Reminiscere (Lent II) - Matthew 15:21-28 - Februrary 21, 2016

Reminiscere, the 2nd Sunday in Lent
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #145 Jesus, Refuge of the Weary
Hymn #522 When in the Hour of Utmost Need
Hymn #523 Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me

Isaiah 45:20-25
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
Matthew 15:21-28

Collect for Reminiscere
O God, Who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1)         Jesus goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon and there He is met with a Canaanite woman in great need. Her daughter is severely demon-possessed. This demon-possession is a tribulation for her daughter but it is also a tribulation for the Canaanite woman. Who is so heartless as to not be moved at the plight of their own child? This poor girl’s mother is racked with anxiety as she helplessly watchers her daughter be tormented by the devil. This woman could have cursed God for allowing the devil to gain such a foothold over her daughter. She could have become angry with the for not acting to remove this cross from her daughter and from her own shoulders. She could have become despondent, feeling the absolute and utter helplessness of her situation and there is no one to help. Her daughter’s demon-possession is a test of the Canaanite woman’s faith. The Lord allows this terrible tribulation to befall her daughter, and her, to move her not to doubt, despair, or despondency, but to motivate her to run to Christ. This is exactly what she does. When she hears that Christ has left the boundaries of ancient Israel and is now in the region of Tyre and Sidon, her great need compels her to search Him out. The news of Jesus’ healings and mercy had travelled throughout Judea, Samaria, and Galilee and had apparently burst the boundaries of ancient Israel, so that even this woman of Canaanite descent was coming to Jesus for mercy. He believed that He would give her just that, for He said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” This woman approached Jesus in faith, believing His word that He would not cast her out because of her ancestry or the fact that she was a Gentile. She responds correctly to this first test of her faith.

2)         But the Jesus she meets is very different from the Jesus of which she had heard so much about. She does not meet Jesus the merciful. She meets a Jesus who appears harsh and distant. When she prays to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed” she doesn’t receive the response she had expected. She received no response at all. “He answered her not a word.” The woman could take Jesus’ non-response as a response and assume He’s communicating with her non-verbally. If you speak with someone and they ignore you even when they know you’re speaking to them, you get the picture. If this were a normal social situation then one could assume that Jesus was brushing this woman off. The disciples interpret Jesus’ silence in that way. They want Jesus to get this woman to move on so she stops annoying them with her continual crying out after them. Surely at this point the woman’s conscience is attacking her. Everyone knows that when you are ignored in such a way, you bug off. The person who ignores you in such an obvious way just doesn’t want to speak with you or have anything to do with you. But the woman knows Jesus better than the disciples do. For her this is no normal social situation. She flees to Jesus because Jesus is God in human flesh. She comes to Jesus because Jesus is able to her daughter. She goes to Jesus because her great need drives her to the only one who is able to do something about this tribulation and cross. She understood that often in the Scriptures the Lord does not answer prayer right away. How many times in the Scriptures do the saints pray, “How long, O Lord?” as they wait on their God? She could take Jesus’ silence as “bug off.” Instead she interprets His silence as saying, “Keep praying.” In this she passes the second test of her faith, God’s silence and postponement of help.

3)         Then the third times comes. Having hammered Jesus with her petition for mercy to the point of having annoyed the disciples, Jesus enters the fray. He finally speaks. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus sees her faith and persistence in prayer. So He tells her that His promises, His mercy, His aid, His comfort, do not apply to her because of who she is. She is a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were repeat offenders in the idolatry department, so much that the Lord used ancient Israel to drive them from the land of Canaan. She lives in Tyre and Sidon, a land with idolatrous history. Jezebel, the wife of wicked King Ahab in the Old Testament, was from this region. Wicked, whorish Jezebel brought with her her Baal worship and incorporated it into the already syncretic religion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Tyre and Sidon are continually spoken against in the prophetic oracles against the nations, for Tyre and Sidon were wealthy and they trusted in that wealth as their strength. This woman is not of the seed of Abraham. She comes from the historical enemies of Abraham’s seed. Jesus’ words strike against her conscience like a hammer. “I’ve not come for people like you. You are not worthy of me.” This third test of this poor woman’s faith is the most brutal thus far. Jesus’ words play toward any doubt that exists in her heart. Jesus’ words turn up the furnace which is testing the strength of her faith. At this point the woman’s faith could have broken. She could have believed that a) she was not worthy and b) that Christ really didn’t want to help her.

4)         But she doesn’t believe either of those two things. She does quite the opposite. “She came and worshiped Him, saying ‘Lord, help me.’” She is relentless. Her faith will not let Jesus go. Her faith will not so easily cast aside its trust that He is merciful to those who earnestly seek Him. Then Jesus proctors the final test of her faith. “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” Jesus hammers home His point, “You are not worthy of my help. I’ve come for Israelites, not Canaanites. They are children of God. You are a dog.” And at that moment, as Luther remarks, she’s got Him. He’s given her a word that she can hang on and cling to and ultimately use against Jesus. She confesses her unworthiness. “Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” “Lord, I am not worthy to sit at the table with you and your children, the Israelites. I am truly a dog underneath the table. But give me what I am due as that dog. You will be no poorer for giving me the scraps from the meal of your mercy. Jesus gives her a word, a word that most would consider to be mean and offense, and she clings to it. She puts her trust in even this Word of Jesus. Her faith will not be deterred even by evil sounding words from God. She knows the Jesus she seeks and she seeks Him still, even when He conceals Himself behind silence and testing.

5)         That is what Jesus wanted to hear. Jesus IS merciful to all who seek Him earnestly for mercy. His words are true, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” He does come only for lost sheep of house of Israel. But this woman, by her faith, proves that she is no dog. Her faith shows all that in spite of her ancestry, in spite of her location, in spite of the outward cross and tribulation she bears up underneath, she is a true Israelite. Though not related by blood to the Patriarch Jacob, she possess the faith that caused Jacob to wrestle with the pre-incarnate Christ all night by the fords of the river Jabbock. Jacob wrested the Angel of the Lord and would not let Him go until He blessed him. Even when the Son of God dislocates Jacob’s hip, Jacob still does not let go of the Son of God. This Canaanite woman does the same. She wrestles with Jesus. She overcomes His silence with faith. She overcomes all anxiety and the evil conscience which tells her she’s not worthy to approach Jesus. She overcomes Jesus’ Himself by confessing her unworthiness, owning it, and clinging to that word of Jesus. Her faith conquers Jesus’ silence and obtains what she asks, for Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”

6)         Jesus praises this woman’s great faith so that it might be a model for all who hear of it. All Christians face external trials and tribulations in this life. Every Christian has needs that ought to drive to them to Jesus in prayer. The Canaanite woman teaches us again that faith responds to the needs of this life by fleeing to Jesus and seeking mercy from Him. The faith of the Canaanite woman should also remind us to persevere in prayer in spite of God’s silence. God does not always answer our prayers immediately. Often He delays sending His help. When it seems that God is silent to our prayers and that He postpones helping us in our need, the Canaanite woman’s faith should spur on your our faith, that we remember that when God tarries it is not because He is not merciful or that He doesn’t favor us, but that He does this to test our faith, to exercise it, so that it matures and strikes deeper roots into the promise of the Gospel. When feelings of unworthiness arise they are to be fought off with faith so that they do not turn into doubt or despair of God’s mercy. When sin accuses your conscience so that you think that you have no worthiness by which you can offer your petitions to God your heavenly Father, do what the Canaanite woman did and confess your unworthiness. You daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. You are unworthy for everything for which you pray. But you do not pray based on your own worthiness. You do not pray as if Christ owes you anything. You pray based not on your own worthiness but on the promise of Christ to hear, to answer, and to be merciful to you in ever need.

7)         Jesus praises this woman’s faith in His mercy so that He might work a similar faith in your heart. The Canaanite woman’s faith was put there by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel.
The same is true of your faith. Her faith was exercised and tested by Christ, as yours is as well through various trials, tribulations, and crosses. Do not despair when your faith is tested, but rejoice “
that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amem.

Rev. Josh Sullivan (ELDONA)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church (UAC)
Kerrville, TX 78028

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