Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2)

12 March 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Sometimes Jesus shocks us with his behavior. Today is one of those days. Look at what he does and says in our Gospel text!

A woman asks for his help. She cries out to him the same way we did this morning: “Lord, have mercy! Christ, Son of David, have mercy!” She did everything right, didn’t she? She came to Jesus. She acknowledged who he was. She pleaded with him – not for herself, but for her daughter who was plagued by the very enemy of our Lord.

Of course, what we would expect is for Jesus to have compassion on her, and immediately give her the miracle. But what happened?

Jesus ignored her. The disciples wanted her to go away. Jesus explains that he was not sent to give her anything. He was sent for the children of Israel. Jesus is refusing to help her because of her ethnicity.

Jesus’ behavior is, to say the least, baffling. But it gets even better.

The poor, dejected, rejected half-breed woman, not a Roman, not a Jew, a person on the bottom of society’s totem pole, refuses to go away.

She is familiar enough with the Old Testament to know who Jesus is and what he can do for her. She walks right up to Jesus, refusing to allow the disciples to keep her from their Master, and she worshiped him. She worshiped him! You don’t worship rabbis and preachers. You don’t even worship prophets. You worship God. She obviously knew who he was. Maybe she knew from her recollections of the Old Testament – as her ancestors were likely Samaritans. Maybe she knew him by reputation. Perhaps even the demon that plagued her daughter told her. However she found out, she knew. She knew this was God in the flesh. She didn’t merely hope this was the One, she didn’t hedge her bet – she flat out worshiped the God-Man, and was so bold as to ask him for a favor. “Lord, help me” she pleads.

So what does Jesus do?

He calls her a dog. Can you think of anything more harsh to call a woman? Even in our language, to speak about a woman in canine terms is about the most rude, insulting, and nasty things a person can say. Fights get started with this kind of language. In the culture of Judaism, it’s an even worse insult – since dogs are creatures that are ceremonially unclean! Jesus is not only calling her a beast, he is telling her she is filthy, and not worthy to be in his presence. Jesus tells her: “It’s not good to take the children’s bread,” that is himself, the very Bread of Life, “and give it to the little dogs,” that is, the filthy, unworthy, unclean Gentiles.

At this point, one would expect a woman so insulted to slap Jesus across the face and say: “This is no way to treat a lady!” If this incident were to happen today, Jesus would be called a sexist, or a racist, or at the very least, would be made to attend sensitivity training. I’m sure the synod and district would be less than thrilled if pastors were to speak this way. Fortunately for Jesus, he is one preacher that can’t be put on restricted status or removed from potential call lists.

But how does this dear woman respond to this curious behavior?

First, let’s consider how she doesn’t respond. She doesn’t lash out. She doesn’t argue. She doesn’t turn on her heels and walk away. She doesn’t report him to the authorities. No indeed, she acknowledges that Jesus is right. She is unclean. She is unworthy. It is befitting for her to be spoken of as a dog.

But she also knows the promises of the Old Testament. She knows that the Bread of Life is not only for Israel. She knows that the Messiah is promised to be a blessing to all. She knows that through the Son of David, all the world will be blessed. She knows that he is the one who will crush the serpent’s head, the same serpent that is at this moment wrapping its malignant coils around the vulnerable body of her helpless daughter.

And she responds: “Yes, Lord.” She gives him her “Amen.” She acknowledges his assessment of her. In this “yes” she is saying the same thing as Jesus is saying, expressing agreement. The Latin word for saying the same thing is: “confessio.” She confesses not only her sins, but she also confesses her Lord! “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”

Look at the magnificent faith she has! She knows Jesus is the Bread of Life. She knows life, salvation, healing, and the conquest over Satan come from eating this bread. She knows she is unworthy to come to the Master’s table to eat this divine Bread. And yet, she knows that by God’s grace, all of fallen creation, even the filthy dogs, have redemption through him. By consuming even the very crumbs of this bread, she can lay claim to the kingdom of God.

She has passed the test. Notice how Jesus blesses her: “O woman, great is your faith!” He answers her prayer by removing the demon from her daughter.

Jesus’ great praise for her faith is reminiscent of the reading a few weeks ago in which Jesus praises the faith of another Gentile, the centurion whose servant was sick. Jesus was astounded, and could not find such faith in Israel.

The faith of the Canaanite woman is especially a marvel – considering the treatment she received at the hands of our Lord and his disciples.

She was being tested, she was being confronted harshly by the Law, and her faith carried her through. Notice I did not say her self-confidence carried her through – for she was willing to be compared to a filthy, begging dog. Notice I did not say her self-professed love of Jesus carried her through – for she didn’t come with high fives and hugs and kisses, but rather she fell on her face in an act of submission and worship. Notice that I didn’t say her good works impressed the Lord and purchased her daughter’s healing – no indeed. Jesus doesn’t praise her works, but rather her “faith,” her belief – belief that refused to be shaken even when it looked for all the world like Jesus was rejecting her and treating her like trash.

Dear brothers and sisters, what a great example this unnamed saint is for us this Lenten season. When confronted by the Law, and confronted harshly, she offers up a “Yes, Lord.” When her prayers seemed to have been ignored, she responded by persistence and by going to Jesus in worship. When even the disciples, the ministers of the church seemed to offer no help, she continued to believe. She holds the Lord to his promises. Having confessed both the faith and her own sinful nature, she comes to the Master’s table to receive the Bread of Life. She believes in the Bread above all else. She knows she is worthy even in her unworthiness. She knows that even a crumb of the Bread of Life is enough to heal both body and soul, enough to conquer the devil, enough to make a dog worthy to eat at the table with the Master.

Yes, indeed, what great faith she has!

And this, dear friends, is the same faith that we have when we confess our sins with a hearty “Yes, Lord” and “Amen” when confronted with the Law. This is the same faith we have when we confess who Jesus is in the Creed. This is the same faith we have when we come to the Master’s table and eat the Bread of Life, and drink his Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

This faith was won for you when the Lord, the Son of David conquered the very prince of demons when he defeated him on the cross. And that faith is given to you here, as his Word is proclaimed.

This kind of faith is not positive thinking, not “name it and claim it,” nor the “prosperity gospel” type of faith. Nor is it faith in ourselves, our works, our good intentions, our knowledge, or our worthiness. This kind of faith can’t be bought or sold (whether by medieval indulgences or the “seed of faith” offering to the TV preacher with his or her fancy cars and private jets). This kind of faith is given to you as a gift, is imprinted on you at baptism, is implanted in your ear by the preached Word and in absolution, and is fed and nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus at this table.

So, my fellow dirty dogs, those of us whose families are beaten about by the devil, and whose prayers seem to go unanswered, who unworthy as we are to eat the crumbs, let us by virtue of the faith the Lord gives us, feast on the Body and Blood of the very Bread of Life at the Master’s Table.

“Great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” Your sins are forgiven, and you are released from the bonds of the devil…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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