Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Minority View on Lent 2

Here is what the 1 Year Lectionary Summary for Lent 2 says:

Jacob wrestled with God; he would not let Him go until he received a blessing from Him (Gen. 32:22–32). So it was with the Canaanite woman. Though Jesus seemed to ignore and reject her, she continued to call upon His name and look to Him for help (Mt. 15:21–28). Even when the Lord called her a little dog, she held on to Him in faith and would not let Him wriggle out of His words: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” This Gentile woman shows herself to be a true Israelite, who struggles with God and man in Christ and prevails. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt. 15:27–28). This is the sanctifying will of God (1 Thess. 4:1–7)--to test your faith in order that it may be refined and strengthened. For tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope in Christ does not disappoint (Rom. 5:1–5).

I think what is said here is all true -- I just don't think that this is the main point of the Gospel Lesson. We end up viewing this text on its own - in the abstract, and what stands out most is how Jesus is seemingly cruel to this gal - and then we jump to the times when God doesn't immediately answer our prayers and is seemingly cruel to us.

But that's not the point of this area of Matthew. Chapter 15 begins with a big discussion on the Pharisees and their love of their own tradition. And Jesus' answer, which is true, offends the Pharisees. The good, Jewish boys take offense when they are told they aren't wonderful.

Then you have this Canaanite woman, one who is so low (in Jewish understanding) that the disciples don't even want to address her directly. The disciples give into their pride in their heritage and culture - they are blind and they despise her.

And then Jesus speaks a hard word of truth - you don't deserve anything from me because you are as lowly as a dog. And unlike the Pharisees who hear the truth and are offended, she hears the truth and confesses it - yes, I am a dog - but YOU are good.

If we are to understand Christ's passion, understand what we see this Lent - we must forgo our own pride, our own self worth, our own love of our own actions. Instead, we must confess that we are sinners for whom Christ died.

This isn't about how good Christians will be persistent in prayer - this is about how Christians will in faith believe what the Word of God says and trust solely in Christ. It's about the wretchedness of man and the goodness of Christ - not about how you can be a good little Christian.


Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I favor your minority explanation. I would add that the connection should also be made to "clean" and "unclean" (cf. Matt. 15:20) and this account as a further object lesson to the disciples.

Not only is "uncleanness" not a matter of eating and drinking; it is also not a matter of ethnic origin. The Jewish Pharisees remained in their natural uncleanness by rejecting Christ. The Gentile woman became clean through faith in Christ.

Jacob Andrews said...

I agree. Was Jesus' intention in calling her a "dog" to highlight her unworthiness rather than test her faith? Or was it both?

Mike Baker said...

Uh... is this really the minority opinion? It seems like what the text says.

A "refined and strengthened faith" is the faith that does just what you suggest: hears the truth of the Word and confesses it "yes, I am a dog - but YOU are good."

Isn't the Pharisees immediate rejection demonstration of an unwillingness to endure tribulation with perseverance? Is there any greater struggle and tribulation than to wrestle with the law honestly so that it crushes self-righteous pride and drives us to the cross?

It seems that you and the summary are just talking past each other to me. :P

Help clear me up on this. Where is the difference?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I live in the Bible Belt. I hear all the time how if you just keep on praying hard, even though God might seem cruel, He'll give you want you want eventually.

Thus, more the intro - I'm probably hearing this through the twang of southern accents - but the focus on receiving blessings and how to make sure you get them. . . it's not about how to be persistent in prayer - it's about faith looking at Christ and not one's own self. Too much about the gal in the intro for me.

It's not horrible - it's even in our bulletin this Sunday - but this text isn't primarily about the receiving of blessings, at least not in the earthly, crass sense.

Mike Baker said...

Living due south of you as I do, I can see your point when you put it that way.

You are speaking about the "name it and claim it" crowd. I definately have run into the idea of God the cosmic vending machine: just invest the right resources, push the right buttons, and shake Him a bit and eventually the thing that you want will fall into place.

In my previous life as a "Bible Belt" guy for two decades, I don't think I ever heard this text discussed in any depth from the pulpit or in a classroom setting. I think that was precisely because of what you are pointing out here: the obvious meaning of the text.

So maybe I am just insulated from what you are experiencing because the only interpretation of this particular text that I have ever gotten is the "minority opinion" that you have given. Thanks again LCMS! :D

Brown's wife said...

"Name it and claim it" theology is part of it, but there are other nuances that I sometimes see. One is that you have to pester God, or at least show Him that you really, really want it before He will do anything for you. But the more common one is that "this is a test." God's not giving you something or is giving you something truly awful so that you can prove to Him that you are faithful, and so if you just keep praying, you eventually prove yourself. Now, I understand about thorns in flesh and whatnot, but the extremes this goes to are not in that vein. There is a difference between "God periodically tests our faith to strengthen it" and "God will try to trick-" I mean, "test you so that he can weed out the truly unfaithful."

When I read the above, I hear it the same way my husband does, that is, I immediately think "But that's not the main point!" If I had a dime for every time someone told me (again, particularly when something was not going well for me) that "this is just God testing you," I might not be rich, but I'd have gotten a really good lunch out of it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think that gets to how I end up disliking this text being taken - where basically it is taught like this.

"See, God will give you want you want -- and if it seems like His answer is no, just keep on praying until He gives you what you want - so keep on praying and praying until He gives in. He's just testing you to see how long you'll keep praying."

It's an approach that undercuts the idea that sometimes God's answer to one of our prayers is no - and that when God says no, that is a good thing.

Christopher Hall said...

Ok. You're right. This text is about humility, and the Collect supports this notion, for we have no strength within ourselves, right?

All I want to add to this is there is the text of the persistent widow....just sayin. :)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, we'll deal with that text when it comes up, now won't we? =o)