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Insistence

March 08, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this second weekend in Lent comes from our gospel text, where Matthew records Jesus’s reply to the Canaanite woman, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Try to put yourself in the shoes of this woman. You’ve got a daughter, a dearly-loved child, who is possessed by a demon – perhaps saying horrific things to you, harming herself or others, speaking in a voice not her own – and you are powerless to do anything about it. You’re at a loss, but you’ve heard news regarding a few individuals from Judea, especially a young rabbi from Nazareth, who some are calling the “Son of David,” the Messiah, and who apparently has power from the Jewish God to cast out demonic spirits.

“Boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if He could be here and do something about my demon-possessed child?” You allow that thought to cross your mind, but reality sets back in. So many things are cutting against the remotest possibility of this happening. First and foremost is location. Tyre and Sidon lie beyond Galilee, a region that most high-society Jews looked down upon as a backwater, a place from which nothing good proceeds, so anything beyond that was even worse. There’s no way that this Jesus of Nazareth would come this far north, much less to your rinky-dink little abode.

There’s also your nationality, but more specifically, your religion. You’re a descendent of Canaan, the ancient foe whom the Israelites were supposed to exterminate, but failed to do so. More than likely, you’re an idol-worshipper – perhaps not so much Baal, but whatever deity you bow before is not the God of Israel. In the eyes of the Jewish upper-crust, you’re worthless scum that deserves nothing but contempt because you worship false gods. Unkind as that sentiment may be, the truth is that it’s entirely possible that the unclean spirit that has possessed your daughter has come as the result of your pagan worship – inviting in a spirit, but not getting the one you were wanting. You know of the God of Israel, but you’re not of Israel, so there’s no way that He would send this Jesus to you to take care of your daughter.

And you’re a woman. While much of Roman society was rather egalitarian, in your neck of the woods a woman’s word wasn’t even permissible as evidence in a court of law. It’s entirely possible that you’re a widow or a woman whose husband abandoned her. Perhaps you committed adultery against him and he decided to go on his merry way. In any case, it seems that you’re alone, left to fend for yourself and your daughter. You’re a nobody; there’s no reason why this Jesus would ever go out of His way to help you.

Then you get the news: the impossible has happened. Jesus is just over the border from where you are! He’s not far off at all! So you run in the direction that people have said. You feel embarrassed about your daughter, so you leave her either on her own or in the care of someone else. All you know is that you have to try something …. You’re desperate. With everything that the demon has been doing to and through your daughter, you know this is an opportunity that you simply have to try and seize, even though there’s that nagging thought in your mind that it’s going to blow up in your face anyway.

You’re running, getting close to the border with Galilee, and suddenly, you see a man and a small entourage with Him. You’re sure that He’s not going to pay any attention to you – after all, why would He? You’re a nobody, remember? But as you are drawing near to the group, something within you makes you cry out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” You just blurt it out, not knowing how He would answer … but He doesn’t. He doesn’t say a word. You can, however, see His entourage – and you can hear them say, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” And your heart sinks as you hear His reply to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

It’s true, you know. You’ve got no leg to stand on, no right to come and ask this Jewish rabbi to do something for you, a Canaanite woman. But you know there’s something about this man, something inexplicable that you’ve never encountered before. And you trust the reports you’ve heard from others, who had said that He made lame beggars walk and blind men see. You don’t know much about Him or His teachings beyond what you’ve heard, but something within you makes you realize He’s your only hope. That little something within you is very insistent, and while you can hardly believe that you’re doing it, you suddenly find yourself kneeling before this Galilean rabbi. And you simply utter a cry from the depth of your soul, “Lord, help me.”

This time, He does answer you: “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs,” which is true. You understand this. He had just said that He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and you know that you are not of Israel. In the same way that you wouldn’t throw an entire loaf of bread intended for your children to your dogs, it wasn’t right to ask Him to give something to you, a Canaanite, something intended for the people of Israel. You get it, but that little something inside persists. You know that in spite of all that you’re feeling, what you’re seeing, that little something inside lets you know that this Jewish rabbi has something for you too. Which is how you can humbly, but boldly reply, “Yes, Lord, because even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” You trust; you believe that this man can do what you ask of Him. Because of that, the Son of David smiles at you, a Canaanite woman, and declares, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” He didn’t need to come to your house or even see your daughter. All He did was speak, and you come to find out later that your daughter was instantly and completely healed. No more demon. All thanks to the Jewish rabbi who was willing to let a crumb of His mercy and grace fall for you.

Now, much of that was pure speculation, of course. Aside from what Matthew actually gives us, we have no idea what was going through the Canaanite woman’s mind. But it’s not difficult to imagine because, like her, we know what it’s like to be desperate and to receive something we know we’re unworthy of receiving. Humanity’s default state is that of sinful, rebellious, enemy of God who’s justly condemned to death in this world and the next for his sin. We’re nobodies, idolaters, adulterers, gossips, thieves, sinners all. There’s nothing redeeming about us. We’re sinful scum that would be more than deserving of God’s full wrath, and there’s no reason why Jesus should ever go out of His way to help us.

But, He did. Undeserving though we are, the Triune God was rather insistent on pursuing us fallen creatures – so much so, that He was willing to become one of us, taking on our frail human flesh and dying the horrific death that we deserve. Looking at Jesus, bleeding and dying, nailed to Calvary’s cross, we see just how insistent, how relentless our God is. He’s willing to suffer the worst death imaginable to restore us to a right relationship with Him. He spared no expense – not even His only-begotten Son. Thanks to what Jesus did on our behalf, we have been given faith to believe His word, to trust His promises in spite of what we see and feel, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. We do not deserve His goodness. We do not deserve His forgiveness. But He gives generously to those who hold on to His promises. We no longer receive the scraps from His table, but in Christ, we become children of our heavenly Father, and at His insistence, we partake in the sumptuous feast that He provides.

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