Lent 2 – February 28th, 2010 – Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Just prior to our Gospel lesson, our Lord had been teaching, and our Lord had pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their laws. He says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” What we say, what we speak, shows our hearts. And quite often the human heart can be a dark, wicked place. Quite often our own hearts can be dark and wicked, quite often we are in need of repentance. Have we learned this, or do we just go through the motions?
I ask this morning, because in our Gospel lesson, our Lord puts the disciples to the test. The disciples know why our Lord has come – that He has come to fight evil, that He has come to heal, to cast out demons, to take the battle to Satan. And they rejoice in this, they delight in this. They are the people who are following the Messiah! How wondrous! How glorious! What great people these disciples are! And then, what happens? 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 oppressed by a demon.” Do you know how fantastic the words are that flow from this woman’s mouth? First of all – she’s not from Israel – she’s a Canaanite woman. And what did the children of Israel do when they entered the holy land? Took land from the Canaanites. Fought them, warred with them, killed them. And so here you have this woman approach Someone who should be her enemy, someone whom her own people should despise – and what does she do? She calls out for mercy. Fantastic. I need Your help, Jesus. And more than just calling out for mercy, she calls Him LORD. You are God, Jesus, I recognize that You are the LORD, God Almighty. Fantastic. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God! Well spoken, Canaanite woman! But even one more. She calls Jesus Son of David. I know, Jesus, that You are the King of my enemies – that You are by rights King of the people who have warred with mine for 1500 years. But still, I humble myself before you – have mercy on me, for my daughter is being attacked by a demon. Do you hear how wondrous this is – such a beautiful confession of faith and trust in Christ? Excellence and beauty flow forth from this woman’s heart.
But then we hear this – “But He did not answer her a word.” Well, this seems odd. Or maybe it doesn’t seem so odd – perhaps you’ve offered up a prayer to God, and it seemed as though He was silent, that His answer was a long time in coming. But why is Jesus silent here? Our Lord is silent here for the disciples sake. Our Lord is going to test the disciples, see what they have learned, see if they have grown. So our Lord is silent – He doesn’t speak to this woman yet – first He is going to deal with the disciples a bit. Now, this can be a lesson to us as well. Sometimes our Lord doesn’t answer our prayers on our timetable, sometimes His answers don’t come in sudden spectacular displays of might – and in these situations we must remember that everything isn’t about us. There is a time and a place for God to answer us, and if He delays, we can be sure that it is for our good, and especially for the good of the neighbor – that God has plans for us and for the lives of our neighbors that we, stuck in the moment, cannot see, won’t see until later in hindsight, or maybe we will never see. Whatever the case, we are simply to continue in prayer and in trust of God, placing all things in His Hands; because, that is what Christians do – they place things in God’s hands – let Him do what He knows to be best.
And then the disciples speak. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Oops. Well, that’s a big old F in the gradebook if I’ve ever seen one. Here you have this woman, continually crying out to the Lord, continually praying to God for mercy. And what are the disciples thinking? They beg – did you hear that? They beg Jesus to send her away. Not to heal her, not to please tend to her needs quickly. Just . . . send her away. She’s loud and annoying, just get her out of here. Why such contempt? Because that is what the typical Jewish man of that time had for Canaanite women. The Jews then grumbled about Canaanite women the folks here might grumble about people of a different skin tone, or poorer folk, or what have you. They couldn’t be bothered with her. So let me ask the question – and again, I want you to consider this carefully. Consider your own life – are there times when you sound like the Disciples here? Where you disparage someone? Where you treat another human being, created in the image and likeness of God, as though they were beneath you, as though they were not worth your time? Where you really cannot be bothered by someone with the likes of them? That is the wickedness of the heart that our Lord speaks of, and we ought to repent of it.
And yet, did you note one other thing? Even as the disciples tell the Jesus to send the woman away – she is still crying. She is persistent – she is faithful. She knows where to go for mercy, and so she goes there. And then, Jesus will use her as a teaching example to put the disciples to shame. He answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He throws her race in her face. This would be good training for the Disciples, for they too would be despised by many for their race. But it does not stop this woman. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” I’m not here because I am of a good race, I’m not here because I’m from the good family and I deserve it. I’m here because I need help. What faithful words! So Jesus will use her as an example again. And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus insults her – for the disciples would be insulted for the Name of Christ. Calls her a female dog. Says that she is lowly and despised. But this doesn’t rattle the woman at all. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” You are right – there is nothing in me that is worthy, nothing! And yet, I know, Jesus, that You will care for me – that this great love that You will show me is easy for You – that for You healing my daughter would be as easy as brushing table scraps onto the floor.
And then our Lord says it – “O woman, great is your faith!” There, disciples! Do you see this? This is the right answer, this is how you should behave! Not prideful, not begging Me to send people in need away. But is the face of hatred and scorn you too should be tenacious, you too should continually cry for mercy – and not only for yourselves, but for others! This woman seeks compassion for her daughter, why did you not likewise seek compassion! You showed forth wickedness – she showed forth faith. And the woman was right – handling this demon would be as simple for Jesus as brushing crumbs off a table. “Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. The time was right and proper for her prayer to be answered, and so Christ acts, and the daughter is healed.
So, what do we learn from this text this Lenten Sunday? Namely this. We know that our Lord comes to battle wickedness, that He comes to defeat Satan, to cast down the prince of this world. What we need to remember, though, is that evil and wickedness isn’t just out there – too often it is here, in our own hearts. We are sinful people – and even though we know better, even though we are like the disciples and follow Jesus and strive to learn from Him, too often we let the wickedness of our hearts control what we say, what we do. It is not just Satan that our Lord needs to break – He needs to break the sin of our hearts daily. And do you know how He does this? Imagine a piece of glass cookware, or a glass mug that has been heated to where it is hot and inflamed. What happens when you poor cold water upon it? It breaks, it cracks, it shatters. This is what our Lord did to your sinful heart at Baptism. Your heart was enflamed, enraged with wickedness and sin, and our Lord took water and His Word and poured it upon you to break your wicked heart. Listen again to the catechism. “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” God breaks your sinfulness, makes you contrite – that’s what contrite means, it means broken – God breaks your desire to sin. And why? So that the New Man, so that Christ’s own love might shine forth through you. And so friends, I encourage you, do not be afraid to hear the Word of God which points out your sin. Yes, it hurts, but when that sin is shattered, Christ’s love appears all the more in you. And our Lord does not leave you then – He does not discard you or leave you to fend for yourself. The sins of your heart will not drive Him away from you – for indeed, He came down from heaven precisely to win you salvation from those sins. Rather, He will always care for you – He takes you who by rights are no better than a mangy, flea bitten dog, and He washes you clean, takes you and makes you His brother, His sister, calls you to the His own table and says, “This is what is yours, what belongs to you. Take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Do you see now the shape of the Christian life – that we are washed clean in Baptism, that the Word is applied to us to break our sin, that the Word is given to us to give us life, that the Supper is given to us to forgive, to give strength – all so that the words that come from our mouths might be Words of faith and life – and this not only for our sake and for our salvation, but so that by the Word of faith and life that flows from our lips others might be made receive this love of Christ Jesus as well.
This is the faith that Christ has called you to – a faith where insults and scorn may come, but where you are focused upon Christ, where you call out to Him to show love to your neighbors who are suffering, and where you delight in all that He gives to you, for He is generous, and He is gracious, and He is merciful. He has come to break the power of Satan and to win salvation, and by His Word, by His Baptism, by His Supper, He gives this all to you in your life, to Him alone be the glory. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +