Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
In your readings of Scripture you may have noticed that many of the fiercest struggles that people have are not with the devil, the world or with the themselves; most of the great struggles depicted in Holy Scriptures are with God Himself. Take Abraham who was assaulted with God’s demand to sacrifice Isaac. Consider blameless and upright Job whom God allowed Satan to afflict in body, soul, spirit, and heart.
And in our Gospel reading tonight we behold a woman tested by God, and yet, while she faced opposition and harsh chastisement, she refused to give up. My friends, the lives of sinner/saints like us is one of continued persistence in the life and death struggle as a children of God, where battles against the powers and principalities of darkness mount and our continued struggles against God plague our every moment. But in the midst of this, in our lives as sinner/saints we must recall that nothing, not temptation, not popular opinions and deviations from the truth, not even death itself, is to keep us from calling upon the Lord to hold His Word, even when He appears to be against us and when His answer to our prayers and petitions is “No.”
Having heard our gospel reading you might wonder just how this Canaanite could endure it all, she struggled with God and what makes this so difficult to understand is that Struggles with God are profound because they are so often unexpected.
Let’s put this into perspective. Most of us expect daily battles against our own sinful flesh. Most of us expect that the world and her ways will be against what we Christians believe, teach and confess. Most of us expect that the devil will be roaming around seeking to devour us. But in the face of all this, the last thing we would expect would be struggles with God.
My friends, consider the woman in our text for tonight. First off, she is a woman. In that time and culture, being a woman often meant being in a lower class and having a lower status. Second, she was a Canaanite. Which means that she was not one of God’s chosen people; therefore, this woman had no right to ask for help; she was a Gentile, Jesus was a Jew and just the fact that she sought to speak with Him was an high offense. Third, the woman’s daughter is demon-possessed.
So what did this woman have going for her? She had no rights in society, no rights to ask the Jesus for anything and her daughter was going to die in anguished torment. But, there was one last thing she did have; like the last crumb in the bottom of lint filled pockets, she grasped for the only thing she had left to live on; the Word. At some place and at sometime, this woman had heard the Word of God. Holy Scripture does not tell us where but it does not matter. She had heard it somewhere and by it had come to know that Jesus was coming to her town.
Dear friends put yourself into this woman’s place and imagine the conflicting thoughts that must have plagued her; “Why should I ask anything of Jesus? Who am I? A woman. A stranger. A foreigner. I am a nobody.” My friends, this woman knew who she was… but more importantly, she had heard who this Jesus was and this is the point, she trusted the word she had heard about Jesus. She made her pleas to Him, not made because they made sense, not because she was entitled to or deserved to have them granted, NO! Dear brother’s and sister’s her pleas were in faithful desperation, leaps of faith that contradicted reason, leaps of faith that flew in the face of cultural and societal rules and mores. Leaps of faith that were last ditched desperation shots at the buzzer; she had nothing left but Jesus.
Martin Luther, in his house sermon on this text proclaims; “If such a staggering blow had hit our hearts, we probably would have succumbed and given up. It is no joke when our conscience tells us, ‘You have no right to pray; your Lord God won’t listen to you; you have no faith and not worthy to.’ (And so it is) with such thoughts and doubts, the devil assaults us.”The Canaanite woman turns in repentance from her pagan nationality and from societies jabs. By faith, which had come by hearing, she trusts that the Lord will hear her prayer of petition; a plea, not for herself, but on behalf of her daughter and that He would grant it.
Dear friends, you have of your sinful standing before God, you have heard that because of your sin you are not entitled to any of God’s gracious gifts, and having heard these true accusations too often we have then been assailed by personal doubts and devils which have sought to convince us to turn our hope of redemption and forgiveness down and away from the cross of Christ. And so we must reply with the Canaanite woman; “Everything this law of the Lord accuses me of is true. I am a great sinner, God owes me nothing but punishment and condemnation, now and forever. If anything were left to me — to receive on what I deserve, then I am most certainly lost. But here is Jesus, Who died in my place, suffering the wrath of God in my stead, in Him alone I find my hope and certainty for this and all days; There is no where else to go.”
There is no where else to go! So it is that the woman followed Jesus into a house and begged Him in the words spoken only by the Hebrew children of God, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed. But He answered her with Silence. Silence!? This desperate woman’s mind must have short-circuited, “Where is the man whom everyone has talked and praised for His miraculous wonders and deeds? Is this man the one who is willing to help so many, but not me? “Why was Jesus silent?”
My friends the answer is this; this woman was not being completely honest with Jesus. Her petition to Him was one that was common to the Hebrew people, and in petitioning Jesus this way she gave the impression that she was one of the Israelite people; our Lord’s silence gives her an opportunity to be honest. But the silence also confuses the zealous disciples.
Seeing an opportunity to help Jesus out the disciples respond in the awkward silence; “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” The disciples words make Jesus seem harsh and cruel don’t they!?
Jesus answers the disciples, by denying their request, and then He answers the mother with a shocking rebuke; “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” These true words must have crushed her but these harsh and true words did not deter her. “Lord, help me!” she says as she crawls to the feet of Jesus and laying prostrate on the floor before Him. But He answered further; “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” How much more can she take? Is she a glutton for punishment? Wasn’t she seeking a kind, caring and soft-spoken Messiah, you know, the kind that American Christianity has tricked us into thinking should come? No, indeed she was not beguiled by the false notions that Christ was to be anything other than Just, Truthful and Gracious and her final words prove this; “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
She admits that she is a Gentile dog. Her confession says this; I will gladly be a dog; only now give me the consideration that you give a dog.’ My friends, has grasped that last crumb, she grasps for the only thing she has left, the Word and she catches Christ with His own words, and He is happy to be caught. She is not of Abraham’s seed, but she knows that Jesus is the rich Lord who has set a lavish table. Continue to give Your children bread and a place at the table; I do not wish for that. Let me merely pick up the crumbs under your table, with this I will be content. She catches Christ in His own words and wins not only the right of a dog, but that of a beloved child; Great is your faith! Be it done as you desire!
My friends, these words are written, in order that we might learn not to run away and hide when corrected for our sins. “How great is your faith” Is Jesus reply. Which is to say this; How quickly do My sheep retreat from Me when I reveal their sin and indiscretion and show them that I am their Messiah, and yet how long do you persist in your struggles with Me.
Dear friends, your Lord is not a stern dictator or an indifferent Messiah. Rather, He desired that the faith that had been worked in the woman by the Word would become evident to her, to those around her and to us. All she sought was a dogs portion, yet she received a full portion from the table as a child of God and member of the Kingdom — a portion that our Lord desires all to have. As it was, so it shall be.
Our prayers often take place in the midst of struggles. Our petitions may not be answered in the time or ways we desire and too often when our requests are met with “no,” we become tired by delays, wearied by God’s silence, angry at the answers, and too often wrestle with God. Like the woman in our text, God may deny our petitions for months or years, but despite the delay, despite the answers of “No” He is looking out for the welfare of His people, both for now and for forever. Dear friends, consider the 25 years Abraham prayed and waited for Isaac to toddle around his tent. Consider Joseph desperate prayers while imprisoned in Egypt? And who of us shall forget St. Paul? “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Dear friends, St. Paul likely carried his affliction to the grave. But he was sought after, he was cared for, he was taken care of in all his need. St. Paul did not have to bear his affliction forever, for the answer to all prayers for the removal of suffering, sorrow, pain, tears, and hurt is answered most assuredly “Yes” by the death and resurrection of your Lord. Your future, indeed your eternity, is certain! The tears of this life shall be wiped away, suffering shall be gone as we enter into eternity with our crucified and risen Lord in Paradise. Indeed my friends ponder this; your best day on earth shall not hold a candle to a moment in the paradise that awaits us when we shall see our Savior face to face.
May we, by grace, learn this truth so well, that with our whole heart we firmly believe His Word and promises, through Christ, with the Holy Spirit’s guiding. For by Christ you are even now, eternally saved! Amen.