St. Matthew 15:21-28
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered and said to [the woman], “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… The Syro-Phonecian woman from today’s Gospel is a hero of faith of the first order. Our Lord Himself points this out when He tells her, “O woman, great is your faith!” Her faith is not calm and serene. She is not walking around with a halo on her head and soft music playing in the background. She cries out; she makes a spectacle of herself; she even embarrasses the disciples.
She is a woman overcome with grief and sorrow. Tragedy has struck, and she is no longer worried about what sort of grades her daughter gets, whether or not the other kids are nice to her, or even whether or not her daughter is living up to her potential. All of the thousands of little things that parents worry about – from their children’s popularity to their weaknesses, to their study habits, and their future – all of these concerns have been left behind.
This mother no longer worries about any of that. Her energy is focused on only one thing: her daughter is in Satan’s clutches, possessed by a demon. Her daughter’s soul is in peril. Who cares about such trivial things such as teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and delinquency when eternal things are at stake? It is better to have faith than to have everything else right. This woman knows that her daughter is dwelling with demons, and nothing else matters.
And so this woman turns to the only place she can. She turns to Jesus, the Messiah, the only One who gives power over demons, over Satan, over hell. She seeks the Lord and rightly confesses that He is the Messiah, He is the Promised One, He is the Son of David. She places everything upon this faith. She throws herself, her pride, her position in society, her hopes and dreams – everything upon Jesus. She pleads with Him to be the Messiah. She pleads with Him to have mercy on her and to deliver her daughter, as He was sent to do.
But, in all this, Jesus seems to ignore her. It is simply unthinkable that Jesus would deny such a request. The woman does not ask for anything except that which He has promised to give: salvation. She does not ask for a nicer house. She does not ask for a better, more comfortable life. She doesn’t even ask for simple, physical well-being or healing. Her daughter is demon-possessed; she is in the clutches of Satan.
The Lord came for this very reason – to redeem and to rescue. And knowing this, the woman comes to Jesus and prays, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” She is not looking for a miracle-worker who can make her daughter better. She comes in faith, in simple and profound child-like faith. Her daughter is tormented by demons; her daughter is one of Satan’s children. This mother fears for her daughter’s eternal fate. And so she asks Jesus to save her daughter.
Her request is pure; her request is noble. This mother comes confessing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the Messiah. And this is the content and goal of all His preaching and the preaching of St. John the Baptist, and of all the Old Testament prophets. But still Jesus seems to ignore her. She is in great anguish, she is suffering. But Matthew records these words in verse 23: “But He answered her not a word.”
Still this woman clings to Jesus. Still her prayer does not cease. Still she does not give up. She knows who the Messiah is to be. She knows what the Messiah is to do. She will not be turned away from her course. She holds God to His promises.
Finally even the disciples grow tired of this and urge Jesus to send the woman away. To them she is an embarrassment, she is not ethnically pure, she is not a Jew, she is a Gentile. She has no claim, no standing, no right. And in one of the harshest sayings ever to pass from our Lord’s lips, Jesus declares, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Now what? Will she hang her head and go home? Will she become angry and self-righteous because she did not get her way? Is this going to be her excuse for staying away from the synagogue, for withholding her offerings, for gossiping about Jesus to the others in town? Will she use this as an excuse for open rebellion and rejection of God?
No. Instead, it is these very words of Jesus that spur this woman on and drive her more toward the Lord and cause her to worship Him. Yes, these seemingly callous remarks are the very words that drive this woman to her knees. In the face of all this she worships Him. It drives her deeper into her hope and trust, deeper into her faith. And out of that faith she cries out, “Lord, help me!”
And still, after all this, Jesus does not yield. He replies instead, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” He calls her a dog! He is not very politically correct; He is not very winsome.
This, dear friends, is the Law in all its severity, for none of us has any inherent right to sit at God’s table or even to approach Him. He owes us nothing. God says to you, “You are a dog. You are not worthy. You have behaved badly, shamefully. You are disgusting. I gave you everything, and yet you rebelled.”
This is obviously true of anyone who has ears to hear. We are guilty, and there are really only two ways to respond to this indictment. One is this: you can get mad and defensive. You can become self-righteous and tell God when, where, and how you will honor Him with your belief. You can say to God, “That’s not what I want to hear. I don’t like it, therefore I reject it. Satan is much nicer, for he likes my sin; he indulges me, and so he will be my god.” And if you do that the demons will do what passes in hell for rejoicing, and sooner than you think, you will join them. That is one way to respond to the Law, the truth about your sin and sinfulness.
There is another way. You can give the holy angels in heaven cause for true rejoicing. You can repent.
Repentance, dear friends in Christ, is the admission that the Law of God is true, good, and right. It is the confession that says, in essence, “Yes, Lord, I AM a dog. I wish it were not so, but it is. I am guilty, and I am ashamed.” That is the first half of repentance.
The second half of repentance is to trust in God’s mercy. Without the second half of repentance we would have only sorrow and despair. And so the confession continues: “But though I have no merit or worthiness in myself, I believe, Lord, that You are merciful and kind, that You are forgiving and loving. I believe that for Jesus’ sake You declare me righteous and holy. By Your grace You are my Lord and my God.”
And that, of course, is the final response the woman has. She throws herself upon Jesus’ word. She embraces it. She says, “Yes, Lord, even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” She says, “Yes, Lord, I am a dog. I am unworthy to stand before You. I am a sinner. I do not come on my own merits, but I come, rather because of Your mercy. For I know that You are gracious and merciful; I know that You are eager to forgive. I know that You have entered this fallen world, that You have taken upon Yourself my nature in order to save me and my daughter. I know that a crumb, the most meager gift from Your table, is my salvation. So, yes, Lord, treat me as a dog. Feed me. Save my daughter.”
And He does. “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” And the woman is a hero of faith this world has seldom seen.
And thus we see what faith is, and how faith lives. It is not an opinion based on observable facts, reason, or the senses. It is not a vague hope in an ambiguous future. It is as Scriptures declares in Hebrews 11: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Our Lord was not torturing or tempting this dear woman; He was exercising her faith, He was strengthening her, He was teaching her to live by the Word of God and not by appearances. In her suffering He drew her closer to Himself, and in the end, He relented and gave her much more than she requested.
In the end not only is the woman’s daughter saved, but she has been given great, strong, lively faith, and her story is recorded as an inspiration for the Church forevermore. Faith is certainty in God’s promises, a confident conviction that God is good, merciful, forgiving, and kind.
Jesus did not ignore the Syro-Phonecian woman. Neither does He ignore your prayers. He hears them gladly and willingly, and He answers them. He came for dogs like us who are unable to stand on their own. He came to pay your ransom, to liberate you from the demons, to heal your wounds, to bind up your broken heart, and to make you alive once again. He takes away your guilt, your shame, and your regret, and He replaces it with His righteousness, His holiness, and His innocence.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.