Last year I spent time volunteering in a woman’s prison during my final year of my journalism degree. I went in with my tutor and we helped the women in there create their own magazine. The pieces of creative work that were produced were always surprising. Some would write lengthy detailed poems, others would write fiction, some would write open and honest accounts of their life.
On one occasion I was interviewing a woman for her life story to go inside the magazine. I hadn’t gone in with a goal to talk about faith, however she saw my cross around my neck and began telling me about her journey to following Jesus inside the prison.
She had been approached by the chaplain on her first night inside, feeling upset and scared she told the chaplain exactly where he could put the bible that was offered to her, she then slumped down crying in her bed.
After a while she thought about the bible she had been given and began to read it. Later on she called the chaplain back and they spoke at length about what had happened. She had stabbed her partner in an altercation, and even though it was in defence, she was facing a possible murder sentence, as she didn’t know if he was going to live.
After her conversation with the chaplain, she lay on her bed and confessed her sins to Jesus, she begged him for forgiveness and for the strength to accept her sentence if her partner died, she prayed for strength to take responsibility for her actions. The girl told me that at that point, she felt a physical weight lift from her and from that second day in the prison she began to follow Jesus.
I thought about the girl in the prison as I read the gospel today. Jesus says that the Canaanite woman has “great faith”, a call for us to open our eyes and see great faith in places that might surprise us, just like the woman I met in the prison.
Last week, if we remember, Jesus appeared on the water to his terrified disciples, peter walked towards Jesus on the water but doubted and began to sink, he cried out to Jesus to be saved. Jesus says to him, “you of little faith”.
The disciples, the people who would be the obvious choice to have great faith, in this case were not, and in the gospel today, it is the Canaanite oman begging for the healing of her daughter, going against the ill feelings between the Jews and the Canaanites , even tolerating Jesus’s hard questioning to why he should help her, who remains firm in her cries out to Jesus to help her daughter.
Jesus hears her cries, he crosses social boundaries, he shows that God’s love and provision is for all and heals her daughter and commends her great faith.
Was Jesus being deliberately challenging to the woman, to show the disciples that great faith can be seen in unexpected places?
Most importantly, what does this story mean for us today?
This week we have seen terrible attacks in Barcelona and in other countries, we have also seen ugly marches from white supremacists in America. Jesus is showing us today, that great faith doesn’t come from those who wrap themselves in man made rules to limit who receives the love and forgiveness of God. Great faith comes from those who cry out with sincere hearts, those who repent, those who answer Jesus’s call to love thy neighbor regardless of their skin colour, their social background, and their life choices.
The disciples in the gospel today wanted the loud, pleading cries of the Canaanite woman to stop, they wanted her to go away because she wasn’t part of the group, she was an outsider, she wasn’t supposed to receive Jesus’s precious time, she was seen to be an annoyance in their eyes.
This is what Jesus is challenging us with today, that great faith can be seen, can be found in the less obvious places, in the outsider, in the poor, in the sinner, in the addict, in a prison cell.
During my time here in the Good Shepherd I have witnessed great faith in the not so obvious places.
Seeing Zara and Mortessa remaining so strong in Jesus’s love when their asylum application was rejected, their strength and resilience was a show of great faith, one I’ll never forget.
When my friend Gemma from st James on Sunday afternoon turned her life around, she showed firm, immeasurable faith in gods call, she always knows that she can cry out to Jesus, she now starts university next month to study for her dream job. A show of great faith.
The congregation of St Peters on Tuesday afternoons, who showed me gentle love and encouragement, in such a simple and peaceful way, who had faith in me to lead them, who have supported all who have joined them. They too are another show of great faith and great cake.
As I move on from the Good Shepherd today, I thank all of you for your love and guidance, for your welcome and your prayers.
I pray that you all will continue to hear the voice, the cries of God’s people who might not be the obvious people to have great faith.
I pray for God’s blessing on you all, for Roger, Jules, and Ben on their continuing leadership here.
I will keep you in my prayers with great love and memories.