Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homily for Reminiscere – The Second Sunday in Lent


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.

The woman who cried out to Jesus asked only for mercy. Moreover, she asked on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, not herself. But, Jesus did not answer her a word. This was a test, but Jesus was not testing the woman and her faith, He knew that well enough already, rather, Jesus was testing His disciples’ faith and their understanding in who He was and of what He was sent to do. Would they approve of Jesus’ showing mercy to this Canaanite dog? No, they would not. For, though the woman cried out only for mercy, the disciples, in turn, begged Jesus for justice saying, “Send her away.”

But, they were right. It would have been just to send her away. She was, after all, a Canaanite, the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham who uncovered his father Noah’s nakedness. The Canaanites were the pagan occupiers of the land that God promised to give into the hand of Abraham and his descendents. They were perpetual deniers of God’s grace, whose history included child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, and other occult activity, and sexual depravity. So, yes, the disciples were right, Jesus would have been just in sending her away. But, then, of course, He would have been just as just to send the disciples away too. Be careful what you ask for!

But, Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it; He did not come to send anyone away, but to call all men to Himself. Indeed, it would be through the greatest injustice imaginable, the selfless, sacrificial death of our holy, sinless, and innocent Lord Jesus, that all people would finally be set free from the demonic possession that is sin and death.

Still, the disciples were right, Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, initially, and it would not be right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Send her away and be done with the matter. Case closed. Justice is served.

But, again, the woman was not seeking justice, but mercy. On her knees in humility before Jesus she accepted His judgment confessing, “Yes, Lord, You are right, I am an unworthy dog. It is wrong of me to ask for or to expect that the bread intended for Your children be given to me. But, even still, the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And, here was what Jesus wanted His disciples to hear and to see, true and tenacious faith. The Canaanite woman placed her faith – her fear, love, and trust – in Jesus, no matter what. She placed her faith in Him by pleading, not for justice, but for mercy. She placed her faith in him by clinging to Him even when He did not answer her. She placed her faith in Him even when He seemed to reject her. And, finally, she placed her faith in Him even to the point of completely divesting herself, confessing her sin, guilt, and shame, while believing Jesus to be merciful, no matter what. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

After this, Jesus began a great ministry of healing, healing that flowed from God’s mercy and the forgiveness of sins. Crowds of Canaanites and Israelites came to Jesus on a mountainside and there He healed them all. Then, after a few days, having compassion on them, men, women, children, Canaanites, and Jews, Jesus fed them, over 4,000 in all, with bread until they were full and satisfied.

It is no coincidence that Jesus compared the woman’s plea for mercy to a plea for bread, for Jesus is the Bread of Life for all the world, that whoever eats of His flesh will have eternal life. For, Jesus was the Bread from heaven, the manna that the children of Israel ate during their wandering in the wilderness. It is not outside the realm of likelihood that the nearby Canaanites scooped up some of that mysterious bread, that was left behind by the children of Israel, for themselves, just like dogs under the children’s table. Likewise, it is no coincidence that this exchange with the Canaanite woman occurred just before Jesus miraculously fed a multitude from many places with bread until they were satisfied. Jesus is the Bread of Life given for the life of all the world.

Thus, what the disciples learned that day was that being a true Israelite, a true child of God, is not about belonging to a certain bloodline nor of being of Abrahamic descent, but what makes one a true Israelite and a true child of God is faith in Jesus, God’s Son and His gift of life, no matter what. That means trusting in Jesus even when He doesn’t seem to answer. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to reject you. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to be the one who is causing you affliction!

We see this last point most clearly in Jacob, who wrestled with a Man until the breaking of the day, and when the Man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He put Jacob’s hip socket out of joint! Many theologians and Fathers of the Church understand that Man who wrestled with Jacob, and who fought dirty, to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Even though the Man put Jacob’s hip socket out of place and caused him excruciating pain, Jacob refused to let Him go until He gave Him a blessing. Was Jacob stubborn, thick headed, or a fool? Undoubtedly. But, did he have faith that the Man could and would bless him? Yes, most definitely, yes! Then, in response to Jacob’s tenacious faith, the Man changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning one who has striven with God and has overcome.

For, that is what faith is like; faith is a struggle with God. But, faith clings to God and His promises no matter what and so overcomes. Faith believes that God is good and merciful and that He will answer in the way He knows best, no matter what. Even if what you pray for is not given to you or relieved of you, God is still merciful and good, no matter what. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but no one ever said it would be easy, least of all Jesus. The world, the devil, and your own flesh conspire against you, daily, so that you will lose faith and fall into unbelief and despair.

But, when you wrestle with God, do not let go of Him, but cling to Him in stubborn, thick headed, and foolish faith. Don’t let go of Him until He blesses you. And, while you struggle and wrestle with God in faith, make use of the means through which He blesses you: His Word; His Baptism; His Absolution; His Supper – for these are all Bread, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and be strengthened in faith and live.

And don’t consider what’s just, but plead for mercy, likewise being merciful to others – all others – as God is merciful to you in Christ Jesus. For, you will overcome, you will persevere, and even now you are more than conquerors through Him has loved you and who loves you now, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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