Reminiscere (Lent 2), 2021

28 Feb 2021

Lent 2, Reminiscere

Almighty and ever-living God, who hast given to them that believe exceeding great and precious promises, grant us so perfectly and without all doubt to believe in Thy Son Jesus Christ that our faith in Thy sight may never be reproved. Hear us, O Lord, through the same Savior, Thy Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. (BPB p. 601)

God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

We live in a materialistic time. On one hand, that means people are putting their trust and hope in material things like mammon (or material wealth). On the other hand, it also means that great numbers of people want to think nothing exists but what we can see or touch. So a written testimony like today’s Gospel meets suspicion and doubt.

Last week it was the victory of Jesus over the temptations of Satan. This week shows Jesus helping a woman whose daughter was afflicted by a demon. Both cases involve evil spirits. Consider: how would the people in your neighborhood where you live take this? Your coworkers? For most of us, the reception would be mixed. For some of us, the majority of our neighbors would doubt or openly disbelieve these accounts, thinking them primitive, unsophisticated, unscientific.

We can’t be neutral. Maybe someone thinks it’s possible to accept Jesus as our Savior, but withhold judgment on some other biblical teachings. But anyone hearing a lesson like today’s Gospel must either believe what is written or not.

Materialism can be a strong challenge to faith. But even if you accept the existence of spirits, our Gospel shows there are other challenges. Faith only exists in the presence of such challenges. Hear it again.

Matthew 15:21–28

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 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.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

This is the word of God. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.

“Do you trust me?” That’s a line from several movies and stories. In order for it to mean something, the person being asked must not know everything there is to know in the fullest way. Where that question “Do you trust me?” means something, faith is possible.

The woman in our Gospel was no materialist. She believed in spirits. She came to Jesus because she believed or trusted in Him.

She’s introduced with the word, “behold,” which calls our attention to something unusual. What is this? A Canaanite woman. She belongs to a people that were supposed to be put to the sword after Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River. But the Israelites did not complete this assignment. God said, “So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Jdg. 2:3). Such were the Canaanites, especially the women as snares to Israelite men. She did not find Jesus in the land of Israel, but in a foreign region. He was taking a break away from people who knew him. Even there, someone knew Him. And this woman was a descendant of “those filthy Canaanites,” the bane of Israel. Somehow she came and had the nerve to seek help from Jesus.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” What is this? She addresses a Jew uninvited? Even a Rabbi? Even Jesus himself? She calls him “Son of David!?” How can she dare take that blessed name on her Canaanite lips?

Dear friends, there’s a lot of nonsense about racism happening in our time. But this was going through the minds of Jesus’ middle-eastern disciples. You can be sure of it. They had some justification. The Canaanites truly were a snare to the Israelites. It was the worship of Canaanite gods and the adoption of Canaanite lifestyles that led God to wipe the Israelites out of their land: first the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., then the Southern Kingdom of Judah between 612 and 586 B.C. The Jews spent 70 years in captivity because of their Canaanite ways, and they lost the glories of David’s kingdom. This woman represented all of that to the disciples. I don’t know how different she looked, or how differently she spoke, but they recognized her. They were thinking of the wickedness of her ancestors, and the failures of their own.

But her focus was not on them. It was on the Son of David, whom she called “Lord.” She believed something about Him that even His disciples didn’t believe. She believed that He could and would help her — even her.

The problem was some kind of demonic affliction. Maybe not possession, but some suffering. In our materialistic age we might have another name for it. Or maybe we don’t have the ability to recognize it. But it was caused by an evil spirit, a demon. That was her world-view. Jesus did not correct it, because it was not wrong.

The first miracle of her faith is that she believed Jesus could help her; that He had the power of God. The second is that she believed He would help her. St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 12, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.” That means the news about Jesus had come to her with the power of the Spirit, for she called Him Lord, too.

Don’t pass by the first miracle too quickly. You may have noticed that the more difficult challenges in your life can seem hopeless. A child needing extra care can be one of them. You may know of another. You may even bear a burden of guilt or shame as a result. We may pray for such hope as this woman had.

Though she believed He would help her, she immediately got the cold shoulder. He didn’t answer her at all, but He did answer His disciples, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Why would Jesus push her away? It’s in His words. She’s not an Israelite. I’m pretty sure you’re not either. So what do you make of it? Was He only for Israel?

Yes, He was. The lost sheep of the house of Israel begins with the Jews. But she believed it did not stop with them. Isaiah wrote, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (Isa. 42:6) The “people” is Israel. The “nations” are the gentiles. Isaiah also wrote, “he will bring forth justice to the nations” (42:1). God’s promise to the patriarchs was that they would bless “all the peoples of the Earth.

So instead of getting shut down, this woman was resolute. She planted herself on her knees before Jesus with confidence that she belonged there. This was scandalous for the disciples. Just before dying, Jesus told them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12).  They were not ready for a little while after He rose, and then finally Peter saw the vision of the clean and unclean animals, and saw the Holy Spirit at work in the house of the gentile Cornelius. Finally a council of the apostles saw that God had indeed included the gentiles in salvation. But that was years away at this point. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Again it sounds like a rejection, but it was a further test. Would she cling to His words in faith?

She did! She heard very well that Jesus specified the little house dogs, not the half-wild strays. His analogy was completely within the house of Israel, and so she was content. It was enough. To be present in His house with His children is to be with Him, and in his presence, all is well.

Despite apparent resistance from Jesus, the woman persisted. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” If Jesus can feed 5,000 with a few loaves, then certainly any of us may be more than satisfied with a single crumb from His table. His disciples were so slow to learn this lesson.

It’s a happy ending for her: Jesus praised her faith, and her daughter was healed. But was the path easy? Is it easy for you? You’re not at the end of your story yet. There are realities you can’t see, but must trust on the basis of what God says in His Word. Most days are like that. If it’s a good day, you come to the presence of your Lord, the Son of David, kneel, and pray “Kyrie eleison:” Lord, have mercy. But even on a good day, His answer may look like a rejection if you don’t consider it well.

But in that apparent rejection is something we need. It’s a reason for the question, “Do you trust me?” It’s an invitation to grab hold of Jesus’ words like Jacob when he was wrestling with the Lord overnight, refusing to let go until he received a blessing. This isn’t materialism. It’s the environment where faith exists.

It may seem cruel. It may hurt. The Psalms are filled with the cries of believers who trust what they do not see. And that’s the point. The faith that Jesus builds in us is what we need to live in this materialistic and godless world.

Faith needs room to live and breathe, space where we do not see that in which we trust. But in that space, this gift from God must speak to Him and listen to His reply. The conversation in our Gospel (and the OT for that matter) is an example of prayer. See how the Canaanite woman approaches Jesus with all boldness and confidence as children ask their dear father. See how she involves her body and posture by kneeling before Him where He can’t help but see her. See how she presents her problem to Him, the problem she couldn’t solve. See how she addresses Him as her Lord and examines His words until she finds the ones that bind and catch Him.

Make no mistake, God is bound by His words. Nothing else can limit His actions the way His promises do. They are the only way possible for us to hold Him, and He loves to be caught by them. So open your Scriptures and study them! Prayer is your half of the conversation, and the Bible is His. Read! Listen! Compare! Memorize! Apply!

And if you don’t seem to have much need for prayer, consider parts of Scripture like our Epistle today. God has called you in holiness, so why do you still have impurity in your mind and heart? Why problems with immorality in what you see or what you say? Because that’s the problem God wants you to bring to Him.

Come and kneel with the Canaanite woman, our fellow Gentile believer. Confess your sin before God, and know without a doubt that when I tell you, “Be it done for you as you desire,” these are the words of Christ himself, speaking His real forgiveness for your real sins.

You have something even better than the Canaanite woman had: the real body and blood of Christ given for you to eat and drink. He brings you close to kneel humbly in His presence so that He may lift you up with a share in His everlasting redemption and divine nature. Even you, a gentile child of heathen nations, but now a child of Abraham by faith in his seed, the Son of David.

In the holy sacrament, He joins you with Himself and the whole Church, including those disciples with their sins and shortcomings, the Canaanite woman, and all who have gone before us in faith. This communion in the crucified One is the hidden reality in which we may trust on the basis of His Word. By this your guilt is transferred to Jesus, and your shame is cleansed. Your problems are His, and according to His love and wisdom, it is done for you as you have believed.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria!