Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) - 2018

25 February 2018

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, 1 Thess 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” says our Lord Jesus. 

Jesus is able to say this because children are more important than dogs.  As much as we love our animals, we love our children more.  “Children” in this case doesn’t simply mean a random young human being.  “Children” means “descendants,” and in this case our Lord means descendants of Israel.  As he told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

In this case, “children” means children of the promise, heirs of the covenant.  Under the old covenant, this Canaanite woman is not a child, she is a “dog.”  She is not an heir, she is an outsider.  She is, as St. Paul tells us, a Gentile, one of the people “who do not know God.”  She is not a child of God, but an unclean person whose own child is possessed by an unclean spirit.

If you think about it, to be a child of someone is to enjoy privilege.  Children receive extra attention from their parents, more so than the children of others.  Our children have a claim on our time, our attention, our property, but even more so, they inherit our identity and they are recipients of our love; they are extensions of us and of our own ancestors.  To be a child is to be someone special.  This is part and parcel of what it means to be human.

But think, dear friends, about what it means to be a child today.  Millions of children have their lives snuffed out while still in the womb, as they are seen as inconvenient.  Millions of children who are allowed to be born are abused or neglected or made subject to the whims and wants of their parents.  Millions of children have no sense of home or identity or love. 

But according to the ancient covenant, to be a child, a descendant, of Israel, is to inherit a sense of belonging to the people of God, or as we say today, to be part of the Church.  To be a son or daughter of Jacob was to be one of God’s chosen, one to whom the kingdom is passed down from parents to children according to the promise of God, validated by the prophets, and sealed in blood by the priests who sacrificed according to God’s covenant and command.

But this poor Canaanite woman is no child of Israel, no daughter of Jacob, no inheritor of the covenant.  And nor is her daughter, who is “oppressed by a demon.”  She is a Gentile. In short, she is a “dog.”  She is a living creature made by God, but she has no inheritance in the covenant made with Jacob.

And what was this covenant with Jacob, whose name became Israel?  The covenant was a continuation of the promise made by God to his grandfather Abraham, to be his God, and that his children, his descendants, would be God’s people – and from that people would come a Savior.  And this Savior would not only save Israel but all people.  For this Savior has come to make all things new, even the dogs, even the Gentiles, even the Canaanites whose children wrestled not with God but with demons.

And that mysterious Man whom Jacob wrestled with was none other than God in human form.  Jacob said, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  And this God in human form actually changed Jacob’s name to Israel, that is, “he strives with God.”  We know who this Man is: it is Jesus before Jesus was born.  And this Man with whom Jacob wrestled was to be born a Child not only of Israel, but of God.  His is the Savior who has come not only for the biological descendants of Israel, but in whose name even the Gentiles are called to be children of Abraham, children of the covenant, children of God.

And this includes the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

For she too wrestled with the same Man whom Jacob wrestled with.  And like Jacob, she refused to yield.  Like Jacob, she demanded to be blessed.  Like Jacob, she worships the true God.  She “knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Even though according to the usual order of things, she is a dog, a Gentile, an outsider, not one with a claim on the covenant, in Christ, the usual order of things has been overturned.  She is not a dog, but a child.  She is one of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” because she calls upon the name of the Lord. Like Jacob, she persists, she wrestles, she makes demands of the same Man from whom Jacob demanded a blessing.  Like Jacob, she asserts the right of the child, the heir.  She demands the “children’s bread” – the bread of life come down from heaven, knowing that even a crumb of that bread has power over demons, over sickness, and over death.  She has faith, and nothing will stand in the way of her faith in the power and mercy of God, in Jesus Christ.

And our blessed Lord recognizes this faith, this saving faith displayed by this adopted daughter of Israel, this adopted daughter of God.  She is no longer a dog, but a child; no longer a child of Canaan, but a child of God.

For this Man who blessed Jacob and who blessed the Canaanite woman will go to the cross, to shed His blood for their sins, for the sins of the world, for all of us born since, for Jews and Gentiles, for those whom the world exalts and those whom the world treats like animals, for children beloved of their parents, and for those who are treated with contempt or even killed.  He is the fulfillment of all of the priestly sacrifices, even as He is the fulfillment of the priesthood.  He is the sacrifice that is the covenant.

And Jesus has come to teach us once more what it means to be human: which is, to be an heir, a beloved child of the covenant by virtue of the cross, by virtue of the blood of Christ, by virtue of the “children’s bread” that is the body of Christ, of which even a crumb saves the world, restores that which was lost, heals that which was corrupted, and re-creates that which was destroyed – even raising the dead. 

And note, dear friends, the beloved child of this new child of God, the daughter of this woman of great faith, “was healed instantly.” 

This is why Jesus, the Son of Israel, Himself became a child in our dog-eat-dog world.  He came to heal, to save, to restore, by means of His blood and by means of His Word, by means of His promise, and by means of the Gospel.  He has come to elevate all who call upon Him to be children: children of Israel, children of the promise, children of God.

He comes to you today as the children’s bread, offering you His body and blood.  He comes to you to give you His blessing, offering you absolution and the proclamation of good news.  He comes to you to say: O child of God: “Great is your faith.  Be it done for you as you desire.”  


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

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