Sunday, August 17, 2008

More Than Crumbs

TEXT: Matt 15:25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"(NKJ)

Dearly beloved of the Lord,

If last week’s Gospel of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s sinking is one of the most well known, most often told Bible stories of all time, today’s Gospel is perhaps one of the most difficult.

A Canaanite woman, desperate desires to have Jesus relieve her little girl from being severely possessed, and no doubt traumatically tormented, by a demon. She comes begging and crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”

The disciples’ response takes us by surprise and causes no little distress: "Send her away, for she cries out after us."

Jesus response is even more distressing, depressing and disheartening: Having at first answered her not a word, Jesus seems to take the disciples’ side, and stunningly out of character and contrary to everything we think we know of this Son of God, Jesus replies, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Ouch! This woman of Canaan, a land and people hostile to Jews then and to this very day, appears to be outside of the loving providence of the Son of God.

Undeterred, she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"

This persistent, yet humble alien woman stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees who worshiped the Lord in the manner we see in Luke 18:11, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. And even helps to reveal the weakness of Peter’s little faith in desiring to walk on water, instead of falling to his knees like this Canaanite woman, who having been rather harshly rebuffed continues to throw herself on the mercy of this seemingly merciless Jesus, who still again seems to have no desire to have anything to do with this unworthy one, answering her ever more fervent plea, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs."

I don’t know about you, but about now I can tell you that in all likelihood, I would be done begging and move on to other possibilities. A man can only do so much groveling. But this woman replies "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

And now finally, we see the Savior that we thought, that we believed, that we should have known this Jesus to be all along. At last the Lord relents and has mercy as she has requested, begged and pleaded. He looks upon her, in front of the disciples and says, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Now if this isn’t a powerful enough statement in front of the disciples who wanted to send her away as a pitiful nuisance, unworthy of their Rabbi’s attention, consider the words of Jesus to peter from last week’s Gospel, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Where the disciples, or at least Peter, who had seen their Jesus feed the five thousand with two fish and five barley loaves, not to mention the countless other miracles to which they had been witness and the Scriptures that they had been raised in, had so little faith that they needed even another sign in order to believe, this woman of an enemy land who most likely had heard and seen little scraps of Jesus works and mere crumbs of His words has faith to throw herself at Jesus feet and cling to His mercy.

As much as this Gospel account recorded by Matthew is about the great and persistent faith of this woman in the face of severe testing, it has far greater significance. Clearly, Jesus reactions and words were also, perhaps even more so, directed at and for the benefit of the disciples, who apparently still did not get Jesus’ purpose for being there with them.

And certainly, the fact that this encounter with the Canaanite woman has been recorded by the Apostle tells us even more that they have great significance for all who would read and/or hear them in these latter days.

As John tells us in His Gospel, these were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. John 20:31

Over against a faith that desires the glory of walking on water and ends up in sinking, Matthew – and more importantly, our Lord Jesus Himself – exalts the faith of this lowly woman who wants nothing more nor less than to be granted mercy for herself and her precious daughter.

Do not ever forget the amazing comparison and contrast of Jesus’ own words in assessing the faith of Peter fearing for his life on the raging sea and the faith of the woman, whose own life was not in question but who only cared for her daughter and the mercy of the Lord. [Peter!] O you of little faith, why did you doubt? [Dear woman] great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.

As Jesus also said, "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [John 14:13] Whatever a believer faithfully asks in Jesus’ name will be consistent with asking that the Father’s will be done. And the Father’s will is to glorify the Son.

Peter sought to glorify himself by walking on water. The Canaanite woman sought to avail herself of the glory of the Lord, which lies in His merciful goodness toward us. As merciful as Jesus was in healing the woman of Canaan’s daughter, it was only a glimpse, only a crumb compared to the mercy He ultimately showed to the Canaanite woman, Peter, the disciples, to all the world, to you and me, on the cross.

The lesson for us is simple, and witnesses to everything we do in the Divine Service here at Trinity. Our true act of worship is to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. We confess our sins and we receive His merciful goodness. From start to finish, as Luther tells us in the introduction to the section of Confession/Absolution in the Small Catechism, “When I urge you to go to confession I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”

In presenting this account of the Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus, you and I are simply being urged to be Christians, to confess our unworthiness, to admit we are like dogs before the Lord, truly deserving of nothing, not even His attention – yet receiving it out of His bountiful and merciful goodness.

This account also speaks of how we should come to the Lord’s Supper – not demanding to be served what we deserve, for that would be death. But humbly begging for that which we do not deserve -- the mercy of God that gives us life in His name.

At the same time, this account of our Lord speaks even to why we bring our infants before the Lord to be baptized. Just as the Canaanite woman is unworthy by her own works and her child has done nothing deserving of the Lord’s mercy, the infants we bring to the Baptism of our Lord are helpless to fend for themselves, let alone do any good work to earn standing before God. Like each of us, the infant is conceived and born in sin, and thus in dire need of the mercy of the Lord.

Yes, in this precious Gospel of our Lord given through the inspired pen of St. Matthew, we hear that our Lord is merciful to us poor miserable sinners, giving us far more than the crumbs we do not even deserve – forgiving all our sins, and giving us his full attention for eternity in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

No comments: