Lent 2 – March 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One of the great myths of society today is that we as a people have advanced, have evolved, have become better over the course of time – that we in our ever expanding wisdom know so much more than our pathetic forefathers did. This is the myth of the modern world, that we are modern, that we are improving more and more and ever better and better. As a theologian and a historian, I'd say that we are no better morally than our grandfathers or our ancestors of 500 years ago, or even the folks 2000 years ago. I’m not going to say that we are getting worse all the time either – rather this. Sinful fallen people remain sinful fallen people, and the temptations we have faced since the days of Adam and Eve are the same ones which we face today.
That is why we can understand the dangers shown in our Gospel text today; that is why the same lessons apply to us. Two contrasting approaches to life are shown to us today in this text. On the one hand we see people living life according to the world’s standards, judging by what the world sees as appropriate, good, and right – and on the other hand we see a person who lives by faith, trusting that God will do what is good, right, and salutary. These are the two options in the text, and they are the same two options that we ourselves see, that we struggle with to this day. Do we live thinking like the world, accommodating our sins, or do we instead in faith determinedly cling to Christ?
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus had been having a go around with the Pharisees and the Scribes prior to our reading – the Pharisees who thought that they were better than others because they kept their unique customs and traditions, the Scribes who would honor God with their lips but despise Him in their hearts. And Jesus seemingly takes a break from having to deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, and He heads north to the coast – to a foreign land. His disciples follow Jesus to this neighboring country, and then we have this most amazing pair of examples laid out for us.
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 oppressed by a demon.” A Canaanite woman? Behold how the gospel has spread! Even in this foreign land, this woman has heard the Word of God proclaimed! She knows who Jesus is. And did you hear her – she calls Him Lord, she acknowledges Him as God. She calls Him Son of David – she acknowledges Him as the promised Messiah, David’s Greater Son – even though she is a foreigner. Think on that – Son of David – even though she is not a Jew, even though she has no pipe dreams of a Jewish kingdom. In fact, an earthly Jewish kingdom would probably be bad for her, as the Canaanite people were viewed as little more than dogs by the Jews in Christ’s day. But she has heard, and by that Word she was brought to faith, and in faith she calls out for mercy.
Dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more wondrous than a person in faith calling out to God for mercy. She gets it – she understands – she knows her need for the Savior, and she knows who that Savior is. This is the happy ending, the happy conclusion, the happy faith that we pray that would be given to all people throughout the world. But as always, sin can get in the way. And we see this come up. Note what Jesus does at first – But He did not answer her a word. At first Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, at this point, many preachers, many more fine than me, will begin looking at this text as focusing on the need for a patient faith, for us to remember that God works on His own time table and not ours – that faith trusts that Christ will act in our best interests when He deems it best for us. All of this is true. We see this truth demonstrated often – we see it in the 10 lepers who head towards town and only as they are walking are they healed. We see it again and again in the Scriptures – faith waits upon God, even when it seems God is silent. But with this text, there is an interesting twist – when Jesus is silent, we hear the disciples fail.
And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” They came and begged. . . they begged. Send her away. Get rid of her – she is annoying us. Two prayers are set forth before Christ – one by this foreign woman who calls out for mercy, the other the haughty prayers of the disciples to do away with this woman. Mercy versus contempt. This prayer of the disciples is vile and gross and wicked and evil. Whereas they should have been rejoicing, whereas they should have glorified God that even amongst the people of Tyre and Sidon, the ancient enemies of Israel, their Lord and Master was acknowledged and believed in, they don’t. And they fail. Instead of praying for mercy, instead of praise, they show forth hatred and disdain. And it wasn’t even as though she was complaining about something small and petty – none of her dresses fit right anymore or too much grey in her hair. No, it’s a demon. She wants help against a demon. Still, the disciples would turn her away. They would rather let a demon run rampant then have this poor woman aided.
Why? Why did the disciples show such disdain? The reason is simple. Instead of thinking like Christians, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world, and following the world they fail. If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt. The disciples were thinking like people of the world, not as people of faith. Just like we often think like people of the world and not as people of faith. Just like we so often put people into boxes, caterogize them and write them off – whether it's race or politics or identity or income – we can be so tempted to simply hate folks in order to feel better about ourselves. Choose your side and hate the other guy. And it's lousy. Actually, it's more than lousy – it's flat out evil and wicked.
Our Lord wants to contrast the difference between the hate of the world and the life of faith – He wants to show the disciples and us today how radically different the life of faith is from the attitudes of the world. And so, He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Note – He answered the disciples. Fine, you disciples wish to think you are high and mighty – so be it. See, alright, is this the type of God you want? Cold and haughty to others? Then since you think she’s beneath me, you deal with her. But the woman persists. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” There, another answer of harshness, this time to the woman, almost like one kid at school picking on another to fit in – is that what you wanted disciples? And a cruel response at that – Jesus basically called her a female dog, you know what He called her. Is that the type of God you wish for, o Disciples?
But this woman, this faithful, faithful woman, she knows and recognizes the One True God as He is. Our God is not a God of our petty hatreds but a God of steadfast love and mercy. She knows that He will show mercy. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Yes, Lord. What powerful words of faith. Yes, I agree. Yes, Lord, what you have said is true. I am a dog, I am worthy of nothing, nothing of which I ask of you. There is no good in me that I should have rights to demand anything of You. But you are the Master, and I know that when I hang around Your table crumbs will fall to me, and I will be satisfied by Your generosity. You are the God of undying love, and You will show love even to unworthy me. And Jesus confirms for us that this is the right answer, that this woman demonstrates our faith, for He answers her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus recognizes and commends her faith – and puts the disciples to shame.
This lent, we are focused once again on Repentance, for repentance is the life of faith. Repentance beats down everything that would distract us from Christ’s Mercy. This woman’s repentance was clear – she was not focused on the prejudices of the world, for the Canaanites were no fans of the Jews – she was not focused on her pride, but rather in faith she confessed her sin and lack, her unworthiness. Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. Faith turned away from all these things and turned her to Christ alone, faith sought from Him mercy and salvation apart from any works she might do. And Christ delivers. Even over and against the powers of a demon, Christ delivers. Of course Christ will cast out this demon, He is here to wreck havoc and chaos amongst Satan’s kingdom. This is the battle He wages all this Lent, this is the battle that reaches its climax on Good Friday. And throughout this season we are called to repentance – the Word turns our eyes away from our sinful and selfish desires, from our hatreds and petty squabbles and makes us to see with the repentant eyes of faith, to behold our Lord win us freedom from our sin. When we look in faith, we will with repentant hearts confess our sins and call out to Christ for mercy, and then we will behold nothing but Christ, we will be as Paul, determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – for Christ is merciful, and He is determined to give you the gifts of life and salvation which He wins for you by His death upon the Cross. And this He does for you without fail. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +