Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – March 4th, 2012
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Last week in our Gospel we saw our Lord confront Satan and his lies there in the wilderness, we saw our Lord put Satan to flight. This Sunday, our Lord heals a young woman, the daughter of a Canaanite woman, of demon possession. This should be no surprise – if you’ve defeated Satan, defeating one of his minions isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, the healing of this girl is almost incidental to the story – we never see her, we never hear her. Instead, we see the interaction between this woman, the disciples, and Jesus, and in this interaction, we see our Lord fight something else. We see our Lord take on pride and ego, pride and ego that can lead to a weakening and even destruction of faith. Let us examine our text.
“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David, my daughter is severely depressed by a demon.’” Consider this: Jesus has just been having bitter discussions with the Pharisees, who are so full of themselves and their own righteousness, that to get a break, He heads to the coast, leaves Jewish territory behind. He is going to take a break from self-righteousness. And what happens? There, in that place, is a woman who calls out for mercy, seeking Jesus’ aid. And do you note what she calls Him? She calls Him “Lord” – that’s a good starting place, she recognizes Him as divine. Moreover, she calls Him “Son of David.” Think about this – the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of Israel, the ones who had fought David – this is the descendant of folks like the Philistines, and there she is calling Christ the Son of David. She is repenting of the sins of her people – this is astonishing. It would be like a member of Al-Qaida suddenly announcing to the world that he has repudiated Islam and is becoming a Christian – something we should all rejoice over.
But there is a problem. “But He did not answer her a word.” Doesn’t this seem strange? How often do we see Christ ignore someone in the Scriptures? We don’t see it often – and there is a reason for it. Jesus is going to teach His disciples, give them a quiz, see how they react and respond. And they fail utterly. “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” I really don’t know if there is a more chilling sentence in the Scriptures – I mean, think about this. Here you have the disciples seeing a poor woman who has confessed Jesus to be Lord, to be the Son of David, the Messiah… eh, send her away, she’s bothering us. And not just being dismissive of her – they BEG Jesus to send her away. It’s hatred and contempt of the most vile sort that these disciples show. So we have a contrast set before us – this woman who is in desperate straits and throws herself before Jesus for the sake of her daughter, and the disciples, who when they hear of this woman’s plight, instead of praying for her, instead of begging Christ to heal her, beg Him to let her and her daughter remain in suffering, remain oppressed by one of Satan’s demons.
This is the battle Christ fights in our Gospel today. The real opponent isn’t that demon that has possessed the girl – having defeated Satan a demon is small potatoes. The larger danger is disciples’ approach. The pride, the ego that the disciples had – pride in being good Jewish men who wouldn’t stoop to dealing with a Canaanite woman, pride in being the real disciples of Christ as opposed to this foreign trollop. The disciples saw themselves as the good people, the righteous ones, the ones that Jesus owed something to, and they had nothing but disdain for woman. And this makes them cold and callous… this pride drives from their hearts any semblance of love or compassion… and at this moment, these disciples are nothing.
Hatred kills faith. Disdain and ego and pride kill faith. They twist our eyes back onto ourselves where we think only of ourselves and ignore both God and neighbor. Send her away, for she is annoying us because she’s crying, she’s making a scene, and we don’t want to be bothered. I’m hard pressed to think of more faithless words in the Scriptures. And so, Jesus decides to use this Canaanite woman to teach the disciples, teach us what faith is, teach us what to repent of when pride and ego stir up hatred to attack our faith.
“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Note this – Jesus is answering the disciples here – He is responding to them. Alright, you guys are so proud of being of Israelites, that’s what you think is important – alright, let’s do it your way, I’m here just for you. Guess she’s not My problem, deal with her yourselves in your own arrogance. This is throwing the disciples’ pride back in their face, this is throwing ego right back at them. And it stops the disciples flat. They got what they wanted – they wanted a Jesus that was just going to deal with them… and it doesn’t do them any good. This is throwing their failure right at them, showing them they have gotten an F.
Then the Canaanite woman comes forward, and she shows what faith is. “But she came and she knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The disciples were brash, telling the Lord what to do, how He should or shouldn’t treat others. This woman is humble simply asking, pleading for help. She doesn’t command, she simply pleads. There is great humility here. And Christ is going to show the depths of her humility, her faith. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” And Jesus insults her – you deserve nothing, you little dog, you wretched little thing. Now, imagine for a second what the disciples’ reaction would have been if Christ had called them wretched and mangy dogs. Think of how incensed they would have been, how angry – how their pride would have flared up – how dare you say such things. We are Israelites, we aren’t dogs, we are the good people. In fact, we’ll hear a conversation like this with the Pharisees in just a few weeks. That pride, that ego would blot out and blind everything.
The Canaanite woman doesn’t approach Christ with ego, with pride. She comes with humility. Christ tells her, “You are lowly, you are poor and wretched and deserve nothing.” And she says yes. Yes, You are right, I am poor and lowly and I deserve nothing… but You are good and kind and you will see that crumbs fall my way. To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter is healed – she has shown the disciples what faith looks like.
The question we must ask ourselves is this. How do we approach God? Do we approach God as those who are worthy of His blessings, as those who can say, “Because I am so wonderful, I demand that you treat me well?” That isn’t faith, that’s pride. Or do we approach our Lord and say, “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You” – do we approach God seeking mercy not because of who we are but of His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus? This is the approach of faith, where we cling not to ourselves, not to our own righteousness, but cling to Christ. For this is a battle that Christ comes to wage – He wages war not only against Satan, but against our own sinful flesh. If left to our own devices, we would do nothing but fight against God – our sinful flesh wants everything our way, our sinful will thinks only of what seems good to us, feels good to us, makes us look nice and proper. We need this sinfulness in us broken and destroyed – that is the point of praying “Thy Will Be Done” – God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. In our text, it was not the disciples’ will that was done, but rather Christ’s gracious and merciful will – and in faith, we call out to God to see that His will is done, indeed, to see that the power of His Gospel, His love, His forgiveness come crashing into our lives and change us, break us free from our sin and ego and make us to grow in love. That’s the prayer after the Supper – that receiving His gifts “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another” – that God would increase our faith, that we would learn ever more to not only cling to Him but to love our poor and wretched neighbors who need Christ as much as we do.
Lent is a season of repentance, it is a time of self-examination. And when we look at ourselves, we see the little flares of pride and ego pop up, pride and ego that would hinder and prevent us from showing love, pride and ego that would make us want to close our eyes to our neighbor and turn our backs upon God. But Lent is also the season where we see Christ Jesus go to battle for us, for our sakes, and part of that battle He fights for us is against our sinful flesh. He reproves us and corrects us, shows us our sin that we might repent of it, but more than that, He shows us mercy, shows us His goodness and kindness, teaches us that we need not have any ego because it is not our worth that earns His love – rather He freely gives it, that He sees that we are fed, take us poor miserable sinful dogs and washes us in Baptism and says, “You are now My brother, My Sister, indeed, My own Body, and all that I have, My righteousness, My holiness, My life – it is yours. See, I love you, and I will stop at nothing, not even death, to free you from sin.” Christ fights for us, dear friends, and that is a wondrous and humbling thing. It is His fighting for us that gives us the gift of faith by which we have life in His name, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +