Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
August 17, 2008
Text: Matt. 15:21-28

Beloved in the Lord, learn of the Canaanite woman how to believe and how to pray. For prayer is the breath of faith. In our Gospel lesson, the Canaanite woman does not leave Jesus alone for a second, but is constantly pleading with Him to heal her daughter who is severely oppressed by a demon. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David… Lord, help me” she cries (Matt. 15:22, 25; ESV). She petitions the Lord so earnestly because she knows that Jesus alone can help. At the Word of Jesus, the demon will depart. If there is any hope for this woman’s daughter, Jesus is that hope. So even as Jesus ignores her, and as His disciples beg Him to send this dirty Canaanite “dog” away, the woman pleads. She hounds Jesus. She holds Him to His Word. She reminds Him of His promises. And that is tenacious faith at work. Learn from the Canaanite woman: Even when God is seemingly silent in your affliction, even when God seems to have abandoned you, believe and pray. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David… Lord, help me.”

Why is it that Jesus ignores the persistent pleas of the Canaanite woman? Doesn’t He want to help? Is He really without compassion? Are we not dealing with the same God who said, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15)? After all, this woman is not just asking for trivial things like help finding her keys. She is not being greedy… It’s not like she’s asking to win the lottery. And why isn’t Jesus rebuking the heard-heartedness of His disciples?

Actually, though, Jesus and His disciples are acting just like we should expect good Jews to act around a Canaanite woman. In the world of Jesus and the disciples, this woman has two strikes against her. A woman is never supposed to approach a strange man. And Canaanites are dirty to Jews, not to be associated with. Not very politically correct, I know, but remember, the Canaanites were the folks the Israelites dispossessed when they came into the Promised Land, and the Canaanites were responsible for leading the Israelites into all manner of sin and idolatry. So Jesus and the disciples are just being good Jews when they ignore the Canaanite woman. The disciples were not just annoyed, they were probably embarrassed by her socially inappropriate behavior, and begged Jesus to send her away to bring an end to the uncomfortable situation. And this is why when Jesus finally does respond to the woman, he calls her a dog. She is not of the house of Israel. She does not belong to the children of God. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). It is not right to give the gifts that rightly belong to the Israelites to a Canaanite woman.

Now, it’s not as though Jesus is really a racist. Of course He cares about this woman and her daughter and all the Canaanites and every nation, tribe, people, and language. And this congregation here in Dorr, Michigan, is made up of Gentiles, non-Jews, “dogs,” a testimony to God’s grace to all people in sending His Spirit to gather His elect from all nations. So again, why does Jesus ignore and finally rebuke this woman? He is laying a cross on her. He is laying a cross on her to strengthen her faith by driving her to seek all the more persistently His mercy, His help, His deliverance. He is driving her to trust in Him and pray to Him even when He is silent, even when He rebukes her. And this Canaanite woman is a great example to us, for even when Jesus rebukes her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” faith responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27). “Indeed, Lord, I am unworthy. I am a dog.” It is a confession of sin. There is no argument. Jesus is right. The woman does not deserve anything from the hand of the Lord. “But Jesus, you promised. You promised deliverance from the devil and his minions. I may be a dog, but you came to deliver me. And all I need is a crumb. All I need is a Word, and the demon will depart, and my daughter will be healed.” That’s the prayer of faith. It is brutally honest. It relies totally on the Word of God alone. It does not bring any righteousness of its own to the table, but casts itself on the mercy of Christ. And such faith is not unfounded. “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (v. 28). Jesus spoke a Word and the demon departed. And the woman went home justified, perhaps a Canaanite in the flesh, but a true member of the spiritual house of Israel.

We often pray to God in the midst of trial and tribulation, and it seems as though God is ignoring us, or worse, rebuking us. Why is that? Doesn’t God want to help? Is He really without compassion? Of course, the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer and die for your sins cannot be without compassion. The God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer all hell in your place must love you with an incomprehensible love. The God who punished His own Son to satisfy His justice, forgive your iniquities, and give you eternal salvation, the God who raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead to give you eternal life and the assurance of your own resurrection, this God will surely help you. But He will do so in a hidden way. He will do so in a way that is hidden under the cross and suffering. He will lay this cross on you in order to drive you ever deeper into His mercy in Christ Jesus, so that you do not rely on yourself or anyone or anything else in the world for help and salvation, but cast yourself on Him alone. He wants you to pray persistently. He wants you to acknowledge your unworthiness, to confess your sins, to realize that you bring nothing to the table when it comes to salvation. He wants you to put all your confidence in Him alone. When it seems like God is ignoring you or even rebuking you, He is really teaching you. Believe anyway. Pray all the more. Hold God to His Word. He will always deliver you.

But sometimes He won’t deliver you in the way you desire or expect. God always answers our prayers, but He doesn’t answer our prayers on our terms. God answers our prayers on His terms. This is where faith must confess that the will of God is always good, always better than our will, and always beyond our comprehension. Faith must recognize and confess that when we don’t get exactly what we want, when we want it, the way we want it, God isn’t answering our prayers with a “no,” but His “yes” is so much better than we could ever think or imagine. Maybe you prayed for help finding your car keys, and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that, but instead of revealing your car keys to you, God taught you patience. Maybe you prayed to win the lottery, and instead of material wealth, God is giving you all the riches of heaven. Maybe you’ve been battling cancer and praying again and again for God to heal you, and instead of healing your body now, He will allow you to die and receive the abundant life of the beatific vision in heaven, and in the end, the cancer-free resurrection of your body. God’s “yes” is always better than that for which we pray. But He always helps. He always has mercy. He always answers prayer. He promised. Learn from the Canaanite woman. Hold God to His Word. Call upon Him in the day of trouble. He will deliver you, and you will glorify Him.

The plain and simple truth is that Jesus always gives you so much more, infinitely more, than you ask. He delivers you from death, hell, and the devil, forgives your sins, gives you His righteousness, eternal life, and salvation. He cleans you up in Baptism and seats you for the feast at the King’s Table. He brings Jews and Gentiles, Canaanites and sinners together as His new spiritual Israel, the Holy Christian Church. He gives you a family, the Christian family, a place to belong, a place to love and be loved, a place filled with brothers and sisters who have also been the recipients of God’s mercy in Christ. And He has promised always to hear the prayers of His people. “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Learn of the Canaanite woman. Believe. Pray. Hold God to His Word. He is faithful. He will surely do what He has promised. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

3 Comments:

Blogger apatrick said...

The NIV version actually says : He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to THEIR dogs."


So, instead of just some random junkyard dogs, it is more like their pets. Those two letters seem to change the meaning quite a bit. Agree?

11:56 AM  
Blogger Pastor Krenz said...

apatrick,

Nice catch. Yes, those two letters change the meaning a lot. But unfortunately the Greek doesn't support the NIV's translation. The Greek of v. 26 is literally translated, "It is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast to THE dogs." Nor does the culture of the Middle East support the NIV's rendering. Here's a snippet from a sermon on this text by Pastor William Cwirla: "Dogs are considered dirty in the middle east. They still are today. Not pampered pets; but garbage eating scavengers. 'Dog' is what Israelites called Canaanites. It's an ethnic slur. You probably know a few yourself. 'You Canaanite dog, how dare you beg for the children's bread.'" You can read the whole sermon at http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/The%20Sermonator/SeriesA/13pentecost1.html.

That is interesting that the NIV says "their" dogs. I wonder if there is some underlying theological or political bias, or if the word choice was simply arbitrary.

Blessings!

2:36 PM  
Blogger apatrick said...

Thanks for the clarification. I heard two sermons from two different pastors in the last week that mention the "pet" connection. Perhaps they need to hone up on their Greek!

4:28 PM  

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