Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman - The Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

"And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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 a poor desperate woman begs Jesus for help. Her daughter is being tormented by a demon. Perhaps it’s something of a broken home because not a word is said about the woman’s husband. Perhaps he was a dead-beat dad not in the picture to provide proper love and support for the daughter and now she’s suffering for the sins of her father. The demons won’t leave her alone. Perhaps the daughter cursed her own mother, spat at her, and disrespected her. Maybe the daughter was a teenager and was defiling herself with wicked men. Whatever it is she has a demon.  

We don’t often talk about demons these days but we should. As soon as the ministry of Jesus began the demons show up everywhere. Demons torture. Demons destroy. Demons seek to draw people away from Christ. 

You too have been attacked. The truth is you have been more than eager to invite demons into your life as well. Anger, gossip, and booze can all be welcome invitations to demons. Gambling, pornography, lying, none of these behaviors can ultimately be controlled. They are forms of demon possession that take control of the mind, and heart, and can corrupt the soul to destruction. They defile, shame, and destroy.

Bullies at school, ISIS in the middle east, it’s all demonic possession. For the woman this morning her daughter is simply not herself. This poor mother is afraid, she’s at wits-end. So she runs to Jesus. She cries out, desperately to him that he would heal her. But Jesus, upon hearing her, passes by. He says nothing. In fact, he ignores her, seeming to want nothing at all to do with her. 

Maybe you know the feeling. Sometimes it seems as if God gives you the silent treatment as well. Who hasn’t felt the sting of loneliness during this long winter. Who hasn’t struggled with unemployment at one time or another in their life and wondered with uncertainty how God would provide? If you’ve watched a child go through chemotherapy you know what it’s like to experience the deafening silence of God. If you’ve even been picked on at school and wondered when it would end you know the feeling. Why won’t God come down, and help me right now, right here, and save me.  

Sometimes it seems as if God ignores you too, but it only seems so, and that is why we learn a wonderful lesson about prayer and God’s promises this morning from this Canaanite woman. When it comes to her relationship with God, she refuses to give up, and so after the silence she runs to him again. “Lord help me,” she prays. And then Jesus comes back with what seems to be an insult.  He tells her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she comes back again with a real zinger. In fact she agrees and says “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus is amazed at how strong her faith is. He says “O woman, great is your faith” and her daughter is healed instantly. The point of this account, although perhaps a bit confusing at first, is really simple. True faith is stubborn. True faith refuses to take no for an answer. It is the very nature of faith to cling to Jesus like burrs on a dog. Faith refuses to let go. And that is why this woman is praised by Christ.

Because let’s face it. It doesn't always seem like God is in our corner. It doesn't always seem as if God is on our side. Sometimes it seems as if he’s not listening at all, but he certainly is. He is with us and by our side. We are tested in our faith to become stronger.  

It seemed as if the Lord was saying no to her, but she knew that he must give in. She knew that he would eventually say yes. She knew and trusted that God was good and would be kind and gracious to her. She was stubborn and persistent and refused to let go until Jesus helped her daughter. She had faith.

We can learn a lot here. Frankly most Christians who are baptized and confirmed eventually fall away. Only a handful are stubborn enough in their faith to stick it out to the very end and believe that God is loving even amid pain and disappointments.

Dear Christians at St. Paul, like Jacob in our Old Testament text today, the holy life of faith is a bit like a wrestling match. It can get a little violent at times. Jacob wrestles with the Lord in the middle of the night but lo and behold, Jacob wins.

I have a son too. We wrestle. I pretend to have him pinned, but I always let him win. It’s the same with God. You wrestle with his promises. You seem to be losing but you’re not. You refuse to let go. Like the Cannanite woman, even when the Lord is silent, you run to him because you know that he loves you and he does. 

This season of Lent. Let us kneel at the foot of the cross where Jesus is present for us. He has gone to hell and back to destroy demons and set the prisoners free. He has triumphed over all our fears by rising from the grave. Demons are cast down, sins are destroyed, and saints are raised up to live before God in righteousness, and purity forever. He reigns victorious at the Right Hand of God. He hears all of your prayers, he knows what’s best for you, and he works all things together for your good. 

What’s important is that the Cannanite woman does not deny that she is a dog. She knows she doesn’t deserve anything. Like us, she basically says “I, a poor miserable sinner.” But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table, and this morning sinners eat the crumbs that fall from our master’s table.

We don’t deserve even a scrap, but right now he lays before us a feast. God has heard our prayers. And He is here to give us heavenly bread and drink. We doesn't give you crumbs. He gives you a feast for the forgiveness of sins, healing for a sin-sick soul, and blessed hope for eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

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