mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
it seems, know the value of persistence. As youngsters, often our continued
pleading with a mother or father would bring us the response we wanted.
not to say that everything we ever asked for was given to us, because sometimes
our choices might have been beyond the means or ability of the parent we were
times, our persistence may have taken the form of whining or complaining, and
in going against the will of our parent, our requests were ignored or refused.
our requests were unhealthy, and our mother or father rightly rejected our
many times, if we asked persistently for something that was healthy for us, if
it were within the capabilities of our parent, and if we trusted that their
desire for us was good, we would eventually receive what we wanted. Because of
the deep and abiding love our father or mother had for us, we often even
received our wishes in spite of our misbehavior. And, because of this love, we
often received something even better than we asked for. We weren’t dealt with
according to our unworthiness, but instead, we were granted grace.
it is with Jesus Christ, our Savior.
of course, is beyond His ability to provide to us. Nothing in accordance with
His will be denied to us. Nothing that is unhealthy for us will flow from
Him. And, through the gift of faith bestowed on each of us from His holy word
and sacraments, in spite of our unworthiness, we may ask persistently for what
the persistent woman in today’s Gospel text, even though we have no way to
justify receiving it, the Lord will grant what we most truly want and need.
What’s more, He already has given it to us.
NO MATTER HOW UNWORTHY WE ARE, PERSISTENT FAITH IN
CHRIST SAVES US.
Gospel lesson is drawn from the section of Matthew’s account which can be
considered a transition, a turning point.
to now, Jesus has been speaking frequently of the coming of the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven”. And despite the opposition of the Pharisees who
see Jesus’ ministry of gospel to run counter to their desire to have a
law-based kingdom of rules and regulations, Jesus has attracted many
followers. A great many people consider Him to be the Messiah, the anointed
one, the rescuer of Israel.
though, Jesus will begin to tell those who would be His followers just what it
means to enter the kingdom. It does not mean glory. It does not mean power.
It does not mean rescue from all the difficulties of this life. It does not
even mean that there will be a free lunch, in spite of His feeding of the
to enter the kingdom—to follow Him—means to take up a cross. It means to
suffer the rejection of the world. It means to die to sin.
this point in Matthew’s record, this tough part of the Gospel—the stumbling
block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles of all ages—hasn’t become widely
known. Even without the full-strength offensiveness of this message, Jesus has
met strong resistance from the religious leaders in his own nation. His
condemnation and even outright breaking of their self-generated rules and
regulations has earned him their wrath. And so, Jesus withdraws from Galilee for a while.
He leaves Galilee and heads toward the coastal lands of Phoenicia, where the unclean heathens dwell. He
steers clear of the Jews in general and the Pharisees in particular.
out of fear, certainly.
out of disgust, disappointment, and frustration.
the Lord hoped that, given some time to think about His message, some of His
own people might actually ponder His words and come to repentance.
Jesus tries to keep a low profile, this Syro-Phoenecian woman, this pagan
Canaanite, seeks Him out. Her child, her precious daughter, is terribly
afflicted. The girl is trapped in the living hell of demon possession.
Nothing the woman could do; nothing the false gods of her religion could be
asked to do; would help the poor girl. This Jesus, this Jewish rabbi who had
done great wonders, is her only remaining hope.
had heard of Him because the word about Him had been spread into her homeland.
Even though Jesus had instructed His disciples earlier to go only to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel, the news about Jesus had spread much further.
so, in spite of her nationality and her religion, the word about Jesus had come
to her and convinced her that He alone could meet her most heartfelt need.
mercy on me,” the woman said. In other words, “Please, I beg you, even
though I don’t deserve what I am asking, grant me your gracious gift out of
your kindness and goodness.” What’s more, she addresses Jesus as “O
Lord, Son of David.” Even though she was not a Jew, she acknowledges
Jesus both as God and Messiah, for these titles—“Lord” and “Son of David”—could
only apply to the Christ, the chosen redeemer of Israel. This woman gives
Jesus the title that only a handful of His own people would ever acknowledge
during His ministry.
response could hardly have been colder: He completely ignored her. “He
did not answer her a word,” the text says.
apparently showed considerable persistence, however, because the disciples soon
had their own request of Jesus: They “came and begged Him, saying, ‘send
her away, for she is crying out after us.’”
disciples want Jesus to respond to her cries, probably even to grant her
requests—not for God’s glory or for the woman’s benefit, it seems, but more
likely just to reduce their own discomfort with the situation. It’s
embarrassing to have someone follow you, call out to you, beg you for
ignoring the woman, Jesus replies to them, “I was sent only to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel.” In saying this, He maintains
consistency with what He had instructed the disciples when He first sent them
out to do mission work: To first spread the word to God’s chosen people.
so, truly good news can not be constrained to one nation or one people. It had
reached the woman’s ears, and it had worked faith in her previously pagan
heart, faith that the Lord was her hope and her salvation from that which
concerned her most.
Jesus could elaborate further to the disciples, she cast herself down before
Him, showing Him great respect and reverence, and pleading once again: “Lord,
first ignored by Jesus, and then pointedly overhearing that she was not among
those to whom the Messiah had been sent, this desperate mother is now dealt a
final blow: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it
to the dogs.”
all the heartless responses! we
could our loving Lord, the God of mercy, reject the plea of this woman, who had
shown faith, respect, and humility?
Luther wrote of this passage of scripture that, among all Jesus’ dealings with
people in the Gospels, here He is painted as most hard and harsh.
dogs Jesus speaks of, however, are not the wild packs of vicious and dangerous
dogs which roamed the countryside in these days. Jesus uses a gentler term, a
word used for dogs that were house pets, perhaps even still puppies—animals
perhaps beloved of their master, but still not on par with the children of the
household, and certainly not going to receive the good gifts of the master
ahead of his own children.
the surface, then, it seems that Jesus is quite clearly saying, “NO!” to the
a good, loving, and perfect Lord can never say “No” to faith; He may simply
answer with a deeply hidden, quiet “Yes.”
had not denied the woman’s request, or rejected her faith.
simply tested it.
here, where many of us might be tempted to give up in despair and walk away
without hope, this Canaanite woman is granted the strength to give one of the
great testimonies of faith ever recorded in scripture: “Yes, Lord, yet
even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
had passed the test, with flying colors.
difficult words did not beat her down and discourage her faith; they had given
her a spark of hope that now had been fanned into a roaring fire.
each reply He gave her, her faith and hope and certainty grew stronger.
had acknowledged her own unworthiness.
the Pharisees, falsely certain of their place in God’s kingdom and rejecting of
the true Christ, this woman recognized her place and her predicament, but in
humility and faith trusted in Him completely.
the Jews didn’t want the rich banquet of plenty that Jesus was offering
them—that is, eternal salvation for them and their nation—this foreign woman is
gladly willing to receive even a crumb of temporary relief for her daughter.
her faith ensures that she will receive so much more!
that faith, Jesus marvels.
it is rare enough that anything could cause Jesus to marvel.
the Gospels, it is only at faith and at unbelief that Jesus marvels,
and most certainly this woman’s faith is a marvelous thing.
marvelous because it is her own doing, of course, because faith is never one’s
can flow only from the trustworthiness generated by another, a level of
confidence which overcomes our doubt and fear.
this woman’s faith flowed from all she had heard about Jesus, from the gospel
itself. Seeing that great faith, Jesus grants her exactly what she wishes.
it is for us as well.
the gospel of Christ, the good news that Jesus has come and has taken on human
flesh and died to take away our sins, that faith, that trust in Him, is placed
upon and into each one of us.
spite of our unworthiness;
spite of how far we may have started
spite of how far we might continue to
comes to us.
we are severely oppressed by the demon of sin, when we have given up all hope
in any other way to receive relief, we can cry out in our despair, “O Lord, Son
of God, have mercy on me!”
we think He may have ignored us, He has not.
the world, like the disciples, wishes we would just shut up and go away and
quit calling on the name of the Lord, His gift of faith will not let us remain
we feel that we are not among the elect, when we feel that we deserve to be
treated like the lowest members of God’s household, He reaches out to us.
His grace is widespread, unbounded—it does not depend on our pedigree, our
origin, our standing among men.
make clear in today’s Old Testament lesson that God’s grace is sufficient for
all mankind: All who are joined to the Lord and love His name and serve Him
will be brought to His holy mountain—heaven itself. We will be made joyful in
His house of prayer—His one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. His
promise to gather many to Him beyond those already gathered is an ongoing
promise: He will use you and me to continue to gather more and more people to
Paul, that Jew of Jews, writes in our Epistle for today that he hopes and
strives for the salvation of all men, both Jew and Gentile. Paul tells us that
God’s mercy is for all mankind because all are disobedient
sinners in need of it.
even a small dose of that grace and mercy, even what might seem a crumb from
the Master’s table, is a rich and all-sufficient blessing for we who are
the Canaanite woman, then, let us always acknowledge our unworthiness and our
captivity in sin, even as we rejoice with the hosts of heaven in the worthiness
of Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood has set us free.
the Canaanite woman, too, let us remain persistent in our pleading with the
Lord for His continued mercy, His continued forgiveness, His continued
blessing, for He is gracious and persistent in His patience and love.
finally, may we praise and thank God that, in spite of the weakness of our
faith, our Father has already viewed it as a great faith, because of the
perfect merits of Christ which have been applied to us.
thanks for a persistent faith—a faith which will grant not only what we desire,
but what we most desperately need: Pardon, and peace, and salvation,
and hope—and eternal life in His joyous heavenly kingdom. Amen.
now may that peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your
hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.