Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reminiscere - The Second Sunday in Lent (Lent 2)

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.
We are the unworthy recipients of God’s precious gifts. Jesus was no more for us than He was for the Canaanite woman. He was the children’s bread, sent to the house of the children of Israel, not us Gentile dogs. Nevertheless, we, like this intrepid Canaanite woman, have been the blessed recipients of the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table. Like little dogs, we too eat the very same Bread intended for the children of the King, and that Bread gives us the very same gifts it gave them: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
The gifts come to us because they were refused by those to whom they were first given. Though the gifts were always meant to come to us through them, they refused the gifts, not only for themselves, but for us as well. Thus we see that Jesus’ disciples wanted to shut this Gentile dog-woman up. They appealed to Jesus to send her away. They had no mercy. They showed no grace. They had no love. The children of the King thought they were justified in judging and condemning her. She was a Gentile dog, after all, a pagan idolater from a long line of idolaters, a Jewish-Gentile half-breed progeny of those wicked people whom Joshua and the children of Israel had failed to destroy when the LORD gave them the land of Canaan as He had promised.
Jesus tested the woman’s faith, though it wasn’t much of a test, really. He already knew her faith. Her faith was visible in her humility and her boldness, that, though she offered nothing and had nothing to offer, her faith made her bold enough to even come before Him. Moreover, she confessed Him to be the Son of David and her Lord. Her faith was self-evident, bearing the Spirit’s fruits of humility, selflessness, endurance, and love. No, it wasn’t much of a test of this woman’s faith, but it was a test of the disciples’ faith. Jesus had lead them to this test as He lead them directly into the Gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. Who did they expect to find there? For what reason did they believe that Jesus had brought them there? Were they surprised when a distressed Canaanite woman followed them and cried out to Jesus for mercy?
She cried out for mercy – not for money, not for food, not for acceptance, not for anything other than mercy. And, the disciples had no mercy to give. Jesus gave them a chance. This was their test. He said not a word, but He waited to see what they would say. They did not show mercy to the woman, but, rather, they begged Jesus to send her away. This is the exact opposite of mercy. Not only would they not help her, or even listen to her, but they wanted Jesus to reject her too. Then Jesus answered her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He was speaking the truth. Jesus was not sent for Gentiles like her, but for the children of Israel. But the children of Israel, Jesus’ disciples – they were sent to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. It was the disciples’ vocation, it was the Jews’ vocation, to show the Canaanite woman mercy, but they refused.
Likely, the disciples became hardened in their position, while Jesus’ words had the opposite effect on the woman. With Jesus’ apparent rejection, her faith caused her to cry out all the more, “Lord, help me.” Once again, Jesus tested His disciples, but the disciples remained unmoved. He knew their faith, too, as He knew hers. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus answered. “You tell her, Master,” the disciples agreed. They failed the test. But, the woman – the woman passed Jesus’ test. Even though she did not get what she pleaded for immediately, even though Jesus seemed to be against her and unwilling to help her, she did not let go, she did not give up. Faith, real faith, is like that. Faith is tenacious and dogged. Faith believes and trusts even when things don’t look or sound the way we think they should. Faith doesn’t let go – not without a blessing. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire,” Jesus replied. And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus praised the woman for her faith. However, it was not because of her faith that her daughter was healed, but it was because of the object of her faith, Jesus. That is to say that, what she believed about Jesus – that He would hear and answer her plea for mercy, that He would and could heal her daughter – it was the very real qualities in which she believed, and which she confessed of Jesus, that healed her daughter. Likewise Jesus at times said, “Your faith has saved you.” Faith heals, faith saves, because of what faith believes and trusts in. Faith believes and trusts in Jesus. Thus, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The Canaanite woman’s faith simply would not let go of Jesus no matter what – not without a blessing.
Just like Jacob. Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau whom he believed desired to kill him. Jacob left his wives, his servants, his children, and all his possessions on the other side of the river and he was utterly alone. He had no one and nothing to comfort him, and he believed that certain death was coming swiftly for him. Like the Canaanite woman, Jacob was in a desperate situation, all alone, with no ability to help himself. Thus, he put his trust in God. But, then, even God became his enemy. An angel of the LORD, even the Son of God Himself, wrestled with Jacob all through the night. Though Jacob was tired and weary and could not prevail, he would not let go, not without a blessing. Then the LORD put Jacob’s hip out of joint, causing him excruciating pain and suffering. Still, Jacob would not let go, not without a blessing. Then the LORD released Jacob and He blessed him. The LORD changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means, “one who wrestles with God and prevails.” This is what it means to have faith. This is what it means to be a Christian – to struggle and to wrestle with God and to not let go, no matter what, even when God seems to be against you, even when God seems not to answer your prayers, even when God seems to be the one causing your affliction, tribulation, and suffering. The Christian does not let go, not without a blessing.
God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. When you are weak, when your back is against the wall, when you are all out of options, when you are utterly alone and painfully aware of your weakness and insufficiency, that is when your faith will shine the brightest and enlighten all around you, that is when the LORD’s power can really be seen and experienced and known. From the Canaanite woman, and from the Patriarch Jacob, you may learn to have a dogged faith, persistent in prayer and lament to our Savior Jesus Christ in every trial and need. God may test you. So be it. But, as God granted the desires of both the Canaanite woman and Jacob because they held tight in faith and did not let go, so will He bless you and make you a blessing. Moreover, though you are not the children of Israel by blood descent, you are the children of the true Israel sharing the faith of Abraham. You have been adopted as sons and daughters of the King in the innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Your LORD and King has chosen you in His Son and has granted you all things that belong to Him through faith in Him. Therefore, don’t let go. He will never let go of you. Trust in Him, regardless of what you see and hear. Your faith will heal and save you and those you love, for your faith is in Jesus Christ who is your life and salvation.
Even now, the Master’s table is prepared that you may eat, not crumbs and scraps, but the flesh and blood of God Himself and live. Eat and be strengthened. Drink and be forgiven. Remain in Him, cling to Him in faith and trust, and you will be blessed, and you will be a blessing.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen. 

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