Losing is the One Thing You Need

Matthew 19:20-22 (cf. 16-22)
The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect [‘If you want to complete the set’], go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
There is something ironic about the way [Jesus] says it here: “If you want to complete the set . . . .” It’s a way of saying, “God wants his people to be complete, totally dedicated to his service, not half-and-half people, with one foot in the kingdom and the other in the world.” . . . All right, says Jesus, this is the one that will complete your collection: give everything away! In order to be complete, you must be empty. In order to have everything, you must have nothing. In order to be fully signed up to God’s service, you must be signed off from everything else (50).
A. Orendorff
Jesus goes right for the heart, right for the idol this rich, young ruler has allowed himself to become captivated by. In answer to his questions, Jesus responds: “Despite your scrupulous obedience, there is one thing you lack, one thing that is keeping you from being complete, from being perfect, from being fit for the kingdom. And that one thing is what you love the most: your wealth. What you need isn’t addition; it’s subtraction. You don’t need to add one more work, one more ‘good deed,’ to ‘inherit eternal life’ (v. 16). What you need, quite simply, is to lose.”

Cut Off Your You-Know-What

Matthew 19:10-12
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The rampant individualism of the last few hundred years in the West has left families, and children, in bad shape, as people act on the belief that they have, as individuals, a “right to happiness” which overrides all considerations of loyalty, keeping vows, and the duty to bring up lovingly the children one has brought into the world.

Nobody—certainly not Jesus—ever said that following him and finding God’s kingdom-way in these matters would be easy. But nobody should imagine that it’s just an optional extra. As Jesus comes closer to Jerusalem, and to his own astonishing act of self-denial and self-sacrifice, we should take note that the call to follow him extends to the most personal and intimate details of our lives (47).
A. Orendorff
In light of what Jesus has said just a few verses earlier about chopping off your hands and gouging out your eyes, it is tempting to paraphrase Matthew 19:20, “If getting married causes you to sin, cut off your you-know-what.” Jesus’ point, of course, is that we must allow nothing to trump our kingdom loyalty. He is not denigrating marriage; if anything he is elevating it. The fidelity demanded by marriage is the closest thing to kingdom-fidelity this world has to offer. This means, however, that just as we must be willing to lose our hands and eyes if they become sources for sin, so too Jesus’ radical demand to “take up your cross” extends to the intimate space create by marriage itself.

Marriage . . . from the Beginning

Matthew 19:3-6
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The renewal of life [Jesus] offers, in the sphere of marriage as everywhere else, will come through the willing, intelligent obedience of wholehearted women and man who think out what it means to be loyal to God and to other people, especially to their marriage partner, and who take steps to put it into practice (43).

No wonder it’s a hard, costly and wonderful to work at a marriage and truly to become “one flesh.” Jesus’ whole aim was to bring about that renewal of the world in which the intention of the creator God would at last be fulfilled. No wonder he didn’t want us to settle for anything less than the best (44).
A. Orendorff
As usual, Jesus’ response to the religious leaders exposes the shallowness of their thinking. A question about divorce becomes a lesson in creation. Jesus begins by redirecting their approach. “You’re asking the wrong question,” he seems to say, “You want to talk about escape clauses, loop holes and legal technicalities when really what you should be attending to is the reason God made us in the first place.” In the beginning (the very beginning), marriage was written into the fabric of creation as an expression of what it means to be made in the image of God. In marriage, plurality flowers into oneness not so as to denigrate the plurality but rather to complete it. Jesus’ work of restoration therefore does not transcend marriage but enfolds it into the pattern of redemption itself. This doesn’t mean easy sailing. What it means is that marriage—in the kingdom—becomes another signpost of where the gospel is taking creation itself: resurrection by way of the cross.

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you . . .

Matthew 18:21-22, 27 & 33-35 (cf. 21-35)
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. . . . And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. . . . Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The key thing is that one should never, ever give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal. If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge.

Why does Jesus solemnly say, in the last verse, that those who refuse to forgive will themselves be refused forgiveness? Isn’t that, to put it bluntly, so harsh as to be out of keeping with the rest of the gospel? Can’t God override our failing at exactly that point?

Apparently not. At least, I don’t know about “can’t,” but it seems he won’t. The New Testament speaks with one voice on this subject (39).

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Matthew 18:15
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
Many of us prefer to pretend there isn’t a problem. We can refuse to face the facts, swallow our anger or resentment, paper over the cracks, and carry on as it everything is normal while seething with rage inside. Or we can simply avoid and ignore the other person or group, and pretend they don’t exist (34).

Many Christians have taken the paper-over-the-cracks option, believing that this is what “forgiveness” means—pretending that everything is all right, that the other person hasn’t really done anything wrong. That simply won’t do. If someone else—another Christians in particular!—has been offensive, aggressive, bullying, dishonest, or immoral, nothing whatever is gained by trying to create “reconciliation” without confronting the real evil that’s been done. Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying “it didn’t really happen” or “it didn’t really matter.” . . . Forgiveness is when it did happen, and it did matter, and you’re going to deal with it and end up loving and accepting one another again anyway (35).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
My brother's burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot . . . but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross in which I now share. Thus the call to Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which is the Christian's duty to bear (90).
A. Orendorff
All sin (i.e., wrongdoing) creates a debt. This can be seen easily in sins of a financial or physical nature, but it is just as true in relational sins as well. Forgiveness, therefore, means absorbing the debt created by another person’s wrongs, whatever the nature of those wrongs might have been. Justice means taking payments on that debt; forgiveness mean making the payments ourselves.

Stumps Might Be Better

Matthew 18:8-10
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
So who are these “little ones”? They include weak, vulnerable children, of course, as we were thinking in the previous passage. But they also include those who are weak and vulnerable at other times of life, too: the cripples, the chronically sick, the elderly and infirm, refugees, women (in many cultures), any who find themselves on the human scrap-heap that our world throws people on to when it can’t think what else to do with them (31).

Anyone who has ever tried to break a bad moral habit will know that it sometimes feels like cutting off a hand or foot. Anyone who tries to stop a bad attitude towards others will know that it’s almost as hard as plucking out an eye. And the habits and attitudes that Jesus has in his sights in this passage are as had as any. Cutting off the “hand” that refuses to give to the poor; cutting off the “foot” that refuses to walk to the soup kitchen to help out; and, in particular, plucking out the “eye” that refuses to notice the weak, the vulnerable, the helpless all around us, in our cities, on our streets, in our wider world: all these pose a challenge every bit as severe as the day Jesus first issued it (32-2).
A. Orendorff
Like most people, I’ve always read vv. 8-9 extracted from the context of chapter eighteen, in particular from what Jesus says about the “little ones” and their “angles.” Vv. 8-9 have essentially served as a “take sin seriously” passage. In other words, this is how severe our war with sin needs to be: get ready to amputate, get ready to gouge. Such a reading works especially well with sins of a sexual nature (being that it’s our hands, feet and especially our eyes that most often get us in trouble).

Reflecting on the context, however, these verses seem to point in a slightly different direction. Still taking them as a warning against to consequences of sinful habits, the stress is not upon the damage our sinful members do to us but the damage they do to others—especially those, as Wright says, “who find themselves on the human scrap-heap that our world throws people on to when it can’t think what else to do with them.” The real horror of sexual sin, something like pornography for example, isn’t so much the pain it causes us or even those who love us, but the pain it inflicts upon the “little ones” it involves—the vulnerable, the helpless, the exploited, the powerless, the used. Compassion then, humanizing compassion, and not self-centered, personal interest, leads us to consider stumps a far better alternative to such dehumanizing violence.

Kids and the Kingdom

Matthew 18:3-4
“I’m telling you the truth,” he said, “Unless you turn inside out and become like children, you will never, ever, get into the kingdom of heaven. So if any of you make yourselves humble like this child, you will be great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
[T]he weakest, most vulnerable, least significant human being you can think of is the clearest possible signpost to what the kingdom of God will be like. . . . [H]umility is what counts in god’s kingdom, because pride and arrogance are the things which, more than anything else in God’s world, distort and ultimately destroy human lives—their own, and those of people they affect (27-8).

Fishes . . . Serpents and Doves

Matthew 17:24-27
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
[T]he tone of the whole story implies that for Jesus this was a way of making light of the whole system, maybe even making fun of it. “Oh, they want Temple money, do they? Well, why don’t you go fishing . . . I’m sure you’ll find something good enough for them.” It was a way of not saying, on the one hand, “Oh, yes, of course, we’ll certainly pay—here, take a coin from my purse!”, or, on the other hand, “No, certainly not, the whole system is corrupt—go and give him a punch in the nose!” It was a way of biding time.

The point of the story, then, isn’t that Jesus had the power to make a coin appear in the mouth of a fish—though that is certainly implied. Nor is it that Jesus is simply a good citizen, finding ways of paying the necessary taxes. The point is that he was a master strategist. He was himself, as he told his disciples to be, as wise as a serpent while remaining as innocent as a dove (10.16). There is perhaps a model there for all his followers as they pray and wait and plan how to confront the powers of this world with the subversive message of the kingdom of God (25-6).
A. Orendorff
Two opposing principles seem to be at work in this odd and perplexing story. First, there is justice—“Then the sons are free” Jesus tells Peter, implying that the temple tax is unjust. Second, there is prudence—“However, not to give offense.” As with so much in Scripture, it is by keeping these two principles—justice and prudence—in their proper tension that the way of wisdom emerges. Jesus will, of course, eventually go full-tilt the way of justice when he descends upon the Temple in Jerusalem with a whip in his hand and fire on his tongue. But for now, as Wright points out, it is time to “pray and wait and plan.” Much pointless (and bloody) conflict would be avoided if we, like Jesus, sough to be both serpents and doves.

Carrying the Sheep Back

Luke 15:5
And when he [the shepherd] has found it [the lost sheep], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross & the Prodigal
After finding the lost sheep the shepherd’s hardest job was still before him because he had yet to carry the heavy beast back to the flock. . . . The shepherd takes his heavy burden “rejoicing” and accepts this backbreaking task happily. . . . When the lost is found, the task of restoration has barely begun. . . . [This] is a crucial theme within which lies the cross (31-2; emphasis original).

The Failure and Possibilities of Faith

Matthew 17:14-20
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The secret, of course, is that the size of the faith isn’t important; what’s important is the God in whom you believe. . . . The smallest prayer to one true God will produce great things; the most elaborate devotions to a ‘god’ of our own making, or indeed someone else’s, will be useless, or worse (22).
A. Orendorff
Like Peter floundering in the waves, Jesus chastises his disciples for their lack of faith and understanding. They have run aground, as it were, against their own limitations. “I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him,” the man tells Jesus. “This one is too strong,” the disciples report, “Why could we not cast it out?”

You?” I imagine Jesus saying, “They? Of course, they couldn’t cast it out. That’s the point. You can’t do anything. You never could. Faith is what you need. Faith, not in yourself and your abilities but in me.” So Jesus rebukes them precisely on those grounds: “O faithless and twisted generation . . . O you of little faith.”

And yet, for all his biting words, Jesus still welcomes his disciples and he still heals the epileptic boy. What’s more, he uses his disciples’ failure not only to teach them about what true faith makes possible (i.e., everything), but to encourage them and to raise their sights.

“as they were coming down the mountain”

Matthew 17:9-13
And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
John the Baptist hadn’t come to blast everyone into shape with celestial thunderbolts. He was a voice, warning of what was to come, but himself dying under the weight of the evil he had denounced. Jesus hadn’t come to sweep all before him with a blaze of power. He had come to bring God’s kingdom of love and power, and the way to that kingdom lay down the road of suffering.

The timetable of what God is doing in the world is going ahead. If we want to play out part in it, we must follow where Jesus himself leads: along the way of the cross, of self-renunciation and service. After all, the most important event in the timetable has already occurred. Jesus himself was raised from the dead, the secret is out, and all of history is now bathed in that Easter light. Our task is to help find our own role and vocation in following him and helping that light to shine throughout the world (18-9).
A. Orendorff
The default setting of my heart is “justification by self.” At a very fundamental level, though I profess to believe the gospel way of justification by faith, I instead operate on the principle: I am what I am (no more, no less). Such a setting inevitably leads to feelings of insecurity, instability, incompetence and fear. If I am what I am then I’m the one responsible to make something of myself. In religious language: I better get out and make a dent for the kingdom.

In gospel terms, however, my life is now hidden with Christ in God. Christ is my life. Jesus is raised. Death has been (for all of its bark and bite) subverted. My aim, therefore, is not to lead, but to follow. To go, as Wright says, “along the way of the cross, of self-renunciation and service.” There is real freedom, in this, knowing that I am not responsible to make something of myself, but only to follow.

My goal is not to lead people up and down the mountain, but to see myself with the disciples following Christ, being led by Christ, walking in the wake of His cross and resurrection.

The Mountain and the Hill or The Glory and the Cross

Matthew 17:1-8
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
[T]he scene at the transfiguration . . . offers a strange parallel and contrast to the crucifixion. . . . Here, on a mountain, is Jesus, revealed in glory; there, on a hill outside Jerusalem, is Jesus revealed in shame. Here his clothes are shining white; there, they have been stripped off, and soldiers have gambled for them. Here he is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, representing the law and the prophets; there he is flanked by two brigands, representing the level to which Israel had sunk in rebellion against God. Here, a bright cloud overshadows the scene; there, darkness comes upon the land. Here Peter blurts out how wonderful it all is; there, he is hiding in shame after denying he even knows Jesus. Here a voice from God himself declares that this is his wonderful son; there, a pagan soldier declares, in surprise, that this really is God’s son.

The mountain-top explains the hill-top—and vice versa. Perhaps we only really understand either of them when we see it side by side with the other. Learn to see the glory in the cross; learn to see the cross in the glory; and you will have begun to bring together the laughter and the tears of the God who hides in the cloud, the God who is to be known in the strange person of Jesus himself (14-15).

Dangerous Nonsense

Matthew 16:21-25 (vv. 21-28)
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to tell him off. “That’s the last thing God would want, Master!” he said, “That’s never, ever going to happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
Yes, we’ll be going to Jerusalem. Yes, the kingdom of God is coming, coming soon now. Yes, the son of man will be exalted as king, dispensing justice to the world. But the way to this kingdom is by the exact opposite road to the one the disciples—and especially Peter—have in mind. It will involve suffering and death. Jesus will indeed confront the rulers and authorities, the chief priests and legal experts, in Jerusalem; but they, not he, will appear to win the battle. He will then be raised from the dead, so Jesus says; but neither Peter not the others can figure out for the moment what he might mean by this.

All they know is that he is talking nonsense, dangerous nonsense.

Like Paul in his letters, Jesus insists that God thinks differently from how we mortals think. God sees everything inside out; or, perhaps we should say, God sees everything the right way around, whereas we see everything inside out.
Following him will cost everything and give everything. There are no half measures on this journey. It’s going to be like learning to swim: if you keep your foot on the bottom of the pool you’ll never work out how to do it. You have to lose your life to find it (10-1).
A. Orendorff
“Dangerous nonsense.” “God sees everything inside out.” “You have to lose your life to find it.”

What would it look like if we took the gospel seriously? How would our lives change if we really acted like what Jesus said were true? The way up is the way down. The way of leadership is the way of service. The way of glory is the way of shame. The way of power is the way of weakness. The way of triumph is the way of suffering. The way of resurrection is the way of the cross.

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Matthew 16:13-17 (vv. 13-20)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The disciples report the general reaction—which tells us a good deal about the way Jesus was perceived by the people at large. Not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”; not the cozy, comforting friend of little children; rather, like one of the wild prophets of recent or of ancient times, who had stood up and spoken God’s word fearlessly against wicked and rebellious kings. Jesus was acting as a prophet: not simply “one who foretells the future,” but one who was God’s mouthpiece against injustice and wickedness in high places.
But within that prophetic ministry there lay hidden another dimension . . . . He was not just God’s mouthpiece. He was God’s Messiah. He wasn’t just speaking God’s word against the wicked rulers of the time. He was God’s king, who would supplant them.
What Peter and the others were saying was: you are the true king. You’re the one Israel has been waiting for. You are God’s adopted son, the one of whom the Psalms and prophets had spoken (6-7).
A. Orendorff
Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Christ, the son of the living God. More than a prophet (though certainly not less), you are God’s king, you are creation’s Lord, and you are my Sovereign. Yet I am plunged into a world that (with my weak eyes of faith) looks nothing like the kingdom I expect. I spend my strength trying to build what only you can construct. I wage a sad, misguided and pathetic war against what (in the end) is only “flesh and blood”—both my own and others. I am weak and heavily burdened. Save me, Jesus, from myself: from both my pride and self-pity; from both my grandiosity and despair. Reveal to me, Father, Jesus the Messiah—crucified and risen. Make me a rock, not by virtue of who or what I am, but by virtue of who and what Jesus is.

Beware the Leaven

Matthew 16:6-12 (vv. 1-12)
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 2)
The point is this. At Passover, one of the greatest Jewish festivals, all leaven had to be cleared out of the house, commemorating the time when the children of Israel left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to bake leavened bread, and so ate it unleavened. Gradually, “leaven” became a symbol not for something that makes bread more palatable, but for something that makes it less pure. Warning against the “leaven” of someone’s teaching meant warning against ways in which the true message of the God’s kingdom could be corrupted, diluted, or (as we say referring to drink rather than bread), “watered down” (3-4).
A. Orendorff
The greatest danger to the gospel—the message of God’s kingdom reign—is not irreligious philosophy or secular humanism, but the “leaven” (the corrupting impurity) of religious idolatry, of adding or subtracting just a little bit from the authentic message of truth.

And they glorified the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:29-31 (vv. 29-39)
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[Matthew] has already given us a good many stories of remarkable healings which Jesus performed. Why lengthen the book still further by adding these ones?
Matthew hopes that his readers will carry in their minds, as he undoubtedly did in his, many of the key prophetic texts from Israel’s scriptures, the Old Testament. There are several texts that speak in beautiful poetry of the great time to come when God will rescue Israel from all its troubles. Here is one of the best known; Matthew intends us to “see” the picture he is drawing in three dimensions by looking “through” his text and others like it:
Isaiah 35:2-6
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
A. Orendorff
What do we really believe Jesus can do? I mean, really?

This question isn’t so much about debating whether or not we, as Jesus’ followers today, should expect miraculous healing. It’s more about getting honest about who we think Jesus really is. Most of us, when we get right down to it, don’t really expect all that much out of Jesus. By and large, our “Christian dream” is little more than a baptized version of the “American dream.” We want pretty much what everyone else wants, only with a spiritual-kicker tacked on at the end.

Matthew’s Jesus, however, the Jesus of Scripture, is about, as Paul said, “bringing life out of death.” Jesus is about getting “the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others” at his feet and doing for them what none of us can do for ourselves.

Scraps from the Table

Matthew 15:22-28
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
The Canaanite woman does indeed have great faith. Not only does she clearly believe that Jesus can heal her stricken daughter. She addresses Jesus as “son of David,” the Jewish messianic title which the disciples themselves were only gradually coming to associate with him. . . . If Israel is indeed the promise-bearing people, then Israel’s Messiah will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world. The dogs will share the scraps that fall from the children’s table.

The woman’s faith broke through the waiting period, the time in which Jesus would come to Jerusalem as Israel’s Messiah, be killed and raised again, and then send his followers out into all the world (28:19). The disciples, and perhaps Jesus himself, are not ready for Calvary. This foreign woman is already insisting upon Easter.

Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer to do, now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future (200-1).
A. Orendorff
Five times in the gospel of Matthew Jesus refers to his disciples as “O ye of little faith,” or, as Wright puts is, “you little faith lot.” Yet here, and in a number of other similar cases, Jesus openly commends the faith of an outsider. Why?

First, the woman is desperate. She isn’t coming to Jesus to examine him. She isn’t approaching him to simply “talk religion.” Instead, she falls before this wandering Jewish rabbi, addresses him as a king, and begs shamelessly for mercy.

Second, the woman is humble. She endures not only the disciples’ strong rebukes, but Jesus’ insults as well. She is content to be called a “dog”; content to eat the measly scraps that fall thoughtlessly from the “master’s table.”

Third, she is persistent. In Wright’s words, she “badgers and harries God in prayer to do, now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future.” She is unwilling, in other words, to take “no” for an answer.

These are not the immature demands of a spoiled and disrespectful child. These are the desperate, humble and persist pleas of a woman at the end of herself, who knows who Jesus is, and believes in what he can do. This is prayer.