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Posts Tagged "Matthew 15:21-28"

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.

Scraps

August 20, 2017
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 is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Matthew records the Canaanite’s woman’s response, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table," as well as Jesus’ response to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

This lesson…is a lot like life. What I mean is that, in life, there are a lot of questions, a lot of issues that we want, even feel that we need, answers to, but that we will not get answers to. Why is it that this disease has hit my loved one? Why did that tornado hit my home, and not my neighbor’s instead? Why can’t I be better at volleyball, even though I try my hardest? Why can’t we seem to have kids? Why can’t I seem to kick this sinful habit, this addiction? Why can’t I be a different person? Why are people so ugly to each other? What will it take to reunite the people of our country? When will the wars, the violence, finally come to an end? Lots of questions … not a whole lot of answers.

So it is with our text; there are plenty of questions that likely rise to the forefronts of our minds, but are wanting for any answers. Why is Jesus acting like this? To say that He is acting out of character is an understatement; He sounds downright cold! He doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of this pleading Canaanite mother, let alone give her what she desires: relief for her demon-afflicted daughter. His silence is deafening! That’s not Jesus, we think to ourselves; why on earth is He behaving thusly? You can guess, by all means, but you won’t find the answer.

What was the tone of voice of the disciples in this interaction? Were they dismissive of this pagan nobody? Were they just wanting Jesus to give her what she wanted so she would leave them alone to do more important things? No answers. And Jesus simply responds, "No, I was just sent for the lost sheep of Israel," and does nothing. Why? No answers.

How about the woman herself? It’s safe to assume that she’s a bit of a wreck at this point; anyone who has experienced the mere presence of the demonic, let alone hostile activity and oppression, know how terrible an ordeal it is, but she keeps pursuing, keeps trying to talk to Jesus. How does she react to His apparent apathy? What about His remark about not giving the children’s bread to feed the dogs? Obviously, it’s not a very flattering statement, but does she feel insulted? Hurt? No answers. There is, however, one question that I do believe our text does seem to spell out for us quite clearly, and it’s this: what does great faith believe about Jesus?

If you’ve looked through the Gospel accounts with a close eye, you’ve likely noticed that Jesus doesn’t often hand out compliments to those around them regarding their faith; let’s face it – He’s just not that impressed. With this Canaanite woman, however, Jesus exclaims, O woman, your faith is great! That may sound odd to us as Lutherans, knowing that faith is a gift from God, not something that can really be quantified in any way that we know of, but still. We have the Second Person of the Trinity here, Jesus Himself, saying of a Canaanite woman, "great is your faith." So, again, it begs the question: what does great faith believe?

We’re blessed to be given the answers in our text, and there are two. The first is this: great faith knows and believes who Jesus really is. This woman is a Canaanite – nothing about her should have, according to contemporary standards, been held up as a paradigm of faith and trust in the one true God! She’s a Gentile, she’s a woman (remembering that, at that time, a woman’s testimony wasn’t permissible in court), and she’s a Canaanite! Three strikes, you’re out, according to 1st Century Judean sensibilities. Nevertheless, here she is, addressing Jesus the way a disciple would by calling Him "Lord." In Matthew’s Gospel, calling Jesus "Lord" was something only His disciples would do, and yet, here she is, the only exception to that rule as she calls out after Him, Have mercy on me, O Lord.

She also addresses Jesus like a true Israelite would, calling Him the "Son of David," using a very loaded term describing David’s heir, the King who would come to rule in righteousness and to save His people. Is she just parroting what she’s heard other people say, or does she know exactly what she’s saying in addressing Jesus in this way? … She knows. Her words are intentional. She knows to Whom she is calling after, and this becomes clear after Jesus tells her, in essence, that

it is not right to give Israel’s gifts to the Gentiles. He is, after all, the Son of David, and He comes from a specific people and a specific God – YHWH, the only true God. He has come to fulfill specific purposes and promises related to a specific plan which YHWH had set in motion. Jesus is a specific Messiah; you can’t just decide to have the Jesus that you want. He is the Lord over all, and if Jesus is Lord, that means that she … is not. If Jesus is Lord, that means much more than she or anyone else around Him could have possibly known until after He had taken up His throne in the cross, died at the hands of evil men, and been vindicated as He showed Himself to be Lord even over death in His resurrection. Lord over death, and thus, Lord over everything.

Does she know what she’s saying when she calls Him "Lord?" Yes, absolutely she does, and one little word proves it definitively. I am unsure why, but it seems as though many English translations of the Bible actually mistranslate a word in the Canaanite woman’s response. Our ESV records her response, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. The word they translate as "yet" is the Greek conjunction gar. It means "for," it means "because." She’s not arguing with Jesus, or otherwise appealing to Him to make an exception to the rule in her case. That’s what the mistranslation seems to indicate. There’s no "yet." There’s no "but," or "however." She’s not arguing with Him; she’s agreeing with Him! She’s agreeing with Him, and she explains why it is that she agrees with Him.

She knows that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, that He has a specific plan to carry out and promises to fulfill, and she believes Him to be the Lord. She knows that God is keeping His promises to Israel, and that Jesus’ authority is all that matters. Yes, Lord, she says, because even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. Did you hear the difference? She’s saying, You’re right, Lord; it’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. Yes, Lord, it’s not right because the dogs … get to eat, too, from the crumbs and scraps that fall from the master’s table. The dogs don’t need the children’s bread because they’re already taken care of. That’s all I need, Lord – so rich and filling and gracious is the table of Israel’s Messiah and King, that the crumbs are all that I need … and I know that there is something here … for me. That’s the second thing that great faith believes: she knows who Jesus really is … and she knows that He’s got something for her, too. Jesus responds, O woman, your faith is great, and He gives.

Dear Christian friends, here are truths that we, too, believe. Jesus is the Messiah, David’s royal – and greater – Son. He is the King who was hailed … and then rejected, tortured, crucified … died, with all the world’s sin and brokenness, on a Friday. The world was dark. But overcoming every plot and dark dream the world and the forces of evil could concoct, God raised Him from the dead, and He lives eternally, exalted, at the right hand of the Father. And He is the Lord. And He has something for you.

This doesn’t make great faith easy; indeed, often it makes things considerably more difficult. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not, much as I may want to be sometimes. If Jesus is Lord, and He has something for me, it’s possible that what He’s got for me is something that I might not have wanted. Nevertheless, the Son of David is risen from the dead, thus He is the Lord, and He is for you. You have a place with Him? Yes. You belong to His people? Yes. He forgives you of your sin? Yes. He gives you peace, a purpose for your living, and the promise that, one Day, there will be full healing of all, and eternal life of body and soul with Him? … Yes.

Great faith knows who Jesus is, and believes that He has something for you, scraps and all.

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

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