March 17, 2019 A+D
St. Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord praises the Canaanite woman for her faith. We ought to pay close attention to it. For we read in the letter to the Hebrews that “without faith it is impossible to please (God) for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and . . . he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV).
Faith is evident in this woman’s words, her perseverance and prayer, and her humility. First off she confesses that Jesus of Nazareth is true God. She calls Him ‘Lord,” “Yahweh.” She asks Him for mercy since the mercy of the Lord endures forever. With these words she confesses that He is King Messiah, very God of very God, yet come to earth as a human sacrifice worthy of all humans. This is why she calls Him the “Son of David.” He is more than a King. He is the Son that dies for David’s sins.
Her request for mercy is the purest of petitions. She prays not directly for herself but for her daughter and not merely for something temporal but for deliverance from demons. Yet that prayer must be distilled to yet a purer form: “Lord, help me.” The cross drives this woman to drop all possible pretense of piety. She stops explaining to the Lord what He should do or making any appeal beyond the grunt of desperation. “My daughter is being consumed by demons. I don’t know what else to say. Help me!”
She is desperate, to be sure, but she is also hopeful. She still calls Him “Lord.” She believes He can help and that He wants to. She believes this because she believes that He is the Messiah. He has become a Man not merely to make Himself mortal that He might be put to death in our place, as our atonement and propitiation, but also that He might be approachable. He has ears to hear and a mouth to speak. He doesn’t just send money. He comes among us because He wants to be with us. He loves us. Thus she perseveres in her prayers despite the seeming set-backs and insults. She clings to the promises of God like a pitbull on a rag. She will not let go even if both her experience and her reason say it is futile. She knows for what purpose the Messiah comes. She knows His mercy endures forever. She knows that He is love and that He has come for her and her daughter. She will not let go. She will not stop asking Him to be good, to be her God and Savior.
The most dramatic moment comes in her humble acceptance of being a dog, not a pit bull, no dog of strength or use. She is a lap dog, a worthless dog. She is afraid of rats, too weak and small to deal with sheep or cattle or guard the house. “Fine,” she says, “I am a dog and the Jews, who look down their noses at me and mumble about how David’s armies should have wiped out my people long ago, they, who have oppressed us these last 1400 years, are not only the children of God, loved by God, but they are my masters. They sit at the table while I beg from under their chairs. Sobeit. I ask for nothing beyond my station. I do not ask to be called daughter or to gain glory in heaven or to be known throughout the centuries. Let me have the crumbs that fall from your table, let me be in Your house, Your dog, and that will be more than enough.”
So she is. Her daughter is healed. She is praised by Christ for her faith. And, in fact, she is praised through the centuries. For she is the paragon and exemplar of faith.
We ought to give thanks to God that He has given such a great example of his mercy and the height of humanity. We must trust His Word and not appearances. We should learn that God wants to save us and our daughters. We should not despair because outward appearances give the impression that God is not pleased with us or ignoring us. We should not confuse the opinions of men for that of God nor should we ever think that our vocations are stuck or that they don’t matter. God often chastises His children. He makes a confessor from a murderer, an apostle from an extremist persecutor, and an evangelist from a tax collector. Who knows what He will do with you? You are baptized. You belong to Him. Say your prayers. Read the Bible. Come to the Sacrament. He can make sons for Abraham from stones. He turns useless dogs into Israelite sheep. He praises Gentiles. He, who calls you by name, counts every hair on your head.
Imitate this woman’s faith and virtues. Learn to intercede for others and also for yourself with perseverance and patience. Learn to be content with God’s Word and Sacraments. They are not ineffective crumbs for what ails us. They are a great banquet that gives what is most necessary: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us. Help us. Hear our prayer. Give us the food that heals our souls and let us abide in Your house forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.