It is recorded in the Bible that Jesus marvelled at the faith of two different people. Many would have naturally expected both to be from Israel. In fact, both were Gentiles. I am sure this has or will raise your curiosity as it has for me. I will look at them both and bring my own humble thoughts at the end.
The first incident is mentioned in St. Mathew’s gospel 8:5-13. The location is Capernaum, close to Nazareth and Gennesareth. In fact Jesus called it his own city (Mathew 9:1). The word got around that Jesus was there. A Roman Centurion, commanding 100 soldiers came to Jesus on behalf of his devoted and beloved slave suffering from agony and in danger of paralytic seizures.
Think of the readiness and willingness of the Lord to accompany them to the Centurion’s home. The centurion is well aware of the command structure and insisted that his home was not worthy of Jesus’ noble visit. He said, and this is important, “simply say the word and my servant would be miraculously healed.” When Jesus heard this, he marvelled, and said to those who were following Him: “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (verse 10). He then honoured his faith and healed his slave. By the way, did you notice how genuinely this commander cared for his slave? The whole incident was not faith alone but the balanced combination of both faith and genuine concern! Is this military man a Believer or still classified as a heathen?
The second occasion is recorded in St. Mathew 15:21-28. Jesus was at Tyre and Sidon, a border town of Israel. Evidently his name and fame had already penetrated into neighbouring towns. No sooner had Jesus reached this town, a woman sought Him out. By birth she was a Syrophnoenician, simply put a Cananite, whom the Jews hated. She was a Roman subject, by culture and language a Greek. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David. My daughter is grievously vexed by the devil” she cried.
Notice how deftly and skilfully Jesus handled it. I implore you to take time to read the full reference. She was sharp and witty! Jesus, uncharacteristically, did not even acknowledge or answer a single word. Nowhere else did he ever put on an apparent cold shoulder, as He did in this encounter. In the case of the Centurion, he was at least a friend of the Jews. But this woman was the descendent of the accursed race. By now she was creating such a scene that the disciples wanted her removed from Jesus’ presence. When Jesus finally responded it sounded cold as ice: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24). Really? Was there something in the Master’s face which exuded grace despite the words? She bowed down before him, saying “Lord help me!” Wow! Now for the unkindest cut of all. Perhaps Jesus simply reflected the natural religious sentiments of the time; “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (verse 26). It almost sounded rude. Could you believe that Jesus spoke those words? Yes, but Jesus also knew her heart and her rare faith in him. He also knew how far he can push it with this woman.
Now for the climax, her wittiest response, one of the most charming expressions in the Bible, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Jesus could not hold it any longer. He marvelled at her response and exclaimed “O woman, your faith is great: be it done for you as you wish,” and her daughter was healed at once. She had faith in him? There is more to it. Jesus had faith in her, the outsider.
Please observe that these acts of mercy were granted when Jesus was far away from the actual sufferers. To my Hindu friends, I must admit that I do get inspired and excited even while I write my post, the real essence of Jesus’ mission to the world, sans any baggage.
Such a commendation for faith from the Master would have unanimously drawn the whole community to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Observe Jesus did not stop there but proceeded further saying “And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven.”
Following are my thoughts on the above encounters. Two factors are abundantly clear and I wish to emphasize them.
First, Jesus could have delivered her daughter instantly, but was gently and deliberately introducing her, along with his own disciples, to the real good news, the love of God (pre-John 3:16) to the whole world. Let me put it this way. Jesus took this opportunity to eradicate the idea from their minds that his religion (indeed His Kingdom) was local or provincial. It is worldwide. His plan of Salvation for mankind was in place before Abraham the father of faith, the Cross and in fact before the foundation of the world. It was for whosoever, not to one tribe or nation, but universal! Put another way, Jesus taught them all the full and greater theology of coming to know the Almighty loving God and not Just as the Son of David. Be gone, once and for all, any traces of rude exclusivity!
The second factor: Jesus was no Scrooge in giving praises to others. Sometimes we Christians may suffer from the defects of familiarity. Mere Scriptural knowledge as against the very word of the Lord, who was from the beginning! Think of it for a moment. Jesus did not waste time by decrying the shortcomings of the centurion’s or the Syrophoenician woman’s Gentile religious background. Jesus did not expound their problems. They were well aware of their situation. He gave them something far better and far greater!
Now to my questions. Is Christianity still in its infancy when it comes to giving due respect to those of different faith? Are they not also searching, just as we do, for truth? Are they not searching for the one who said “I am the Way the Truth and the Life (St. John 14:6)? Have the missionaries no stories to tell us of their great culture, anecdotes, chivalry, non-violence, sacrifice, and hospitality? Is there only poverty and violence, as though we have none of those? Are there no books of their land of the brave?
Jesus did not withdraw, but lavished praises and accolades on others. In this, he was no respecter of persons. In today’s post we read how Jesus praised the non-Jewish Roman Centurion and the Cananitish woman as giants of exceptional faith. Yes, he openly said, “I have never seen anything like this, not even in Israel.” Indeed, the names of these two did not make it in the faith chapter of Hebrews. Does it matter?
God bless, Danny Paul