Summary: The ’vaccine’ of faith that we received in our Baptism fights the ’virus’ of the world, the devil and our flesh.
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I wonder how Dr. Jonas Salk felt in the 1950’s. Dr. Salk was credited with discovering the vaccine for polio, the great disease of the early 20th century; an epidemic that affected mostly children. Often fatal, this disease left almost every child who survived its ravages severely crippled. Dr. Salk’s face had been in probably every newspaper in America. I am certain he could not walk down any street without being recognized, and any of those people recognizing him who had a child suffering from polio would have bothered him for advice, recommendations of treatment, and possibly even for him, personally, to treat their child. I doubt that even leaving the country would have relieved this; almost the entire civilized world knew of Dr. Jonas Salk. He probably had to keep associates with him to brush-off both well-wishers and pleaders.
Jesus had become just as recognizable in the area of Capernaum as Dr. Salk would have been America in the late 1950’s. In our Gospel lesson Jesus had left that region around the Sea of Galilee, probably just to get some rest! And the disciples would have been tasked with keeping people away from Jesus, so that He could get His rest. Coming to the northwest corner of Israel, he is bothered by a woman wanting treatment for her child. Hoping to escape from the pressure of His work in Israel, here he is, being bothered by a foreign woman in a foreign land! The disciples have no luck in sending her away; she keeps on pleading, making a pest of herself. They appeal to Jesus Himself to send her away, and Jesus then attempts to simply dismiss her.
This woman persists. She knows of no other way to get help for her child. The only hope has not only come into the world, He has come to her very backyard! What an opportunity. She wasn’t about to let this chance slip away. She followed along behind the group traveling with Jesus, pleading for His help. She made a nuisance of herself!
Yet, this woman is a Gentile. She is not of the nation of Israel, and Jesus was sent first to the people of the covenant. His Earthly, personal, ministry was not to the Gentiles, but to Israel. He insults her, calling her a lap dog. Yet, she still persists, arguing that even lap dogs are worthy of what is discarded by the children of the master.
Jesus is swayed, not by her arguments, but by her faith; the faith that knows that this Jesus is God’s own son, sent to the world through the line of David. Maybe not specifically for her and her people, but still sent into the world for the salvation of mankind. Jesus tells her that through her faith, her daughter has been cured. Even though this woman “didn’t belong” to the group that Jesus was sent to, her faith has over-ridden that ‘lack.’
This woman was pleading for the earthly health of her child. Any parent would do the same. Concern about our children is one of the responsibilities of a parent. Yet how much more should we all be pleading for spiritual health. And not just for our children, but for ourselves and for all people. The faith the Canaanite woman showed in Jesus’ ability to restore her child to physical health is the same level of faith we need to have about our spiritual life. Yet, we continually show a lack of that faith.
We trust in what we can see. Modern medicine produces miraculous healings of the body. Modern science propels men around the world and into outer space. Modern technology allows us to talk to our friends and relatives in distant parts of the world, and do it right now. These are things we can feel, touch and hear. We place our trust in these, as they affect our daily life. Yet we fail to trust in what can protect our eternal life. We consistently ignore those things that help our spiritual health. And this lack of faith, this lack of trust in God, is not a modern phenomenon. Adam and Eve showed their lack in the Garden of Eden; Moses had to have Aaron as a spokesman; Jonah knew that God could not want the people of Nineveh to be saved; even with Jesus directly in front of him, Peter could not trust enough to walk on the Sea of Galilee to meet Jesus.
Our spiritual health is our own responsibility. The pastor and elders within our church are there to help us, not force-feed us. Our faith is a gift from God, to be nurtured and maintained by each of us individually. Just like our physical health, when we fail to take care of it, it deteriorates. It does not maintain a steady level without effort. Our weekly hour at church is not enough, just as our large meal on Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s is not enough to sustain us until the following Sunday. And what type of nurturing is required of us? Those things that will lead us to an increase of faith: constant prayer, daily reading of the Word of God, and daily pondering on that Word. These are the things that lead to an increase of faith.