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Monthly Archives: April 2017

Why I Now Embrace the Two Kinds of Righteousness (a Review of Jordan Cooper’s Hands of Faith)

In his book Hands of Faith, Pastor Jordan Cooper makes a convincing case that the concept of the two kinds of righteousness is not only inherent in Lutheran theology (4, 11, 31, 70, 109), but that it is an important biblical concept with much to offer “the entire Christian world”. In sum, with this distinction antinomianism can be effectively countered while the centrality of justification is highlighted: faith, “mystical union” (“Christification”), and good works can all be put “within their proper contexts” (133).

Pastor Cooper appears to have thought rather deeply about the modern theological landscape – in confessional Lutheran circles and beyond – and put together an effective program to help believers find their bearings. Those familiar with his helpful podcasts and other work will find that Hands of Faith builds on two important previous books: The Righteousness of One, which offers a Lutheran answer to the “new perspective” on Paul (most well-known among evangelicals in N.T. Wright’s work), and Christification, which traces the theme of union with Christ and its connection with sanctification in the writings of Lutheran writers up through the present day.

With this more recent offering, I believe that Jordan Cooper shows himself to be not only one of the most insightful, loyal, and bridge-building confessional Lutheran theologians of our day – but also one of the Christian church’s most biblically faithful, theologically astute, and ecumenically-minded spokesmen. As he describes his own efforts “I continue to offer a proposal for a Lutheranism that is genuinely catholic and avoids reductionistic caricatures” (2).

Right from the beginning, the book gets off to a great start with a powerful introduction from Concordia Seminary St. Louis professor Joel Bierrmann. What sticks out is Bierrmann’s comment that “there are myriad expressions of God’s truth that are faithful to what has been given.” Even as he talks about how he and Cooper differ – something that is made clear in the book (see 34, 35; 127) – he also goes on to say this:

“[Both Cooper and myself] are willingly and freely constrained by a common confession and a peculiar heritage within the body of the church. More remarkably than that, we are even linked by our mutual appreciation for the two kinds of righteousness as a dynamic and effective means of expressing God’s truth in a contemporary context. This, it turns out, is not universally true of all who join us in our heritage and confession. Perhaps this text will help remedy what is to my mind, an unnecessary and somewhat reactionary repudiation of the two kinds of righteousness by some who are fellow heirs of Luther.” (x)

I think he is right. In fact, I know he is right. I can say that because it was only Pastor Cooper who was able to firmly convince me that my reaction to one version of the “two kinds of righteousness” was, in fact, an overreaction (see the series I did four years ago here and here). I recant!

Luther’s jarring thesis: “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.” Justification and sanctification, in a nutshell.

Pastor Cooper has helped me to see that the desire explain the Christian life in terms of the “two kinds of righteousness” can be a very good and helpful thing – perhaps particularly for the times that we live in. I think that he was able to do this because he basically looks at the wisdom the Lutheran Confessions have to share on the topic and builds his case from there.

As the Lutheran Confessions say (FC SD III.24):

…in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them and then thereafter the righteousness of the new obedience or good works that are begun in them. But these two kinds of righteousness dare not be mixed with each other or simultaneously introduced into the article on justification by faith before God. For because this righteousness that is begun in us – this renewal – is imperfect and impure in this life because of our flesh, a person cannot use it in any way to stand before God’s judgement throne. Instead, only the righteousness of the obedience, suffering, and death of Christ, which is reckoned to faith, can stand before God’s tribunal. Even following their renewal, when they are already producing many good works and living the best kind of life, human beings…are acceptable [to God]…only because of Christ’s obedience (78).

As Pastor Cooper puts it, because the Christian will not be free of his old man, or old Adam, in this life, “[o]nly Christ, not any level of sanctification, can serve as a ground of assurance” (79). The two kinds of righteousness has to do with “how man relates to God (passive righteousness) and fellow man (active righteousness)” (125). With the vertical reality that is the passive righteousness we are “remind[ed]…that [we] cannot work to merit God’s favor or love, but that righteousness is given freely.” With the largely horizontal reality of our active righteousness we see “that [we] are called to live holy lives in the world for the sake of others” (128).

The “two kinds of righteousness,” Pastor Cooper tells us, “is essentially another manner in which to discuss the differences between justification and sanctification” (97). No doubt revealing an inspiration for the book’s title, Cooper says that “[Classical Lutheran theologian] Johannes Brentz” says that faith has ‘two hands.’ One hand extends upward toward God and receives his gifts. The other reaches down into the world of fellow man and performs works of love” (90).

Gustaf Wingren, Pastor Cooper’s favorite “existentialist” Lutheran.

So, how is the book laid out? After initially “diagnosing the problem” (chapter title) of a “law-gospel” and “justification-only reductionism” (7) among some contemporary Lutherans, Pastor Cooper analyzes three previous books that have dealt with the two kinds of righteousness. The views in Gustaf Wingren’s Luther On Vocation, Charles Arand’s and Robert Kolb’s The Genius of Luther’s Theology, and Joel Biermann’s A Case for Character are deftly summarized, accompanied by both ample praise and critique that is at once sensible and gentle. After this, he guides us into the two kinds of righteousness in Martin Luther’s most important writings, in the Lutheran Confessions, in the seventeenth-nineteenth century Lutheran theologians, and finally, in the Scriptures (an important Appendix where he demonstrates, among other things, that the two kinds of righteousness is a “pre-fall” reality).

Throughout these chapters, Cooper is keen to make several points. In all of these, we become aware that the case that the “two kinds of righteousness” is a biblical concept able to practically guide us in our Christian life is a powerful one.

First of all, it highlights the crucial truths about justification and sanctification which can be clearly seen in Ephesians 2:8-10: we are justified by grace through faith for the good works God has laid out for us. In the light of the two kinds of righteousness, Paul’s letters, for example, are able to give us specific moral instruction while never failing to root such guidance in the passive and saving righteousness freely given to us by God in Christ (see, e.g., 146-150). While the Apostle is clear about his intention to reveal our sin to us in Romans 1-3, the imperatives in other letters are primarily to help guide Christians’ behavior in the world (even as this can certainly accuse us as well).

A diagram of the two kinds of righteousness (see here for more)

Second, and quite importantly, we learn that previous portrayals of the two kinds of righteousness have failed to note that the distinction amounts to imperfect shorthand (see 118): while even in the Bible sanctification can indeed be spoken of largely as a horizontal reality (see, e.g., Rom. 12-16, specifically 13:10, Gal. 5:14-26, and Eph. 4 and 5), there still is the aspect of the Christian’s piety before God, what Pastor Cooper calls “eucharistic sacrifice”: “If love toward God and upward piety are placed solely in the category of thanksgiving, then love toward God is always in response to passive righteousness” (19, italics mine). This goes hand-in-hand with Joel Biermann’s point that while unbelievers can also act in accordance with God’s will in the creation, a.k.a “civic” or “civil righteousness,” they do not do this with the proper motivation nor with the proper goals in mind (works done out of love for God and for the neighbor’s need, as opposed to works done for one’s “self-justification”). “The Holy Spirit works in a unique manner in the life of the regenerate person” (30, see 112 also).

Third, Lutherans who actually adhere to their confessional documents have never been antinomian (see 81 and 82), and in the older theologians the good works that take place within sanctification can be seen to seamlessly integrate with believers’ mystical union with Christ (108-109). The believer is justified in Christ, whereby, per Hoenecke, they are “so cemented to Christ that he and you are as one person” (109, see 51), and is then also sanctified by His indwelling, “wherein the believer is changed and renewed in God’s image”. It is from this indwelling, this second kind of union, from which both spontaneous good works and conscious efforts to do them must necessarily arise. “As there are two kinds of righteousness,” Pastor Cooper tells us, “so also there are two kinds of union corresponding to each” (51, see 104-110 as well).

And how does this distinction of the two kinds of righteousness relate to other theological topics Lutherans are known for highlighting? Two more points.

First, it is not a “better paradigm” than “law and gospel” (127) but has a different function. As Biermann says, echoing Kolb and Arand as well, “the two kinds of righteousness helps to clarify the role of good works and the law in the life of the Christian in a way in which the simple law-gospel paradigm cannot” (26). The law and gospel distinction, by which we are “remind[ed]… that Christians always fall short of God’s will and are saved solely by God’s grace,” does not have to do with how we relate to God and man, but is about how God speaks” (128).“ The two kinds of righteousness reminds us that “Christian obedience,” as important as it is, “can never function as the basis for Christian assurance” (129, italics Cooper’s).

Second – and this relates to Pastor Cooper’s work outside of this particular book (see here or the embedded video below) – the passive righteousness of the Christian, according to Martin Luther, basically correlates with what the Apostle Paul calls the “inner man,” and the active righteousness of the Christian corresponds with what he calls the “outer man,” meaning the body which binds us to creation (see 2 Cor 4:16). The body is the place of our sanctification, so to speak, by which we not only serve our fellow human beings, but also serve as co-creators of them and also find ourselves bound with the land, or earth. These, of course, brings us back to the original purpose, or vocation, of human beings in Genesis 1-2. Post-fall, this is inevitably going to relate to what Lutherans have traditionally called the “two kingdoms” as well.[i]

 

These are the kinds of things that Pastor Cooper unpacks throughout the course of Hands of Faith, always with much supporting evidence and argumentation. And the book’s content is not only clear and appropriately concise, but the tone of the analysis and arguments is pitch-perfect throughout. Of course I write for his blog and you would expect me to say this (and I got a free review copy as well!), but I would be genuinely surprised if the vast majority of professors at confessional Lutheran seminaries, for example, did not agree with my assessment after reading this latest offering from Pastor Cooper.

In this book, like his previous offerings, there is a deep concern not only for sound doctrinal theology, but historical theology as well. Again, Pastor Cooper is always eager to see the teachings of Luther and those who followed him in the context of the Christian church throughout history – not just by paying lip service to the past, but by actually making critical historical and logical connections, with the practical implications of that never being far behind.

Readers of Hands of Faith: a Historical and Theological study of the Two Kinds of Righteousness in Lutheran Thought will not be disappointed. Not only clarifying for Lutherans, it is an ecumenical book for our times that should have wide appeal among Christians.

FIN

 

 

[i] Regarding the doctrine of the “two kingdoms,” the idea is that the Gospel rules the “right hand” kingdom (where in time, the church announces justification coram Deo, or before God), while the law rules the “left hand” kingdom, or temporal and material realm. In the book, Cooper shares words from Luther’s Galatians commentary that are a bit jarring. In society, we should “let nothing be known about the Gospel, conscience, grace, the forgiveness of sins, heavenly righteousness, or Christ himself; but let there be knowledge only of Moses, of Law and its works” (56). Roughly, speaking, we might say that since the believer’s sanctification is meant to be coram mundo (before the world) reality, human beings cannot live without a civil righteousness in earthly kingdoms. We might diagram this as follows:

“The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to the Christians two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other. “The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). – Martin Luther

Here, the reviewer was reminded of the “Bethel Confession,” produced in by faithful Lutherans in the 1930s vs. the Nazis (see here). This document does not echo Luther by mentioning the law of Moses, but it certainly does so when it says that it is the role of the government, or nation, to bear the sword in order to punish the evildoer and enact justice. On the other hand, the realm of the church is to share God’s forgiveness in Christ through the means of grace, His Word, come to us in the Scriptures, and His sacraments (therefore, the Bethel Confession’s authors interestingly conclude “[we] reject the false doctrine of a ‘Christian state’ in every form”). It is perhaps worth noting there that Luther also talked about the “three estates”: the family, the church, and earthly government. Earthly government, he says, only became a necessity for human beings following the fall into sin.

 

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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Mystery of Good Friday: Why is it Good that Jesus is Punished in Our Place?!

“Vicarious satisfaction”: Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace…

Hundreds of years before Jesus lived, the prophet Isaiah said, in part (53rd chapter)

…But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

And in Romans 3:24-26, the Apostle Paul says this to us:

“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Scriptures like these are undoubtedly at the heart of the Christian faith.[i]

Commenting on the Romans passage, T.R. Halverson writes:

“…since justice is satisfied by Christ crucified for us, it would be unjust of God not to justify us. He would have to disregard the righteousness of Christ to refuse to justify us. Paul wants us to rest our assurance of salvation, in part, on the knowledge that God certainly would not be unjust. God is just – depend on it – and therefore, given that the righteousness of Christ is given to us, dependably, God justifies us. It was mercy that He gave his Only Begotten Son to die for us, but once the Son did die for us, it is also justice that God forgives us all our sins.”

I think this is an excellent insight and that we cannot escape this conclusion. After all, per Rom. 3:19-21, God’s Law is meant to accuse and condemn us, not just subjectively, but objectively (it is not the law that makes us objectively guilty, but it reveals our sin, which we may or may not have subjective guilt about). The fact of the matter is that nothing impure will finally enter the Kingdom of glory: we sinful men not only need Christ, but the whole of His righteous life—His just life—to stand before God. One is holy! One is worthy! See me, O Lord, in Him alone! This is all that we can claim, and He gladly gives us the right to claim it.[ii]

This is the confidence that we have from the day we call “Good Friday.”

Good Friday, though, provokes a lot of questions. Christians, understandably, want to dig deeply into what it means, and many “atonement theories” have resulted.[iii]

And Good Friday raises even more question among non-Christians as well, and really, who can blame them? More than once in my life, I have been asked “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’?”

After all, even those who do not trust in Jesus as their Savior often find the man to be, externally, an attractive and compelling figure (not all though — the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, for instance, dug deeply and came to the opposite conclusion about Jesus’ teachings). In fact, many can’t help themselves from liking Him and so they are often perplexed that God would let Him die as He does.

To make this confusion people experience more concrete and to try and put us on a similar page, let us use our imagination a bit. Think of your ideal Hero and Leader. Am I right to think that your Leader has strength, courage, humility, and kindness that is known to the all? And now, let’s say that your ideal Leader is your King, and mine as well! We are fellow citizens in an earthly Kingdom we both love.

But then the following happens: another Good King determines that our Good King must die because of the full accumulation of our very real evils, evils we cannot deny.

Would that not, in any world, be a bad thing? I have to say “yes”. First of all, many would find this to be a scandalous thing for that other “Good King” to do: totally unjust! Second, even if we don’t question the justice of this there is a problem! If we ourselves were in fact spared precisely because of this act, how would this not simply compound our guilt and make us feel more horrible?

Furthermore, connecting this with real life, it is of course reasonable to say that every non-believer who lived in Jesus’ day was not ready to kill Christ or even approve of His death (even if  the sin that can’t not rebel against the Promised Messiah lurks in each one of us)! So what is going on with this “Good” Friday thing?

Here is how all of this shakes out for me, as I reflect on what the Bible says about all of the topics involved in this Atoning Sacrifice…

First, let us speak of justice. To be sure, God must be just.

That said, justice is not strictly mathematical, calculating this tit for that tat. And though going hand-in-hand with God’s wrath, it is also not some “pound-of-flesh revenge”, but rather an exacting of accountability.

Justice is also a help to the oppressed godly ones – a balancing of the scales weighed against them! Their vindication! Their protection! Their preservation! Defeat to those who rebel vs their God and His eternal will! To them, God’s righteous anger, born of His Father’s heart for His children, is Gospel. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Furthermore, the law itself demands not only a justice born of such righteous anger, but mercy (Matthew 23:23) – even for one’s greatest enemies. Both justice and mercy must be done, for the law, being His good will, reflects God Himself, Love Himself (see Matthew 5:45, Acts 14).

Now, let’s go back to this day called Good Friday. This thing called the Atonement.

Why does the cross happen? It is because sin kills Him. Our sin kills Him. We, in our sin, blindly kill the One who loves us more than anyone! We kill our Perfect King and Master! Injustice abounds! Therefore, in this, we actually bring more sin – and punishment – on ourselves. Sin increases. The cup is filled to the brim with sin, as God’s wrath is satisfied in this truly unique way.

What do I mean? In effect, the following occurs: God “gives us over” to our evil (look at Romans 1) to the nth degree. Through us, the King who takes all the evil that we have to offer is executed according to God’s will. Nevertheless, He can rightly accuse us through His apostle “You did this!”[iv]

God gives us rebels over to our sin, allowing us to kill our good King, the new Adam and Head of the human race.

Bad news right? Or is it?

No, for mercy triumphs over judgement. When sin has so increased, grace increases all the more. He is “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord!” To our surprise, He rises again, proving that we, the unjust, have now been justified (Rom 4:25)!

What has just happened?

In short, God, “being compassionate, effected propitiation for guilt, and did not destroy.” (Psalm 78:38).

We now can see the cross as good news! God using evil for good. God in human flesh overcoming our sin, death, and the devil! And we, in fact, were “the joy set before Him” for which reason Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).

In Christ, our sins are truly paid for, but in a truly unique way. Our Servant-King is crushed for our iniquities, killed in our place. God has put our sin and death penalty on Jesus, who willingly and gladly did so to bring us to Him! (I Pet. 3:18) Though he was innocent, He was treated like the guilty (see Psalm 22), becoming sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21)!

Proverbs 21:18 here takes on a new, stunning, meaning: “The wicked become a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright” (see also Isaiah 43:4).

Therefore, we now live by grace through faith in Christ.

We do not despair because as “new creations in Christ” (see 2 Cor 5) we realize that He — the Enduring Love — would not have us actually bear the guilt and punishment due to us for our sins against His law, even for our role in His unjust crucifixion. In fact, amazingly, we are forgiven because of crucifixion: the Lamb of God is, after all, “slain from the foundation of the world.”  For He is the Passover Lamb of God—our Scapegoat—who has drunk the cup of wrath – and come out alive!

The Father sees the Perfect One who absorbs all of our sin—again, who desired to do just this!—and says “Your sins have been paid for. It is finished.”

In sum, God is so good and strong and wise that He finds a way to clean our slate even for the crucifixion – by the crucifixion! We are justified (Rom 4:25)! We are healed (Isaiah 53)! Because of Christ’s completed work—cross and resurrection—we can now even say the cross is good news.

That even the cross, the horrible cross, is our forgiveness. Today is a Good Friday.

Amen!

FIN

 

 

[i] In Pastor Wil Weedon’s talk here (around 36, but at least start at 34 minutes in) he talks about atonement passages from the earlier church fathers that sync with Reformation-era concerns: John Chrysostom talking about the punishment we deserved, St. Cyril of Jersualem talking about how Jesus “staved the wrath of God”, and Palamas stating how a sacrifice was needed reconcile the Father on high with us… the human race.

[ii] Since the price has been paid and it is now finished, God, in a sense, obligates Himself to treat us not as our sin deserves but as one whose guilt has been atoned for.

[iii] Halverson mentions the many “atonement theories” in his piece: “moral influence or moral exemplar; Christus Victor, conquest, or the dramatic idea; several ransom ideas; several incarnational ideas; a new federal headship; mystical theory; recapitulation theory; satisfaction; penal substitution; and the kaleidoscopic theory.” I admit that I don’t know much about all of these theories of the atonement that he mentions. I simply have not thought about the topic this much.

[iv] So strictly speaking, it is not false to say something like “the raging fire of God’s wrath would burn itself out on the Messiah’s corpse,” but that language may not be the best way of speaking, as it hides what else is going on here.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Seeking Faith Like an Infant and a Canaanite Woman

One of the most interesting stories in all of the Gospels is surely the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman (I brought it up here a few weeks ago). Great is her faith! When I read this account, questions like the following comes to mind:

What does her response show us she believes about God and His love?

What can we learn from her faithful response?

Answers given by wise teachers, from the present and the past, provide rich insight.

Regarding the object, or specific content, of the woman’s faith, Jeffrey Gibbs says that “[s]he believes, both in Jesus’ mission to Israel’s lost sheep and in Jesus’ abundance, which also provides for the dogs who are under their master’s table” (787). Speaking of verses 26 and 27, where we read Jesus’ jarring phrase “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” and the woman’s amazing response, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” Hagner gives us some helpful background: “The Jews universally assumed that eschatological fulfillment belonged to Israel in an exclusive sense. Many also expected that the overflow of the abundant eschatological blessing of God would be made available to ‘righteous’ Gentiles (i.e., by keeping the Noachic laws [Gen 9:1-17])” (442). Epiphanus the Latin says: “The woman agreed, saying to the Savior, ‘Yes, Lord.’ That is to say, I know Lord, that the Gentile people are dogs in worshipping idols and barking at God” (Simonetti, 29). Chrysostom adds: “See her humility as well as her faith! For he had called the Jews ‘children,’ but she was not satisfied with this. She even called them ‘masters,’ so far was she from grieving at the praises of others” (Simonetti, 30). Osbourne aptly sums things up: “Her reply is brilliantly put. This amazing story is the only time anyone ‘beats’ Jesus in a debate” (600). Schaeffer sums up things saying her faith is a “happy combination of all the essential features of true faith,” including “clear views on Christ’s character, or a certain amount of religious knowledge (respecting His power, grace, etc.), entire, unquestioning and humble submission to the Lord’s will (thankful even for crumbs,” and a confident reliance in the face of discouragement as well” (373, italics his).

Again, the woman’s faith is amazing! And the more I reflect on this passage as a whole — including the unsettling things that Jesus says to the woman leading up to her brilliant response — more and more questions come to my mind…

  • Jesus was born a Jew, and so like Paul, these are, at a very biological and visceral level, His people (see Rom. 9:1-5 ; see also especially Rom. 9:4a, 9:7b, 11:18b, 11: 24, 11:28-29). What are the implications that this account has for us regarding the Christian’s responsibility, following his Lord, to his closest “natural relations”?
  • How is that to be understood in reference to his wider responsibilities as a neighbor, particularly to fellow members of the body of Christ? (see Gal. 6:10)
  • In addition, what is the relation of our faith – our understanding of who God is, what He has done, and what He intends to do – to our love for neighbors far and wide? Neighbors he definitely means to incorporate into His body and family – starting with our own natural relations (I Timothy 5:8), but extending all the way to our enemies as well?
  • The Canaanite woman, like a good mother would, cried out to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. For whom do we cry out to Him for His healing? Are we first like Paul (Rom. 9:1-3), even if our affections and concern are not so limited – extending ever more broadly?
  • Finally, how should the Christian seek to cultivate his or her own faith in Christ? That we might be like this woman?

If you are like me, such questions both condemn and yet call you to consider the greater depths of love to which God calls us. “Lord have mercy” indeed! “Increase our faith!”

And here, I think that Jeffrey Gibbs, in his commentary on Matthew, brings us back to where we need to be:

“How did she know? Who had taught this Canaanite about Israel’s Messiah? We simply do not know. Mathew’s hearers/readers do know, however, the ultimate answer to the question of how this woman came to know and believe. The Father revealed it to her. She is, like the Magi and centurion before her, an unlikely candidate for such faith. That, however, is the way of God, to hide things from the wise and understanding and to reveal them to babies (11:25-27).

Gibbs lays his finger on something of immense importance here: strong faith like this woman’s will never not be faith like a child. Therefore, when a Christian says something like “Faith is not interested in faith. How big it is, how little it is. How strong it is, how weak. Faith is not about itself. It’s about Christ,” there is a “yes” and “no” aspect about this, for paradox reigns. As adults who cannot be un-self-conscious infants, we know that we should want our faith in Christ to be stronger. It is not somehow a sin to want a stronger faith, for in addition to children, Jesus uses this woman (and the Centurion) as examples for the disciples who have “little faith” (see Matthew 14:31)!

Further, Martin Franzmann says about Jesus’ comment on “mustard seed” faith: “At the very moment he rebukes His disciples for their littleness of faith He removes their thoughts entirely from any consideration of the bigness of their believing.” “Jesus’ words on ‘great’ and ‘little’ faith,” Franzmann reminds us, “are also a delineation of faith as relatedness to its object,” (142-143, italics his) that is, Christ and His words. And to go along with this, we must begin to understand that knowing and understanding God better—not to mention clinging to Him more tenaciously—is to, somehow, become increasingly child-like, and hence, un-self-conscious.

Then, as Gibbs goes on to show, we will have even more to give to our neighbors:

Great was her faith. In what does that greatness of faith consist? Two things. She knew who Jesus is: “Lord” and “Son of David.” And she knew that Israel’s Messiah had come to give such an abundance that there would be something left over even for her. And so, by Jesus’ generosity, on account of her great faith, her daughter was healed from that very hour (788).

Try as they might to deny the obvious, earthly families and nations have limited material resources to help their neighbors. God, however, in addition to calling us to meet the material needs of our kin while being as generous as we are able to be (based on His provision), primarily calls us to trust that He has spiritual resources for His church that never run out, namely, His life-giving Word and Sacrament. Here, is where His – and subsequently our – greatest generosity takes shape.

Lord, give us the strong faith that understands you rightly…

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

FIN

 

Works cited or consulted

Albrecht, G. Jerome, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

Basser, Herbert W. The Gospel of Matthew and Judaic Traditions: A Relevance-Based Commentary. Boston: Brill, 2015.

Benson, Joseph. The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: According to the Present Authorized Version… New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1884. Online: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/15-21.htm

Bird, Michael F. Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010.

Brown, Jeannine K. Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2015.

Buttrick, George Arthur (ed.) The Interpreter’s Bible: The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible in Twelve Volumes. Vol. 7. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1990.

Case-Winters, Anna. Matthew. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Franzmann, Martin H. Follow Me; Discipleship According to Saint Matthew. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1961.

Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 11:2-20:34. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 2010.

Hagner, Donald Alfred. Matthew 14-28. Vol. 33B. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1995.

Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. Grand Rapids MI: Brazos Press, 2015.

Hilary, and Daniel H. Williams. Commentary on Matthew. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2013.

Homolka, Walter, Walter Jacob, and Esther Seidel. Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism. Herndon, VA: Cassell, 1997.

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.

Lenski, R. C. H. Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961.

Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

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MacLaren, A. Expositions of Holy Scripture. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1905. Online: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/15-21.htm

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Bletchley, Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2008.

Osborne, Grant R., and Clinton E. Arnold. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2010.

Schaeffer, Charles F. (Jacobs, Henry Eyster, ed.) The Lutheran Commentary: A Plain Exposition of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament. Part I. Matthew I.-XV. New York: Christian Literature, 1895.

Thomas, and John Henry Newman. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. Vol. 1. Southampton [England]: Saint Austin Press, 1997 (citations in paper from online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/catena1.i.html).

Theophylactus, and Christopher Stade. The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew. House Springs, Mo: Chrysostom Press, 1992.

Simonetti, Manlio, and Thomas C. Oden. Matthew 14-28. Vol. 1. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

 

 
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