Preached: March 20, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus is Matthew 15.
Jesus went away from there and retreated to the area of Tyre and Sidon. Behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. My daughter suffers terribly from demon possession.” But he did not answer her a word.
His disciples went to him and were asking, “Send her away since she's crying out after us.”
He replied, “I was not sent except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
She came and was bowing down to him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He replied, “It isn't proper to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord, and indeed the little dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”
Then Jesus replied and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great. Let it happen for you as you want.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Why God? Why my daughter? Why did this strike my family? So many don't serve you, but we do. It's so hard following you among all those who do not. Why this added burden?”
I could see myself thinking those thoughts, if I were this Canaanite woman. She is not from the people of Israel and doesn't live among them. She lived in a heathen land, but she believes in the true God, the Lord. She recognizes Jesus as the Son of David, the promised Messiah. How hard it must have been living where so many followed idols or just lived for this life! Can you hear the sneers she endured?
We might imagine the Lord would deal gently with this gem of faith surrounded by the filth of heathenism. Don't we often expect God's blessings in this life because we are his followers? Shouldn't our lives be better than the unbelievers? But no! Her daughter suffers from demon possession. How that must have torn the mother's heart! But where does she turn? To whom does she go?
May the Holy Spirit keep working in us that same faith, that faith that goes to Jesus. For in this Canaanite woman we see faith in action. Her faith begs, clinging to Jesus' words alone.
Her faith begs. It cries out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”(Matthew 15:22 NIV1984). Do you note the humility in those words? She doesn't complain. She doesn't lament how unfair life is. She doesn't challenge why this happened. She doesn't try to find the strength in herself or other earthly resources. And she doesn't simply grit her teeth and bear it either, does she? She goes to Jesus begging for mercy.
How often my pride stops me short of that! Pride takes different forms. It sometimes imagines that we know better and so argues that life is unfair or demands that God explains why. Sometimes pride imagines we can fix it ourselves,or at least, fix it with the help of those around us, our community, our support system, our technology and medicine. Or what I see in my heart at times is the pride that simply grits and bears it, figuring that's just the way life is. I might as well get use to it and resign myself to reality, since I can't make it better and I'm not going to bother Jesus about it. Pride refuses to beg. How does pride mislead you?
But not this woman. Her faith not only knows about Jesus but humbly goes to him. She hears that he's headed for the region she lives in. She finds him. She cries out, begging “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Matthew 15:22 NIV1984). For she clings to the word of the Lord, who had revealed himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV1984). She has heard the words that report the mercy at work in Jesus' ministry. Faith begs, clinging to Jesus' words alone, clinging to God's promise of compassion and love. Such faith humbly cries out for his mercy.
We echo those words in our worship. “Lord, have mercy on us.” Those words can only come from a humbled heart. Sometimes we connect them with our confession of sins: “Lord, have mercy on me, a dirty, wretched sinner, covered in my own filth, a poor beggar who has no good of my own to pay you with. Pity me with your full and free forgiveness.” Sometimes, like this woman, we connect our cry for mercy with our prayers: “Lord, have mercy on me! I am powerless and desperately need your help. You alone grant what is good. Only you can answer my prayer, my plea. For I am a beggar with nothing of my own. I fall before you relying on your mercy alone. Pity me with your kind help, your benevolence, your magnanimity.”
How did Jesus respond to her humble cry? With silence, complete silence. But she keeps on calling after him. The present silence does not keep her from clinging to the Lord's words of promise that she has heard, that he is the compassionate and gracious God. She keeps following them. “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession” (Matthew 15:22 NIV1984). But still just silence. “Jesus did not answer a word” (Matthew 15:23 NIV1984).
And that, dear friends, is a far greater struggle for faith than any earthly suffering, hardship, loss, or disaster. “Why doesn't God answer my prayer? Has the Father rejected me as his child? Has Jesus forgotten me? Has the Holy Spirit abandoned me? Why this silence?”
Why the silence? So that our faith -- your faith, dear Christian -- clings to Jesus' words alone, that is, to the Scriptures, to the Bible, his written word. For every word of the Scriptures comes from Jesus, and the Scriptures are never silent but continual call out to us. His silence in not answering our prayers humbles our reason, so that we do not cling to our own observations and experiences but to Jesus' words alone. Such faith confesses: “What I've seen and felt and experienced tells me that God has forgotten me because my prayers remain unanswered. But Jesus promises: 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you' (Hebrews 13:5 NIV1984). So to hell with my experience. Rather 'The Lord is my helper' (Hebrews 13:6 NIV1984), just as the Bible promises. No matter how long he remains silent to my cry for mercy, I will cling to his Word forever.”
This, dear friends, is the hard fought fight Christians go through. A pretend faith does not know this struggle. For it has not grasped Jesus and his cross, but only gives him lip service and imagines all is fine between me and God because I got confirmed and belong to a church. But faith, Christian faith, wrestles with God in prayer clinging to Jesus' words alone, no matter how long he answers our prayers with silence. With his silence, Jesus was training this woman to rely only on his word, which she already had heard and believed. That's what he also does for you, dear Christian. So in faith keep begging clinging only to Jesus' words, clinging to the dear Scriptures you know and believe. Cling to his Scriptures, humbly crying out, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
And cling to his Scriptures, confidently rejoicing in his crumbs.
Now, when Jesus breaks his silence, his words do not sound too hopeful, do they? He was not heading to this foreign land to carry on his ministry there. According to God's plan, the Gospel would go into all the world after Jesus died and rose. During his earthly ministry, Jesus' work focused on Israel. That's what he makes clear as he says, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 NIV1984).
Yet even those words imply mercy, don't they? He comes for the lost, for those in need, like a shepherd seeking his sheep. And does not the name Israel mean to struggle with God? Wasn't that the name the Lord gave Jacob after he wrestled with him in prayer throughout the night?
The woman's faith still clings to the Lord's mercy. She falls before Jesus begging, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25 NIV1984). Jesus replies, “It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 NIV1984). He uses the word for the small dogs kept in the house as pets, not the scavenging dogs that roamed the streets.
Faith accepts what Jesus says. “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 15:27 NIV1984), she answers. Your words are true. We see her humility again, which we talked about in the first part. “Yes, Lord, I'm like a dog begging at the table. I don't deserve your help. I only beg for your mercy.”
But now notice how she clings to his words with confident hope: “[E]ven the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table” (Matthew 15:27 NIV1984). Faith holds Jesus to his word, and Jesus let's himself be pinned with his promises so that faith wins the victory.
Such faith that clings to Jesus' words confidently rejoices. It rejoices even in the crumbs, for faith knows that our Lord's crumbs are more than enough to satisfy our needs. Even crumbs from Jesus could heal her daughter, driving out the demon. Her faith begs, clinging to Jesus' words alone, confidently rejoicing in his crumbs.
You, dear Christian, also know why our Master's crumbs are more than enough to answer our begging. For the Father has already given us his greatest treasure, his own beloved Son. Compared to Jesus, compared to his blood, compared to his Easter victory, anything else we could ask for is but crumbs! For in Jesus and his cross, all the riches and bounties of heaven are already yours. What a lavish banquet has been prepared for you! So faith confidently rejoices in the crumbs that our Lord blesses this life with, knowing the riches he has already won for us. For faith begs, clinging to Jesus' words alone, his words that have already brought us such riches through the Scriptures and the Sacraments.
So maybe there are a few lessons I can learn from my dog. She's not too proud to beg. When we're at the supper table, she's there looking up with her pleading brown eyes. Even though we ignore her as we eat, she stays waiting with those eyes that beg without saying a word. She knows we'll feel sorry for her. And when we let her lick the last crumbs, she eagerly accepts that, happy and content.
Now I know she does this all by instinct and conditioned behavior. But you, dear Christian, have something much greater to hold on to. You have the word of your God and Savior, written for you in the Bible and made visible for you in Baptism and the Lord's Supper. He is your compassionate and gracious God. Witness that at the cross. Humbly cry out for mercy. And when he answers with silence, keep on wrestling with him praying, “Lord, have mercy on me,” as you cling to his word of promise. And as he let's you pin him with his promise, confidently rejoice in whatever way he answers. For even his crumbs more than meet all our earthly needs. Your faith begs, clinging to Jesus' words alone. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.