St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 16, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The problem in the account of the Canaanite woman is that Jesus seems to be mean to her. He ignores her. Then, in her hearing, He tells the disciples that He wasn’t sent to help her. Finally, before relenting, when she worships Him, He rebukes her and calls her a dog.
Some commentators have thought that this is because she misappropriated the Jewish title, “Son of David.” The idea is that not only did she not have the right to use that title as a Gentile, but also that she was distancing herself from Him with it. She was coming to Him as a Gentile to the Jewish Messiah and emphasizing the separation. She was not coming as a repentant heathen or even a convert. She was simply seeking a Jewish miracle worker superstitiously – much in the way that some Jews had sought to make Jesus king after the feeding of the five thousand. The Lord then could not yield to her petition because to do so would have misled her and He sought to deliver both the mother and the daughter from demons.
His silence and His rebukes were meant to wring out of her not the distancing title “Son of David” but the title “Lord.” Thus, when she finally accepted that He was to also be her Master, that she was to eat from His hand, and calls Him Lord, then, at last, He relents, grants her petition, and praises her faith.
I think that explanation is a bit of an over explanation. And I am not at all sure that the title “Son of David” was distancing or even that it was particularly Jewish. At the least, I don’t see how “Son of David” is really any more Jewish than the “Messiah” or Kyrie. When she called Him the Son of David she asked for mercy to rid her daughter of demons. That leads me to think that she had a pretty good inkling as to what the Messiah, the Son of David, was all about and even if her faith was mingled with heresy and confusion, it was, nonetheless, faith.
And that is certainly the point: the Lord is drawing her faith out, raising it to its potential. From our perspective, without the end in sight, it seems as though God is mean to us. He doesn’t give us what we want. He lets us suffer. He lets our loved ones die. But the Lord is not mean, rather He is teaching us to live by faith and to confess. And death is the portal by which He delivers us.
Aquinas notes five virtues in the Canaanite woman, which we do well to emulate: (1) humility, (2) patience, (3) prayer, (4) perseverance, and (5) faith.
These virtues are interdependent. She is patient in that she endures the seeming reproaches of the Lord. She accepts the crosses that He sends. She doesn’t quit when she is not first successful. At the same time, even though she accepts the silence and insult of the Lord, she does not cease in asking for what she knows is good until she obtains it. She perseveres patiently in her prayers that her daughter be relieved of demons. This patience and persistence are both related to her humility. She is willing to be a dog, to eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table, and is not too proud to beg. And all this is because she believes that the Master, the Son of David, is good and will be good to her.
If she was not humble she would not be patient. If she was not patient she would not persevere. And if she did not have faith, if she did not trust in both the love and the power of Christ there would be no reason to pray. That then is the ultimate virtue here and is the reason that the Lord does praise her humility, patience, perseverance, or prayer. He praises her faith. Faith – the trust and expectation that God is good and will do good things for her according to His promise – is the virtue from which the other virtues arise.
Aquinas says that “if we had had these five qualities we should be delivered from every devil, that is, from all sin.”
He is correct. If we had faith we would have all that comes with it, but most significantly we would have the benefit of the Christ’s sacrifice, of His death and resurrection for us. And we do have faith! By the grace of God, we believe. What do we believe? We believe that Jesus is the Son of David come for mercy’s sake to be our Redeemer and make us His children. How patient, persistent, and humble are we? It is hard to say. These things are not as obvious as we think they are and they are often hindered by our sins. But by God’s grace we have faith. And faith delivers Christ and the Holy Spirit and He causes good works, even patience and humility, to rise up in us. Thus doe He deliver us from every devil.
Is our faith as perfect or great as the Canaanite woman’s or the centurion’s? I don’t know. Probably not, but maybe it is. Only God can measure faith. Our task is not to figure out if we have enough faith. Our task is to repent and fall down in worship, to pray for mercy and to beg for crumbs. And if it seems that He is ignoring us or even rebuffing us, and it often does, we persevere – not because we have faith – but because He is good, because He made a promise: a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench. We hold Him to His Word. And if He afflicts us with evil, with tyrannical government or cancer or demons, we endure in prayer. We do not cease to ask for relief and for justice. We accept the crosses that He bestows but we don’t stop praying that they be removed. And they will be. We are beggars so we keep on begging, imploring the Lord for mercy. We ask Him to be Himself, our Messiah, our Son of David, come to free us from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.