12 March 2017 – The Second Sunday in Lent
Sermon on Matthew 15:21–28, The Second Sunday in Lent, 12 March, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Gospel text this morning from Matthew 15 presents a wonderful example of steadfast faith. The Canaanite woman withstood and overcame great trials and persisted in her faith and continued to cry out to God for mercy and finally in the end received what she so desperately wanted. And with this text our Lord is teaching us today that we, too, ought to resist the urge to give up in our prayers but through heartfelt confidence in the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ, continue in them. Amen.
Our text begins with a geographical note that Jesus went into a godless Canaanite region, Tyre and Sidon, making us think that there will be some climactic scene of triumph over the devil, just as Jesus went into the region of the Gerasenes and healed the demoniac who had a legion of demons. And indeed there is a casting out of a demon in this text, the woman’s possessed daughter is healed at the end of the text. But as you shall see the triumph here is more unseen, it is the triumph of faith over unbelief; the woman in the text persisted in her faith in Christ that He is good and gracious and refused to yield to the devil’s temptation to misbelieve, despair, or commit some other great shame and vice; and this is a great exorcism indeed. For wherever faith persists the devil and his demons flee. Halleljuah, may God strengthen and keep us firm the His word and faith. Amen.
So, the Canaanite woman, having heard Jesus was in the area came to him crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (15:22).
Interestingly, the woman who was not Jewish, prayed one of the finest prayers that a person of God can pray, the Kyrie, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” This is the very prayer that blind Bartimaeus cried out with, and Jesus would hear him and give him sight. But here Jesus would not answer the woman, not even with a word. Why? Why would Jesus appear so cruel? And notice that I used the word, “appear” because this text is teaching us to walk by faith and not by sight. The fact is Jesus was testing the woman and strengthening her faith. God has always tested the believer with what seems like silence, and therefore with what seems like anger or even apathy. And you must resist the urge to say to yourself, “God must be angry with me. I must be doing something terrible indeed. He will not listen to me. Why should I bother to pray to him? He will not be kind.” And so it is that the devil will send insidious thoughts of unbelief and despair to drive us away from the God of our salvation.
This experience of the Canaanite woman is not unusual at all for the believer. All Christians are sent with such silence and testing. David experienced such silence and testing, but persisted in his prayers and cried out in thirteenth Psalm “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God.” And even our Lord and Savior Jesus, experienced such silence and testing and cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”
But dears brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved of the Lord, when we are tested by such silence, and feel that God is a thousand miles away, and does not care, God himself is saving us; he is strengthening our faith that it might not crumble and fall when Satan throws his very best at us. Out of great love for us, God uses the same sort of rebuffs that Jesus gave to the Canaanite women that we might despair of ourselves and our works and with single-minded focus cling to Christ and him alone. And our epistle lesson in Romans teaches us this how these God-sent sufferings produce endurance and it leads to hope, hope of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.
I find it interesting that in our Gospel text even the disciples were uncomfortable with Jesus’ silence and begged Him to send her away. But Jesus rebuffed them as well! Jesus not only sent a great trial to the woman by ignoring her but begins to rebuff her with words when he answered the disciples and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”
Oh what a grueling test this woman was enduring; by this point, we would likely have all sullenly walked away convinced that Jesus was not actually full of grace, and that God’s word was wrong. But this woman persisted in her faith and confidence in God’s Word that he is merciful and kind, despite what her eyes and ears told her, and she prayed the Kyrie a second time. Her first cry was “Lord, have mercy” Her second cry simply changed a couple words, “Lord, help me”; and by this time she had knelt down before him.
Oh friends, that we would, like the Canaanite woman, learn to cry out from the heart, “Lord, have mercy.” Outside of the Lord’s prayer the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy” is the greatest prayer you can pray. But sadly, how few people truly cry out “Lord, have mercy” So few people truly pray this prayer because it requires humility. In the Kyrie, we admit two things: first our utter helplessness; and second, that Christ alone can help us.
And so brothers and sisters in Christ, repent of your pride, unwillingness to admit helplessness, and your lack of faith that has kept you from praying the Kyrie with earnestness; and let us all repent of our lack of endurance when faced by trials and difficulties, and when loving and trusting in God above all things seemed to difficult and went chasing after another god like money for security and comfort.
Friends, the Gospel is this. In Christ God is merciful to forgive and save and grant eternal life to you and all who believe. Whatever is your need, learn to pray the Kyrie, and build on it by praying the Lord’s prayer. That God’s will would be done and that he would break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil and strengthen and keep us firm in His word and faith until we die. And that God would deliver us from evil and rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation and give us a blessed end. God will most certainly answer such Kyries!!
In the Gospel text, the Canaanite woman admitted that she could not help her daughter, that Christ alone could help her; and she confessed that she was unworthy of His attention and deserved condemnation. And so we see this perfect example of steadfast faith: the woman ignored Jesus’ silence and apparent indifference and cried out from the heart the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy,” and when she still was not answered and heard Jesus speaking of only being sent for others persisted and repeated the Kyrie and said, “Lord, help me”; and she continued to persist even when Jesus rebuffed her personally calling her a dog.
Notice that in the text the Canaanite woman did not fight her designation as a dog, she took her lumps, and persisted in her faith that in this Jesus of Nazareth is mercy, and love, and help, and forgiveness, and salvation. And finally, when after this insulting rebuff of being a dog, when she persisted in her faith in Christ’s goodness and said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” Then the floodgates of mercy came gushing forth, and Jesus answered, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
O what incredible faith in this Canaanite woman! She is the only one in the Gospels that Jesus’ refers to as having “great” faith. Martin Luther said that she trapped Jesus in his words; and Luther goes on to say, and it is most certainly true, that Jesus wants us to trap him in his words. And what this means is that when we are faced with trials and difficulties and anxieties or when we think that our world is crumbling or when our enemies are so great and numerous (and all of these things God allows) then God wants us to cry out to him, and trap him in his words and promises, and pray things like, “Lord, help me - for you have promised to save those who call on the name of the Lord ”, Or, “Lord, have mercy on me - for you have promised to have mercy on those who fear you, and I fear you Lord” And then you can move to the Lord’s prayer, and use the catechism and pray things like, “Lord give me my daily bread, give me what I need to support this body and life, give me a devout spouse, devout children, good friends, etc. — and Lord your will be done, break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature — because Lord you commanded us to pray in this way and have promised to hear us.”
Friends, know that in Christ there is all goodness, kindness, and mercy. The Canaanite women knew this, and even when ignored, and rebuffed, and even insulted, she persisted in her trust that in Christ there is help and healing and salvation. May our dear Lord God help us to learn this lesson well, so that we firmly believe in his sure Word and promises and with the power of the Holy Spirit are eternally saved.