into food for man. The wonderful thing about the mustard seed is its gallant adventure in the world of life, starting from the unlikeliest beginnings. Faith can often be measured by achievement; but achievement is not the only measurement. It may accomplish little and yet be really great in its overcoming of opposing circumstances. And in the faith of this Syrophoenician woman that feature is so signal and so splendid that we might measure her faith by that alone. Let us, then, lay aside all else, and think only of the things that were against her, when she came to Jesus that memorable day.
Her Birth Was against Her
In the first place, her birth was against her. St. Matthew tells us that she was a woman of Canaan, and she is called a Syrophoenician woman by St. Mark, from which we learn that she belonged by birth to one of the native races of the land. Now when, long centuries before, the Jews had entered Canaan, they had been bidden to exterminate these races. It had been war to the death between the Hebrews and the tribes who were in possession of the land. And we know what hatred and bitterness will rankle in the heart of some poor remnant whose memories are of exterminating wars. Into that heritage was this woman born. She was bred in abhorrence of the name Jew. To her the Jew was like the Norman conqueror to the disinherited and defeated Saxon. Yet all the bitterness in which she had been trained, and the prejudice in which she had been steeped, was overcome in her profound belief that Jesus could save her little daughter. How her neighbours would deride her if she hinted to them the nature of her errand! They would charge her with being false to her own gods, a traitress to her people and her past. But all the mocking of her village friends was powerless to dissuade her from her purpose, and here we find her at the feet of Christ.
Her Lack of Knowledge Was against Her
Again, her lack of knowledge was against her. This woman was not a Jew; she was a Grecian. She had been reared in the worship of the heathen gods, and was a stranger to the God of Israel. Doubtless she had heard Jehovah's name, but always in tones of hatred or contempt. Possibly there had drifted to her ear tidings of the Jewish hope of a Messiah. But how that hope would be misrepresented, and in what distorted fashion it would reach her, is not very difficult to picture. She was a stranger to the Hebrew Bible, with its prediction of a coming Saviour. She had never dwelt upon its pages in secret, feeding her soul on the nurture of the promises. The Psalms of David she had never sung; the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah she had never read; no one had ever told her of a Coming One who was to bear the sicknesses of others. Think, too, how little she could know of Christ Himself. It is almost certain that she had never seen Him. A woman with such a heart and such a daughter was unlikely to be away from home often. All that she knew of Jesus was from hearsay, from the stray rumours that would travel northward, and there was not a single rumour yet that could speak to her of the healing of a heathen. When the sisters sent for Jesus, when Lazarus was ill, theirs was indeed a noble faith. But Christ had lived with them, and loved them, and all that was a mighty encouragement to faith. Here there was nothing of such sweet experience; no personal knowledge for faith to strike its roots in. And it was all so wonderful that even Jesus wondered--"O woman, great is thy faith."
The Disciples Were against Her
Once more, the disciples were against her--"Send her away, for she crieth after us." They had come northward for a little rest, and they were irritated at being so disturbed. Perhaps what they meant was this: "Give her the boon she craves, and let her go. The crowd will be sure to gather at her cries--for the sake of peace grant her, her request." But the very fact that they could speak so, shows that they viewed her in an unkindly light, and, from the moment that they saw her, had cast upon her uninviting looks. So had they acted with the mothers of Salem when they brought their little ones to Jesus. How much more natural such conduct now, when the mother was a Syrophoenician and a heathen. Yet all the angry looks of the disciples, and their biddings that she should hold her peace, and their drawing together to keep her off from Jesus, and the fact that they were men and she a woman--all this was powerless to dishearten her or to quench the shining of her faith.
Christ Seemed to Be against Her
But there was one other obstacle she had to conquer, for Christ Himself seemed to be against her. When she pleaded with Him in all her mother's passion, He answered her never a word. These silent lips were terrible enough--they were so unlike all she had heard of Him; but when He spoke it was like the knell of doom, robbing her of the hope that was her life--"I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Do not imagine it was said to try her. It was said in the perfect sincerity of truth. There is an order in the plans of God, and the time of the Gentiles was not yet. But what did the woman do--did she retire? Did she say, "Ah me, my case is hopeless now"? There is something magnificent in what she did--she came and worshipped and cried to Him, "Lord, help me." Again Jesus raised another obstacle. He uttered that dark word about the dogs--not the wild and masterless dogs of Eastern streets, but the "doggies" which even then were household pets. And the alertness, the ready mother-wit, with which this mother parried that rebuff is one of the most delightful things in Scripture. Who could have blamed her if, being called a dog, she had turned in womanly anger and gone home? Instead of that she catches up the words and turns the supposed taunt into an argument. And it was then that Jesus, charmed and captivated by that refusal to admit defeat, crowned her with the encomium of our text. Her birth was against her; her knowledge was against her; the Twelve were against her; Christ seemed to be against her. But her great faith broke every obstacle--and her daughter was made whole that very hour.
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