Lent 2 Reminiscere
February 21, 2016 A+D
St. Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You have heard it said that seeing is believing. But I tell you that on this side of heaven your eyes, your ears, and all your senses will let you down. They are all tainted with sin and can’t be trusted. Therefore, in your daily life, it’s many times difficult to tell the difference between God and the devil.
Just ask Abraham. Is it God, or some demonic voice, that tells him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac? How does Abraham know whether God or the devil is speaking to him?
Or ask Job. Is it God, or the devil, who destroyed his family, his livelihood, his health, his life? And really, which one is playing the seemingly cruel game-the devil, who asks God’s permission to torment Job, or God who grants the devil’s request?
Your senses cannot be trusted, your perception of how your life or the world “should be” can’t be trusted. So what can be? God’s Word in Holy Scripture alone is your guiding light and the thing by which all things, even your senses, your thoughts, and your expectations should be judged.
Today is “remembrance” Sunday. But what, or better yet who, is remembering? For this answer we can look at the first occurrence of the word “remember” in the Bible. In Gen. 9 God says to Noah, “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9:15-16). But even this covenant to Noah was based upon a much older promise. Long before the flood God promised Adam and Eve that He would provide a Savior, a Messiah. That is what He “remembers.” All of our great mothers and fathers in the faith prayed for God to remember what He had promised despite what they were experiencing and in spite of how they thought God or the devil was testing to them.
The word “remember” is the great word of prayer. Job uses it in his misery, talking to God in faith. King David uses it in his prayer book, not surprisingly, over 30 times. Today we have David’s word in our Introit, giving the Latin name for today. “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old” (Psalm 25). And when the word itself is not used the great men and women of the Bible demonstrate how to hold God’s feet to the fire. And this is exactly what He wants you to do.
Jacob wrestles with God and will not let Him go until God blesses him. The Canaanite woman in our Gospel text will not be dissuaded by Jesus despite His seeming cruelty toward her. She is the example of faithful prayer because she will not give up. She knows who Jesus is and what He has come to do, so she approaches Him—wrestles with Him—until He blesses her by granting her prayer.
Her daughter is severely demon-possessed. And yet it looks, sounds, and feels like Jesus is the one playing the devil. Three times He insults her. First He ignores her prayer and great confession. Then, in her hearing, He tells the disciples she is not worth His time. And finally He calls her a little, yapping, no-good dog.
Yet, despite all appearances, she persists in her prayer. She does not give up. She won’t let Him go. Not just because she’s desperate, but because she insists that only Jesus can help her. She trusts that, no matter what Jesus says, no matter what He throws at her, He will ultimately help her. In fact, she believes that even His insults, even His torments, even the grief He causes her, is somehow, in some divinely mysterious way, part of the Lord’s help that she so earnestly desires. That’s why she’s the model of faithful prayer and praised by Jesus in the end for having such great faith. She overlooks what she sees, hears, and feels and holds Jesus’ feet to the fire. She knows He’s the Messiah, God in the flesh, David’s son and David’s Lord. She believes He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel but that somehow He can bring her into that fold.
The Canaanite woman is also fully aware of who she is, that every answer, every seeming insult, every apparently hurtful word that Jesus says is true and deserved. “Yes, Lord,” she says. “I deserve to be ignored by you. Yes, Lord, I am not worthy of Your time, because of my many sins. Yes, Lord, I am a dog, because like a dog, I keep returning to the vomit of my own sinful ways (2 Peter 2.22). Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. So I believe that, even though You are right to treat me harshly, and even though everything You say is true, and even though I deserve much worse than Your scolding and insults-nevertheless, in the end, You will not turn away my prayer, nor Your mercy from me. For you do not desire the death of a sinner, but that I should turn from my sins and repent.” And in a way known only by faith, the woman knew that He would not just treat her like a dog, but like a member of the family, sitting at the table with all the others.
Thus, really, she is no different than Abraham or Job. She knows that the Lord can turn her suffering to good; that the Lord constantly uses the devil’s tricks to work out for her salvation; that the Lord lets the devil only go so far; and that the Lord never turns a deaf ear to those who pray to Him in faith.
So how much must you suffer? Just enough; not too much, and not too little. And in a way that you do not understand now, that suffering is for your good as St. Paul says, “For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
Sometimes it will be difficult for you to tell the difference between God and the devil when you are in a hard part of your life, bombarded by temptations, suffering under your sins and the sins of people around you. But never does the Lord turn you away, or give up on you. He pushes you to the point where no one else can help you, but Him. He gives you painful crosses, so that you have eyes for His cross alone. He is the Messiah, come to take your place so you can have His. And because He has gone the way of His cross and death, He always leads you safely through your cross and suffering to His glory by raising you up at the Divine Service, by the washing of Holy Baptism, by feeding you in the Holy Communion, by His preaching, and in His own resurrection on the last day. Jesus loves you and wants the best for you. Come as little dogs begging for a scrap from your Lord’s Table. And He will give His mercy and forgiveness in greater measure than you either prayed for or expected.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana