Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homily for Reminiscere (The Second Sunday in Lent)

Canaanite woman, 1









Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today it may seem to you as if the world is going to the dogs. All around you, your Christian concepts of morality, ethics, and justice are being challenged. You see that murderers are permitted to live while over a million unborn children are denied life in the United States each year. You hear that someone changed the definition of marriage, effectively rendering it meaningless, so that it is but merely a contractual agreement between person A and person B, completely separated from the potentiality for the pro-creation and nurturing of children. And, presently, you hear that the government is seeking to force your Church to provide and, directly or indirectly, to pay for life-ending drugs to its employees, even when the sanctity of life is a core tenet and belief of your faith. These three challenges to your Christian morality, ethics, and justice today are but the visible tip of an iceberg whose bulk and mass remain yet to be seen. And, in light of the rancor and mobilization of the opponents of your faith, you Christian are right to wonder, “How long will my Christian faith be tolerated by those whose central doctrine and tenet is claimed to be tolerance?” However, you must not succumb to the temptation to judge your opponents to be outside of the Lord’s mercy because of their immorality, for your Lord Jesus suffered and died for them too, and there is not one who is without sin or who merits God’s mercy and forgiveness, not even one.

Jesus’ disciples surely felt this way as much as you. Indeed, when that Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came crying after Jesus, they wanted to send her away. They judged her as unworthy of the Master’s attention and outside of God’s grace and mercy. After all, the Canaanite woman belonged to a tribe of people that shouldn’t even exist, for long ago God had judged their idolatry and commanded the Israelites to destroy them all, leaving not one man, woman, or child alive, that they may not corrupt the children of Israel. Though she cried out for mercy and addressed Jesus just as they did, as “Lord” and as “Son of David”, still they asked Jesus to send her away. Interestingly, while Jesus did not answer the woman or acknowledge her plea, neither did He acknowledge the disciples’ plea and send her away, but He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now, that was, and is, an absolutely true statement, and it is representative of what is unique about Jesus’ words in contrast to the words of mere men. When Jesus speaks, truth is spoken – period. How men hear Jesus’ words and how men interpret Jesus’ words does not change, alter, or affect the absolute truth and reality of His words. This is what the Scriptures mean which describe Jesus’ words as a two-edged sword and that it will not return to God void, but it will accomplish that purpose for which it was sent. In this case, the disciples understood Jesus’ words to confirm their belief that this woman had no business to address Jesus or to ask Him for anything, but the Canaanite woman understood Him differently. The disciples focused on the words “of Israel”. The Canaanite woman focused on the words “lost sheep”. The woman knew that she was not an Israelite. She knew that she had nothing that made her worthy or deserving of Jesus’ mercy. However, she also believed that Jesus had come to save the lost, and she counted herself amongst them. Thus, Jesus’ words only encouraged her to cry out all the more, saying, “Lord, help me.”

This time Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Again, that was, and is, an absolutely true statement, in and of itself, thus, it is not necessarily the case that Jesus was calling the woman a dog. However, that is precisely what Jesus’ disciples considered her. In fact, the Jews did derogatorily call the Canaanites dogs. That saying went back all the way to when the Israelites sent spies into Canaan to report on the strength of its armies and the fruitfulness of its land. One of those spies was a Gentile named Caleb, which means dog, and another was Joshua, which in English is translated Jesus. The first time spies were sent, they reported back that there were fierce giants in the land of Canaan and the Israelites cowered in fear and refused to enter. Caleb tried to reassure them that the land was conquerable in accordance with the LORD’s promise, but they did not listen to Caleb or trust in the LORD who had said that He would deliver the Canaanites into their hands. Because of their unbelief, the children of Israel were caused to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Then, after the death of Moses, Joshua lead the children of Israel through the parted waters of the Jordan, much in the way that Moses had lead Israel across the Red Sea, into the promised land of Canaan. There they conquered the Canaanites, leaving no man, woman, or child alive, with the exception of Rahab the prostitute and her family who had helped Joshua. When the land was divided up amongst the tribes of Israel, Caleb was given Hebron as an allotment for the tribe of Judah in recognition of his faithfulness when he first spied out the land. Isn’t it interesting that the Gentile dog Caleb showed great faith in the LORD and was given a share in the promised land of Israel? Did the Canaanite woman remember this bit of Israelite history? Did Jesus’ disciples?

When Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to he dogs”, the Canaanite woman did not argue, but she confessed saying, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Did she remember how the Gentile dog Caleb was grafted into the children of Israel and was allotted a share in the land of promise? Perhaps. But, this much is certain, she took no offense at Jesus’ words, even if they seemed insensitive, uncaring, and harsh, but, in great humility, and in greater faith, she held Jesus to His Word and that He would show the mercy that she believed He must. And, just as the Gentile dog Caleb was commended for His faith, so too does Jesus praise the Canaanite woman, saying, “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

True faith clings to Jesus even when He seems not to answer, even when He seems to ignore you, even when He seems to say to you “No”, and even when He seems to be the one causing your affliction. True faith clings to Jesus even when He has permitted life to pin you to the ground and to put your hip out of socket, even when He permits you to suffer pain and sorrow, even when He permits you to be overcome by your enemies. True faith clings to Jesus even when He seems to permit the wicked to prosper, even when He seems to permit His Church to suffer attack, even when the enemies that surround you seem to be as unconquerable giants. For, true faith is a struggle, a struggle with God, and your God will test you to prove your faith true.

And so, when it seems to you that all the world is going to the dogs, you’re probably right, but do not fear, do not despair, and do not lose hope, for whether you are one of the Master’s children or one of His little dogs, the bread of life, Jesus, is given for you that you may eat and live. And, as much as you may decry, and probably should, the immorality, godless ethics, and injustice in your world today, you must not, because of your faith, count yourself to be moral, ethical, and just and so merit a special relationship with Jesus by your works. For, if you are of child of God by faith, that is His work alone, to His credit alone, as much as is the turning of a murderer, an adulterer, or a fornicator in repentance and in faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For, the day will come when God’s judgment will be pronounced upon all men; you must not, then, presume to pronounce your own judgment beforehand. And, so it is that the righteous live by faith, trusting in God’s mercy and forgiveness upon them despite their unworthiness, because of His love and grace alone. And, rather than burning in righteous anger against those who appear to of lesser morality, poorer ethics, or perpetrators or benefactors of injustice, you should walk in the way of the Lord, abstaining from sexual immorality, controlling your own body in holiness and honor and not in the passion of lust like those who do not know God. For God has not called you for impurity but in holiness. Thus, you are not to be complacent in the face of godlessness, and neither are you to participate in it, but you are remain steadfast in faith, trusting in the Lord’s promise of deliverance, and being an example of holiness that others may see Christ in you and know His love and forgiveness, that God the Father be glorified in all things.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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