Matthew 14–15 has a startling juxtaposition of the littleness and greatness of faith. It’s striking because it defies our expectations.

When Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the water (Matt 14:22–36), Peter, for some unknown reason, asked Jesus to command him to come on the water. While successful with his first several steps, the sudden sight of the wind frightened Peter and he began to sink. Of course, Jesus saved Peter but didn’t forget to rebuke the littleness of his faith.

“You of little faith (ὀλιγόπιστε), why did you doubt?”
(Matt 14:31b)

In the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:21–28), a Canaanite woman whose daughter had been demon-possessed approached Jesus and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” Shockingly, Jesus’ response was very cold. First, he didn’t say a word. Second, Jesus reminded his disciples that he was sent only for the Israelites; but she kept crying, “Lord, help me!” Last but not least, Jesus turned to the woman and compared her to a dog, to which the woman responded, “Even the dogs feed on the crumbs falling from their master’s table.” And to this Gentile woman of amazing faith, Jesus said,

“O woman, your faith is great (μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις)”
(Matt 15:28b)

And her daughter was healed at once.

Why do you think Peter wanted to walk on the water? No clue. Did he have a desperate reason to do so? I doubt that. Probably he just wanted to test something—be it his own faith or the divine power of his teacher. Or he simply didn’t know what he was doing. But the unstoppable Canaanite woman was different. Her daughter was demon-possessed, and Jesus was her only hope. Jesus’ test was brutal, but her relentless faith passed it.

So, we’re surprised by the littleness of faith of the Jewish Apostle Peter and the greatness thereof in the Gentile woman whose name we don’t even know.

(Photo: Cristo e la cananea by Sebastiano Ricci [1659–1734])

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