Lent 2 – March 16th and 17th, 2019 – Mathew 15, Especially verses 21-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Many pastors, maybe even most, take our Gospel text as an opportunity to preach upon the topic of prayer. And this is certainly something that is quite fine and reasonable – the Canaanite woman is certainly a fine example of steadfast faith flowing forth in constant and persistent prayer – and I most certainly hope that you would be constant and persistent in your prayer too. And the point will be made that she keeps on praying even when things seem against her and you should be like her and this is how you should behave. That never quite sat well with me for a simple reason. What else is she going to do? This isn't a situation of “I want you to remember to pray before every meal, just like this woman did.” A demon is messing with her daughter; of course she's going to be persistent in prayer. So it's not struck me as odd that she prays. What is odd in this text is how Jesus treats her.
Consider – we have very few texts where Jesus comes off as rude. He might be blunt – Woe to you Pharisees! He might be angry in the face of wickedness – flipping over the money changer's tables. But when is Jesus rude? When does He turn someone the cold shoulder? That doesn't seem like a very Jesus-y thing to do, now does it? I'd argue that a bit of context would help. The very first verse of our text is Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has just left – He has withdrawn. That word “withdraw” is the same word in Greek used for leaving a battle field. Jesus has just been in the middle of a fight in the beginning of Matthew 15. Jesus had been perfectly happy teaching and preaching up north by the Sea of Galilee, when we hear in Matthew 15:1-2 - “Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.'” Oh, and here come the respectable busybodies, trying to make everything just so. Think about this – Jesus had just fed the 5000, and walked on water, and was healing the sick – oh, oh, oh – wait a second. Did everyone wash their hands first? And a big conversation about what actually defiles a person ensues – verse 11: “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Your man made niceties and traditions don't do a thing to fix or prevent sin – they just give you a reason to bad mouth people stupidly and show yourselves to be wicked.
So that is what Jesus withdraws from. He is so sick of “good Jewish folk” that He goes up to Tyre and Sidon to just hang out among the gentiles a bit and get a break. And Jesus gets up there, and there's this woman. Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman – Luke calls her Syrio-Phoenician as that's how the Gentiles would understand her race, but Matthew uses the word “Canaanite”. Okay – who were the Canaanites? They were the pagan, wicked folks who dwelt in the promised land before Joshua started clearing them out. And the children of Israel balked at doing that, and so there were some still there, and they were wicked and evil, and if your son married a Canaanite woman he was going to get into all sorts of stupidity and you had centuries of false worship that lead to Israel and Judah being destroyed by foreign armies – and there she is, right there. A Canaanite woman. The example of what gets a good Jewish boy into trouble. And do you know what the tradition of the elders said you should do, what the Pharisees and Scribes in Jerusalem would be proud of? 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.' But He did not answer her a word. Jesus there follows the Jewish custom to a T. You didn't speak to, you didn't even acknowledge that a foreign woman existed. She might lead you into sin, she would defile you if you dealt with her.
So, disciples – is this what Jesus is supposed to be? Is this how you want the Messiah to act? You got all bashful and ashamed when the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem came... is this how you want Jesus to act? Because frankly, what the woman says is amazing. She calls Jesus the Son of David – you know, David, Jewish king who conquered all that region. She calls Jesus LORD – she's using Divine, Messianic language – but, oh no, we mustn't talk to her, what would the people in Jerusalem say?
I'm guessing that this went on for a while, because we hear, And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.' Um, Jesus, do something. Did you note – none of the disciples want to address her – they are the ones who really have the hangup. They don't know what to do. It's interesting, that “send her away” can either mean get rid of her or it can mean free, forgive her. It's “cut her loose” - whether it's loose from this demon or just loose from us either way. This is awkward Jesus, do something with her. And then Jesus hams it up – He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Oh no, I'm supposed to only be here for the good little boys and girls – right? Isn't that what the Pharisees you are so worried about impressing want? I guess my hands are tied.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is hoisting the disciples on their own prideful petard. It's the parent looking at the teen and going, “Oh, no no no, this is how you wanted things, right?” But the woman doesn't care about any of that. She gets bold. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Hear that knelt rightly – she got down in the posture of prayer, of worship – she worshiped Him – that's how the old King James translated it. And Jesus keeps playing up to the disciples: And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Alright, disciples – are you back clapping and high fiving yet? I'm acting like some sort of haughty religious frat boy who thinks we “lawful” Jews are too cool for everyone else – isn't that what you wanted? Because this isn't said directly to the gal – it's just a response tossed back to the boys.
And there is the woman, still worshiping. Remember how temptation works – did God really say? Disagree with God. You know better. Get angry and huffy when things don't go your way. I don't deserve this. How dare you. But there's the woman, still worshiping, and instead of saying no, instead of yelling or getting angry, what does she say? “Yes, LORD.” Yes – You're right. This isn't a matter of me having a right to demand anything of You, this isn't a matter of my will must be done. You're the master and I'm the dog – I'm not going to fight you on that – that's utterly accurate. But You are the master, and I know something about You, I have heard what Your Word proclaims about You - “Yes, LORD, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” It's fine that I'm a little dog – in fact, it is good, right, and salutary that I am a little dog, because I'm Your little dog, and You take care of Your little dogs – You make sure there are crumbs and scraps enough to satisfy the desires of all living creatures. She doesn't defend her worth, her value at all. She doesn't talk about what she's done – she simply points to Christ Jesus and who He actually is.
And then, and only then, finally, Jesus speaks to her. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Yep. You nailed it. You get it better than all those scribes and pharisees, you get it better than the disciples. You weren't focused upon yourself, your dignity, your importance – you kept your eyes on Jesus. And Jesus heals the daughter – of course He does, because that's who He is. He just kicked the tar out of Satan last week – a piddly little demon ain't going to be no problem. No, my friends, the demon's not the problem in the text. We are.
When you look at Jesus, who do you see? What do you want to see? Do you want the Jesus proclaimed in the Scriptures, or is there some other Jesus you want? The Scribes and the Pharisees wanted a prim and proper Jesus who would tell everyone how great they were and their customs were. Frankly, that's still what we can be tempted to want – a Good Housekeeping Jesus that makes things just so. Or maybe a Jesus who respects how great we are here and how much we've done for Him – who lauds and praises us for all our hard work – maybe One who will even give us an award with with plaque on it. OoooOOOooo. Or if you look around Christendom, you'll see all sorts of the things. The Jesus who will give me money, the Jesus who will validate and affirm every stupid and/or wicked idea I have. The Jesus who just happens to agree with every single political opinion I have. A pastor I know wrote a book entitled: “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up: 12 False Christs” - it goes all over various fake Jesuses that we are tempted to seek after.
But no. You know who Jesus is? He is the kind and loving Lord who still takes care of you even when you are a miserable and mangy dog. He is the LORD who redeems you, even when you have nothing to give to Him, no good works to lever or manipulate Him with. Especially then, actually. Do you know who Jesus is – While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Your relationship to Jesus, it's not defined by what you can do. It's not defined by where you come from or who your parents were. It's not a matter of all the ways that we are so used to acquiring power and privilege in this world, no buying your way into a heavenly scholarship here. And your sinful flesh will fight against this – which is why you were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. It's why this baptism means that daily your Old Adam is to be drowned with contrition and repentance. Because your sinful flesh will always want to make things be about, hinge upon, rest upon you. But it doesn't. It rests upon Christ Jesus and who He is. And do you know who Jesus is? He is the LORD who not only defeats Satan, but He is the LORD who fights down your sinful flesh, and calls forth a new man to daily arise. He is the LORD who feeds you not with mere crumbs from His table, but with His own Body and Blood so that you are freed, loosed, released from your sinful pride and ego and freed and strengthened in faith towards God and love toward your neighbor – even the neighbors the hoity toity and prim and proper would turn their noses up at. That's who Jesus is, and that is who you are in Christ. A lowly dog, yet well fed and well cared for. A sinner, yet forgiven. Dying, yet living in Christ and awaiting the resurrection. All because of Jesus. Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the real Jesus – the Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +