Though Jesus sure makes it sound like one.
This is going to be a crazy week, so I’m taking advantage of some quite time in the Pankey household to begin sermon prep for Sunday. I didn’t so much notice it as I read the Gospel for Sunday, but certainly as I listened to this week’s Sermon Brainwave, the thought that Jesus makes faith into a contest became readily apparent. It comes at the tail end of the story of Jesus healing the Centurion’s slave, but it is well worth noting because, for me, that which I hear last is usually what I remember.
“When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.'”
Jesus was “amazed” at the man’s faith. He is so amazed that he uses some pretty powerful hyperbole, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Wow! Compare this to Jesus initial reaction to the Syrophoenician Woman who wanted her daughter healed (cross Gospel comparisons are dangerous, I know that, but bare with me, it’s a holiday), “‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.'”
What makes this outsider’s faith so amazing? Why is it better than that of the Syrophoenician Woman? Is it better than mine? Certainly, it is better than every believer in Israel! It is hard not to begin to think of faith as a contest: if I just pray harder or do more good works or go to church more often or put more money in the plate…
The truth of the matter is, however, that it isn’t a contest because, as Paul tells the Galatians, it has already been won by Jesus. The rest of us: Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, male or female rely on grace that is sufficient through Jesus Christ. It is tempting to turn faith into a cosmic horseshoe game with everyone hoping that close enough is good enough, but that isn’t what the Lord requires.