Lent 2 – February 20/21, 2016 – Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
If you would understand the battle our Lord wages against Satan this Lent, indeed, if you would understand the Christian faith, you need to have your pride kicked out of you and be made humble. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson today, for if you view your life and the world with eyes that are proud and self-focused, you will miss, you will fail to see your humble Lord Christ Jesus and the salvation He wins for you. I know this is a bold statement, but what we see in our text is the second half of a comparison, a comparison between the pride of the Jews, on the one hand, and the humble faith of the Canaanite woman on the other.
Before we look at our Gospel text, we need consider what happened before hand – after all, our lesson starts, “and Jesus went away from there…” Away from where? Well, Jesus was in Judea, and if you read chapter 15 from the beginning, you see that Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem had come up to Jesus and started grilling him about commandments and tradition. Now, we are not going to look at the first 20 verses in detail, but what we see in them is pride. You have this pride that these Jewish leaders show in their heritage, in the fact that they are Jews. You have pride in their works, how good they are, how obedient they are. In fact, when Jesus responds to them and teaches them, they get offended – the disciples actually come up to Jesus all worried because He said something that offended such good, fine Jewish folks. The disciples too hold on to their Jewish pride a bit too much – they too view themselves as good people because, after all they are nice Jewish folks who try their best to follow all the commandments and rules.
So Jesus leads them away from Judea, and He “withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” So they leave the Jewish lands behind, and suddenly this foreign woman shows up begging for mercy. First, let’s consider this. At that time Jewish men didn’t like non-Jews, by in large. Jewish men didn’t like women, by in large. So basically there is no sort of type of person that a guy holding onto Jewish cultural pride would disdain and despise more than a Canaanite woman. Just would be repulsed by her. So here you have a contrast between the “Good” Jewish folks and the despised Canaanite woman. Bear this in mind. And this woman comes up and begs for Jesus to help her daughter who is possessed. And she asks beautifully. First, she calls Jesus “Lord” – calls Him God. She calls Him “Son of David” – not only God but also the One who by rights should be the earthly ruler, the Ruler who should dominate and crush her own people. When she calls Jesus the Lord, when she calls Him Son of David, this is a powerful statement of who Jesus is. True God, true Man. So this gal is spot on theologically. And as Christ comes to fight off Satan and to destroy His power, casting out the demon that is bothering her daughter is right up His wheelhouse – simple, easy, knock this one out of the park.
“But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, a lot of people will make this the focus of the text – and their sermons on this text will become sermons on how we should be persistent in prayer, how even when it seems like God doesn’t answer us we should keep on praying. And that is true – be persistent in your prayer. But I’m going to say that Christ isn’t quiet here in order to teach us to pray more – He’s quiet to drive home a point with the disciples, with us. So there Jesus is, just letting this woman wail at Him, and finally the disciples intervene. “And His disciples came and begged Him saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” And the disciples fail miserably. They give the world's worst prayer. Send her away. Not “please heal her quickly, Jesus.” Not, “Hurry Lord, and beat down Satan.” So strong, so powerful is the disciples’ self-pride, and so powerful is their disdain of this woman that they beg, beg Jesus to send her away. Send her away, cast her away from us as though she herself were a demon, not a mother pleading for aid against a demon.
Jesus will now throw the disciples’ pride right back in their face. “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” Note, Jesus isn’t talking to the woman here – He’s answering the disciples. Alright disciples, you think you are so high and mighty because you are Jews, you think you are the only ones worthy of interacting with the Messiah – fine, I guess I can’t deal with her since she’s not as cool as you – you’ll just have to put up with her begging, because if I'm to be the pious jerk of a fellow that you want me to be, I'll just have to ignore her. Jesus just throws their pride and arrogance right back at them.
Then a thing that is wondrous happens. “But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The woman is adamant – she knows that Jesus is the One who can help her, and so she is going to keep on seeking His help. Excellent on her part. But before He aids her, Jesus is going to have her help in teaching the disciples. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’” That answer is true – I mean, if any of you let your children starve because you gave their dinner to the dogs, well, that would just be horrible. But the answer, well, if you imply that a woman is a female dog, that was just as insulting in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. And remember what I had said earlier – the Pharisees had been offended by what Jesus had said earlier in this chapter – if anything then we should expect this woman to be offended, to say, “How dare you Jesus.” Her pride would surely be thoroughly cut by this statement.
But it’s not. Her pride and arrogance are already done for. “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.’” Jesus says to this woman, “you are lowly and you do not deserve My help.” And the woman says, “You’re right, Lord, I do not deserve your help – I am a lowly dog, but masters care for their dogs, so I know You will care for me.” Do you see what happened? Because the woman isn’t trying to defend her own ego, because the woman isn’t concerned with her status or how respected she is, because she does not act in pride, she sees Christ Jesus for who He is. He is the gracious master who cares even for one as lowly as her.
And we know what happens next. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” The woman understands. When it comes to her faith, to her relationship with God – it is not determined by how wonderful she is. She can claim no noble birth – she’s not from the right family. She doesn’t point to her works. She doesn’t say that she’s been a good little girl who deserves blessings. Rather this – her eyes are focused in humility upon Christ and who He is. She simply confesses that He is God and that He is gracious – and so she sees and understands. By faith she sees Christ.
Dear friends, I cannot overemphasize how dangerous pride is, how dangerous a reliance upon works is. Whenever we start thinking prideful thoughts, be it pride in our heritage – why we were born and raised in this Church – or pride in our works – why, I’m a pretty good person and I do things pretty well – whenever we think along these lines we put our faith in jeopardy. Why? Because thoughts like these focus us upon ourselves. I was raised rightly, I’m from a good family, I do good stuff. I, I, I. And it’s such a false focus. Who cares if you were raised right if you are doing wickedness and foolishness now? Who cares if you came from a good family if you disdain God now? Who cares that you are nice – we’re supposed to be perfect – nice doesn’t cut anything. And yet, in sinful pride, we can want to focus on ourselves, and we forget God, we write Him off, we don’t see our need for His mercy, for His forgiveness. This place, this service becomes less and less important – we start thinking we don’t get anything out of it… which is really saying that we think the forgiveness of sins is worthless, that we don’t really need it. That we don’t really need God, who comes here to be present for us. And pride crushes and tries to kill faith.
Our pride is a problem, and so Christ Jesus calls us to repentance, calls us to humility. He calls us to not think highly of ourselves, but instead to confess that we are both lowly and in need. To confess that we do not deserve any benefits from God, that God doesn’t owe us anything. But rather, simply because He is good, because He is full of love, because Christ Jesus stands and pleads for us, because of these reasons we seek forgiveness and mercy from God, and God does give His forgiveness to us.
It is a beautiful contrast we will see in Lent, in our Lord’s Passion. We can be so proud, we struggle with this pride, we can easily disdain folks and applaud ourselves. But in contrast to this, in contrast to our sin and failure, consider Christ Jesus and His passion. Where does His pride enter in? It never does. Even though He is true God, God Almighty, the very Word which called forth all creation into existence – He lets Himself be arrested, even though legions of angels would come at His command. He lets Himself be mocked and beaten and sorely abused, even though lighting or brimstone could come at His whim and smite those who abused Him. He is not worried about His dignity, but is instead nailed naked to a cross, exposed to the elements for all the world to see, and is left to die. But there, His thoughts are not about His own pride and dignity – His thoughts are upon you, upon wining Salvation for you and forgiveness for your sins of pride and all your sins. That is our Lord’s great humility, His great love for you.
With humility, humility that God brings forth in us by the power of His Word and Spirit, we are taught to see this, taught to believe this. We learn more and more to call out to God, “Have mercy upon us” – knowing that He will have mercy, not because of our goodness, but because of Christ Jesus’ goodness. We know and believe that Christ does not hold Himself aloft and away from us, but He Himself comes down under humble, simple elements of bread and wine, and in His Supper He comes to give us His true Body and Blood for our forgiveness. Pride would have us ignore these mysteries and wonders; pride would have us find better things to do – but Christ Jesus is indeed Your Lord, and He has given you the gift of faith, and He forgives you your sin and gives you strength through His Word and Supper so that you might learn more and more to beat down pride and all sins, and rather to ever more see His love for you more clearly. God grant such grace to us all. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +