Lent 2 – March 7th and 8th, 2020 – Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One old saying of the Church is that we Christians must be on guard against our three old foes – Satan, the World, and our Sinful Flesh. Last week, with the temptation in the wilderness, we saw Jesus handle Satan handily – demonstrate that He is far more powerful than Satan. And I would submit that today, in our Gospel lesson we see Jesus deal handily with the world and it's temptations. So, let us begin.
This text is odd. It really is – Jesus behaves strangely in it. Consider: 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.” But He did not answer her a word. Do you see how odd this is? When does Jesus give people in need the silent treatment? I mean, Jesus is typically more than agreeable to go and help people. Hi there, Centurion – I'll come to your house. Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree, I'm coming over to your house today. Jesus is always up and at 'em, ready to go. And He preaches, and teaches – the silent treatment isn't normally His thing. Do you get how odd this is? What in the world is going on?
I skipped a verse – And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus went away from... where? So in Chapter 14, Jesus had fed the 5000, He's walked on water, He is teaching and healing in Gennesret, just south of Capernaum, His home territory in Galilee, surrounded by lots of good little Jewish boys and girls. And then, the nagging starts. Chapter 15 begins with the Scribes and Pharisees coming up to Jesus – who has just performed miracles – and they complain. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Yes handwashing is sanitary and all that – but that's not what they are talking about. There had arisen a custom, a tradition, a cultural way of doing things that the good folks in Jewish society just did – including a specific hand washing ritual before eating. And what happens? Nagging. You're not doing this the way we like it. Consider the contrast – healing, feeding the 5000. Well, it's not that you fed the 5000 in the wilderness, but did you remember to make them wash their hands first, hmmm? And keep in mind, these Scribes and Pharisees are really looking down upon Jesus, they are chastising Him – Jesus in their books is no longer acting like a good, Jewish Man! And what follows is a nice discussion on the difference between human, worldly traditions and what God has commanded. What follows is a look at where wickedness really dwells – in the heart of man. More on that next week. But for the moment, Jesus is pestered so much about how a “good Jew should do this and this” that He gets up and leaves Jewish territory all together and goes on up near Tyre and Sidon.
Now, before we go on. I don't want to harp on the Pharisees too much here – I mean, it is a silly complaint. But what's the old saying – you point a finger at someone and the rest point back at you. This should be an example of how the world works. The world and society and culture love to create new rules that you just have to follow or else you are a lousy, terrible person. And I'm not talking about speed limits or things like that – but just how groups and cliques work. In this fallen world, we love to divide ourselves, separate out into little groups, and we have ways we dress, act, and talk, and woe be unto anyone who doesn't toe the line. The old, classic ones are school aged ones – are you a jock or a nerd? Back in the day did you wear a black leather jacket or a letter jacket? Ah ha ha, how silly – but fights and hurt and disdain all over that. And it caries on to today, it permeates all of society today. Need I talk about social pressure in an election year? I feel bad for my Democrat friends – this primary season is brutal for them – you say the wrong thing about one of the candidates and people jump all over you. Or what about the various hot button issues all across the board – the mob will keep you in line or you will be canceled! And even closer to home, we all have our own little groups that we try to fit in, family or friends, and there are lines to be toed because those are the lines, and you don't question them or you are out.
But let's question them – don't worry, I'm not going to call out anything about any one here in particular – rather, let's learn how to question them. Is that better? We are instructed by God to love our neighbor. We know what the fruits of the Spirit are – gentleness, kindness. We heard about holiness and honor in the Epistle. We know the ten commandments and their meanings – and if we can't recite the meanings we know enough to review them. There's your guide from the Word on how we are to love our neighbors. And sometimes we need to consider whether or not our actions, our customs, our traditions are actually doing that. But the danger is this – we can be driven by the world, we can be so concerned about impressing our peers, our social group, that instead of doing what is right, we just go with the flow. Or we even assume that going with the flow must in and of itself be good. Pop Quiz time – what is the First Commandment? (You shall have no other gods) – and what does this mean? (We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.) This is what happens. Instead of fearing God, instead of wanting to make sure we do what God wants and don't get on His bad side, we can become more worried about not getting on the world's bad side. Or our family's bad side. Or our friends' bad side. And then we slide away from God and what is good.
And I would say that this is precisely where the disciples are in this text. They have just been complained about. The Pharisees attacked Jesus through them – why don't your disciples follow the traditions, Jesus? And so, when this Canaanite woman comes up to Jesus, crying for mercy, Jesus does something. He goes silent. Now, let's talk about good old fashioned Jewish culture. If you were a good, proper, dignified fellow, you didn't talk to women. (Hmmmph) And you didn't talk to foreigners. (Hmmph) And you certainly wouldn't talk to some crying, hysterical foreign trollop. (Hmmph) You would just ignore them, pretend they weren't there. So, disciples – is this how Jesus should act, just giving people the silent treatment?
The disciples finally say, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” We miss this in English – that word for “send” could mean simply kick her out, but it's also a word for forgive – when you forgive someone you send their sins away. So are they asking Jesus to heal her or asking Jesus to just get rid of her.... Meh. It's debatable either way. They punt. Just do something Jesus.
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Surely you've had a parent pull this one. And I'm not saying I enjoy getting to pull it, but when you did something foolish, and you were starting to see how foolish it was, and you go to mom or dad, and they back away, hands off, oh no, no, no – mister big shot wanted to do it his way. Same thing here. Me? Do something? Oh no, I'm not suppose to deal with the likes of her. This is teaching the disciples a lesson – and they are flummoxed.
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.” So, ever insulted someone to fit in with other people? Ever tried to be one of the boys, one the gals and been mean or cruel to show you fit in? Jesus hams that up here. And all of this – right in the disciples face – is this what you disciples want Me to be? Because it's horrific – just as horrific as what the world tries to drive us to be.
You may have noted that I haven't spent much time dealing with the Canaanite woman. Let's consider her for a moment. She's identified as a Canaanite woman – she's one of the ancient enemies of Israel – Israel did wars of conquest to defeat her people. By the standards of the world she should hate Jesus with a passion. And she doesn't. She comes to Him. And in fact, she calls Him LORD, and Son of David – she understands that Jesus is the promised Messiah better than Jesus' own people do! And even though Jesus is the King of people who are her enemy, she still comes before Him and prays for healing. And even when Jesus gives her the cold shoulder, even when He insults her, she knows who Jesus truly is. She said, “Yes, LORD.” Yes, LORD, I am not worthy of anything from you. Yes Lord, I am but a little dog. But... “Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” But I know who You are, Jesus. You are the Master who will see that even the little dogs get their crumbs. And then you have that wondrous turn – Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire!” You got it! You understand who Jesus is, lady! He's the God who does not care for all the stupid games the sinful world plays, who does not take bribes or worry about social pressure – He is the God who cares for His creatures. That's her faith, that's what she believes in – and she is right. Jesus is for her.
This week, my friends, you will be thrown into a wide variety of social circumstances and interactions. You will be pulled in a multitude of directions, sometimes for good (because sometimes we do need our friends and neighbors to give our sinful backside a kick), and sometimes for bad. And the temptation, the trouble is that we can be so overwhelmed by what the world wants and expects that we forget who Jesus is. Jesus is the God who loves you and cares for you, regardless of what the world says or thinks about you. Jesus is the God who will remind you with His law to actually love and serve your neighbor, but not by the world's rules, or not only the ones the world approves of, rather to love all the people He has placed in your life according to His instruction. But more than just that, Jesus is the God who is determined to win you forgiveness and life with His death and resurrection. Jesus is the God who feeds you not with mere crumbs on the side, but who calls you to His feast of eternal life and gives you Himself to eat and drink for the remission of all of your sins. In Christ you are forgiven. The world is weak and silly compared to Jesus, and Jesus always acts for your good. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +