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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
This morning we encounter a woman who is beside herself with grief. Her daughter is possessed by a demon. Now when you hear about someone being possessed by a demon in the Scriptures don’t automatically think about the movie the exorcist, don’t think of Rosemary’s baby, the omen or some other goofy Hollywood movie. Demon possession isn’t like that.
No, for this woman, her daughter was possessed by the devil. Perhaps the daughter swore and cursed at her parents. Is that not demonic possession? Perhaps the daughter simply rejected faith in God and gave up on public worship. Is that not demonic possession? Perhaps the daughter had given up on prayer altogether. Whatever it was, she was not possessed by the love of God, but chose to be possessed by the evil one.
In our own lives, we ought not make the mistake of thinking of the devil, as some guy with horns, and black cape.
Demonic possession is a husband who drinks himself stupid and verbally abuses his wife. Demonic possession is a son who has rejected his baptism, and no longer worships God and receives his gifts – of his body and blood. Demonic possession is to give up faith in Christ, to go the way of the world, the easy way that is.
This Cannanite woman – this mother is commendable. She gets her knees dirty, falls on her knees, and cries out to Jesus, interceding for her daughter. She said Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.
By the way these are the words of our liturgy together – these are the words of our worship every time we gather. “Have mercy on me by daughter is oppressed by a demon.” You’d expect Jesus to run to her, grab her, and comfort her. Do whatever he can. But our text simply says that he did not answer her a word. He ignored her it seems. At this point the woman is making a real scene and she is probably annoying the heck out of the disciples. Then Jesus says to the woman “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus shrugs her off. This woman is a Canaanite, an enemy of the Jews, a friend by no means. A descendent of Ham, the wicked son of Noah.
The woman however runs after Jesus again and drops on her knees. Our text says that she worships him. And calls out again loudly “Lord, help me!” Then Jesus really seems to let her have it. He says to her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it do the dogs.” This is not like saying she is a cute puppy or something or something like that. This would seem to be an insult of the worst sort. He is calling her a dog. Most modern hearers would no doubt be profoundly offended by this. This is not politically correct. It just does not seem to be right.
But the fascinating thing is that the woman does not deny it. On her knees, she looks at Jesus lovingly and says “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
Jesus is floored. He is blown away by, saying “O woman, great is your faith! Then let it be done.” The woman’s daughter was healed instantly – right there and then. This poor woman had won the wrestling match with God.
When God seems to be silent, she cried out louder, knowing that he heard her voice. When Jesus, in her own experience seems to be saying, “no” she kept praying, and prayed even harder. When he seems to turn away from her and perhaps even insult her, she persisted in her faith. She did not deny the things Jesus said. “Yes Lord, I am a dog. I am a poor miserable sinner. But I know that what they say about you is true. I believe that you are God. I know that you are merciful. And yes, I am a poor miserable sinner. But I have heard that you have come for the likes of me and my broken family.”
There is much we can learn from this text this morning. The woman did not trust in her own experience, she did not take no for an answer. She stubbornly persisted in her faith. When Jesus was silent, she cried out louder. When Jesus seems to be saying no, she said yes. This is the nature of faith. Faith persists, faith endures. This woman was delighted to consider herself a dog at the Master’s table. She was delighted to be a sheep of her Shepherd. She knew that even dogs receive the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
Jesus is amazed at this woman’s faith, because of her stubbornness. She refuses to believe that Jesus will withhold his love and his healing. She knows that God must act. She believes that God does work all things together for good. And she plants her knees in the dust and cries out Lord have mercy! This woman has caught Jesus in his own words. She has caught the Son of God, has latched herself on to him and refuses to let him go until He helps her. She refuses to let Jesus go, until her daughter is healed.
This mother is not a quitter, she doesn’t throw her hands up, saying better luck next time. And by the way, she doesn’t say well my daughter has turned 18 it’s not really my business anymore. No this tenacious Mother grabs a fist full of God’s promises and throws them right in his face. She has caught Jesus in his own words, and she knows that He cannot break his promises. He must act and act he does. Yes, faith holds God accountable for his promises.
This takes us to our Old Testament reading for the day, Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord at the river Jabbok. Make no mistake about this. It is the pre-incarnate Christ. It is the Lord – God Himself - who wrestles with Jacob. Yes, this is Jacob, Son of Isaac. And here God picks a wrestling match in the middle of the night. And it lasts all the way til the break of the morning sun. God and Jacob exchange blows, and grapple all night. At one point Jacob grabs hold of the Lord – and cries out – I won’t let you go until you bless me. Then God dislocates Jacob’s hip, and blesses him – Jacob’s sins are forgiven.
The last thing we see of Jacob is that he goes limping off into the sunset – to enter the Promised Land – just as the sun breaks across the horizon.
Yes, these are strange texts today. But they teach us a lot about faith. The Christian life in many ways takes the shape and form of a bloody, and violent fight. The Christian life, like the Cananite woman and Jacob, is about blood, sweat, and tears. It’s not picturesque, it’s not neat and tidy, it’s messy. And so is the Christian life. God is not experienced as always merciful. He often seems to ignore us. He often seems to be saying no. God often appears to be our enemy, who wrestles with us, like he did with Jacob. But know this. God does not wrestle with his enemies. He only wrestles with his friends. All father’s who love their children wrestle with their little ones. Make them believe they are losing and at the last minute, they let themselves be pinned down.
And so it is with God, he only wrestles with the children whom he loves. For he Himself lets himself be pinned to a cross, that your prayers would never be ignored. Jesus is possessed by your sin that he might be your savior. He lets himself be possessed with all the evil in the world, that your children might come to church and be possessed with the love of God and His kindness. He is afflicted that you would be healed. He is killed that you might be made alive. He is raised that you would be called the winner.
Like Jacob, you too bear the scars of the Christian life. Your wrestling match has not been an easy one. You too limp along, like Jacob, into your sunset years. But don’t forget about God’s love for you. Don’t give up so easily. Don’t give into despair so quickly. Even though God seems to give you one continuous “No,” just know that he has prepared a glorious final “Yes” for everything you have ever hoped for. Like Jacob, you leave here with a blessing from God. He is pleased with you. He delights in you. You are the apple of his eye. He forgives you your sins.
Be bold in your faith. Demand that your prayers be answered. Pray for your children who have wandered away from the church. Pray for your marriage. Pray that God would raise your child from the dead. Pray for something stupid – like winning the lottery. But more than anything pray that God would bless you. Refuse to let him go – put yourself into his hands. He is your good shepherd and you are his sheep. He loves you.
And pray. Jesus says whatever you ask in my name I will give you. And he will. In Jesus name. Amen.