Reminiscere, the 2nd Sunday in Lend + Matthew 15:21-28 + March 12, 2017

RE- - MEM- | ber, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lov- | ing- | kind- | ness- | es, *
For they | are | from | of | old. -
|| Let not my enemies tri- | umph | o- | ver | me. *
God of Israel, deliver us out of | all | our | trou- | bles! - (Psalm 25:6, 2b, and 22)
|| To You, O Lord, I | lift | up | my | soul. *
O my God, I trust in You; let me | not | be | a- | shamed; -
|| Do not remember the | sins | of | my | youth; *
According to Your mercy remember me for | Your | good- | ness’ | sake. -
|| Good and up- | right | is | the | Lord; *
Therefore He teaches sin- | ners | in | the | way. -
|| For Your | name’s | sake, | O | Lord, *
Pardon my iniquity, | for | it | is | great. - (Psalm 25:1–2a, 8, and 11)
|| Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lov- | ing- | kind- | ness- | es, *
For they | are | from | of | old. -
|| Let not my enemies tri- | umph | o- | ver | me. *
Redeem Israel, O God, out of | all | their | trou- | bles! - (Psalm 25:6, 2b, and 22)

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.

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

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The woman who approaches Jesus does so in great need and in great faith. Her daughter is severely demon-possessed. The poor girl is assaulted by a devil who torments her. But the torment isn’t hers only. Any parent whose child has suffered knows that they suffer just as much as the child does but it is a much different kind of torment. In this way the devil has both of them in his grasp. The woman’s great need drives her to find Jesus, who has travelled outside the boundary of the people of Israel. In spite of being a woman of Canaan, a woman outside God’s people Israel, she has heard the report about Jesus and has heard that he is able and willing to help those who come to Him. She approaches Jesus in faith. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed!” She presents her petition before Jesus, the merciful one, the one who drives out demons with a word and frees men from the chains of Satan. And Jesus does nothing. “He answered her not a word.” He ignores here entirely. Her petition seems to fall on deaf ears, at least Christ’s ears are stopped up so that He doesn’t appear to hear. The disciples do and then they start asking Jesus to send the woman away “for she cries out after us.” The woman understood that the Lord does not often answer prayers immediately so she cries out all the more, annoying the disciples. They interpret Jesus’ silence as indifference. They assume that Jesus’ ignoring the woman implied that Jesus wouldn’t help her.

2)         Jesus answers His disciple’s request. “I was not sent except to the Lord sheep of the house of Israel.” Now the woman is in quite the quandary! Jesus won’t answer her honest petition cried out in faith, but He will answer the disciples. Not only are Jesus’ disciples asking, audibly for her to hear, that she be removed, but Jesus is speaking, for her to hear, that He didn’t come for people like her. She is a Canaanite. She is a descendant of the people of the land whom Israel was supposed to drive out. She is from the land of the harlot Jezebel who led Israel into sin by introducing Baal worship in the days of the Northern Kingdom. This woman is definitely not of the children of Israel. She is antithetical to the children of Israel in every way, except that she has faith in the promised Messiah. In spite of this terrible rebuttal that Jesus doesn’t even speak to her directly, the woman’s faith presses on. She will not be deterred by silence. She will not be shamed by the disciples. She will not be pushed aside because she is not a daughter of Abraham. She knows Jesus is good. She has complete confidence that Jesus will help her in spite of all these things. She feels her unworthiness but presses forward anyway.  She “came and worshiped Him saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” Her prayer, though shorter this time, is just as fervent. Please Help, dear Jesus.

3)         Then something different happens. First Jesus was silent and ignored her. Then He spoke to His disciples within earshot, but not directly to her, and he spoke terrible words that excluded her from His mercy. But now Jesus speaks directly to her. His words are far worse than any silence. “It is now good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” She finally addresses her directly! And He calls her a dog. He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He came only for the children of the kingdom, the heirs of Abraham, of whom she is most certainly not one. But now she is likened to a small dog, the lowest of the domesticated animals. Christ came for children of Abraham, not to show mercy to little yapping dogs. They are not worth His time. This should crush her. This should deflate all her hope in Christ. Christ’s mercy is not for her. Christ’s graciousness is not for her daughter. They are both outside the pale of salvation. The Gospel of Christ goes only so far, and they lie just beyond its reach. Many would have forsaken their faith and gone home to their demon-possessed daughter to live under the devil’s power.

4)         But faith doesn’t do that. Faith doesn’t let go of Jesus, even when He is silent. Faith isn’t deterred when it is shamed by the words of others. Faith only cares about the Word of Jesus. And in His response, for as cruel as it may sound to our ears, is still a Word to which this woman’s faith can cling. She takes a word of rejection and turns it against Jesus. He has finally answered her and she will not let Him go because she knows now that she has an audience with Him. Faith lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord, even a Word like this. She takes that word and uses it in her prayers all the more fervently. “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” This woman artfully takes Jesus’ Word and turns it against Him. Faith hears the Word of Christ, and believes it to be true, no matter what it says, and uses it, clings to it, hangs it hat on it, and relies upon it. She admits her unworthiness. She is a little dog. She is not a daughter of Abraham. She is descendant of the cursed Canaanites. But she doesn’t need any worthiness. She needs whatever Jesus will give her, a crumb, a morsel, a scrap. Her faith is so sturdy that she believes that even the tiniest good thing from Jesus will be more than enough for her and her daughter. She owns her unworthiness because her faith is not based on being worthy at all. Faith is based on Christ’s promise to be merciful and that’s all.

5)         Jesus relents. He can’t fend off this woman any longer. Nor does He want to. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” Jesus grants her petition. Her daughter is healed from that very hour. It may seem at first glance as if Jesus were cruel and mean-spirited. But Jesus is never cruel and mean-spirited toward those who seek Him in faith. Jesus says 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.” So why did He put this woman through such pains before granting her prayer? Why did He test her faith to such a great extent? Because He wanted to teach her, and His disciples, and us, upon whom the end of the ages has come, what true faith looks like and how true faith behaves. After all, Christ extolls this woman’s faith. “O woman, great is your faith!” Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel a Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but he will not allow Jesus to come under His roof because of his unworthiness. He knows that Jesus can heal with only a Word. To this Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8:10). In both of these instances, the Centurion and the Canaanite woman, Jesus shows us that faith clings to His Word above all else. Faith pushes aside past experience, human reasoning, logic, and feeling and believes the Word of Christ. If Christ gives a crumb, faith is content. If Christ gives a feast, faith is thankful as well. For man does live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

6)         Dear saints, Christ tests this woman’s faith as an example to you. You know that Christ doesn’t always answer our prayers immediately. You have experienced this and you will continue to throughout your life. Like the Canaanite woman, your great need drives you offer your petitions to the Lord, for you know that He is the only One who is truly able to help. But often He is silent. For some petitions, that silence goes on for years. Many let this silence discourage them so that they cast aside their faith. But this is not what Christ wants. He has commanded you to pray and He has promised to hear your prayers. He says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” He desires that His baptized children “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). When the Lord does not answer your prayer immediately, do not despair and fret that the Lord has not heard your prayer. If it seems the Lord is turning a deaf ear to you, that is not the case. His silence is an invitation to believe all the more firmly that He does hear and that He will answer in His own good time and in His own wisdom, for He says in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” He doesn’t want us to prescribe the method or means of His help. He will take care of that and grant you relief from your burden in the best way which is often a way which we do not foresee.

7)         Most of all, the Canaanite woman is set forward as an example of what faith does with the Word of Christ. Faith holds to that Word, no matter how foolish it seems to reason. Faith believes the Word of Christ, no matter how it much it goes against our experience or emotions. The Canaanite woman clung so tenaciously to the promise of Christ’s mercy that her unworthiness didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the Word of Jesus. You have a far better Word from your Lord, a Word that forgives your sins, a Word that calls you His Son, a Word that cleanses you from the impurity of your sin, a Word promises you everlasting life. You have the Word of Christ spoken in through the pastor as if from God Himself, a Word which absolves your sins so that they are put away and remembered no more by the Lord. You have the Word combined with water in your baptism which promises remission of sins and which claims you as God’s own child. You have the Word combined with bread and wine which cleanses you from all your unrighteousness. You have the Word of Christ in Holy Scripture which teaches you His will for you, that you believe His gospel, trust His mercy, and strive for sanctification and holiness in your vocations. Your Lord is not cruel. He is not mean-spirited, though at times He does test our faith with silence. But this is always to point us back to the Word He has given us in His means of grace, so that we trust that Word and cling to it no matter what we experience otherwise. You have a gracious God and Lord who hears your prayers and will answer in due time according to His mercy. Christ is merciful and has come not to destroy men’s life but to save them, thanks be to God. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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