In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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 Sundays in Lent give us a ringside seat to watch the battleground for the salvation of the world. Last week it was Jesus vs. Satan in the temptation in the wilderness. In next week’s Gospel Jesus will face off with the demon that causes muteness, and He will face the accusation that He is working in league with Beelzebub, the devil. Today we see Jesus and the demon-possessed daughter of the Caananite woman.
“Remember” is the name of this Sunday in the Church Year, Reminiscere, which means, “Remember;” and it comes from the first line of today’s Introit, “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.” Why do we have to pray that? We pray that because so often it seems to us here on this earth that God needs that reminder.
You and I should be praying the Lord’s Prayer every day, the prayer our Lord taught us, including the petition, “and lead us not into temptation.” Martin Luther explained that petition in his Small Catechism with these words: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” Of course, Luther was reflecting on the words of James 1:13: “Let no one say, when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”
God tempts no one…really? Is that true? Yes, it is most certainly true, but it often does not seem true to us. The Scriptures abound with such examples. In last week’s Old Testament Lesson God placed the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the garden – and why did He do that if not seemingly to tempt Adam and Eve? After His Baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Why? In today’s Old Testament Lesson we see Jacob struggling with God all night long. Why?
Or just examine your own life. Doesn’t it often seem as if God is tempting you? We have all the promises of God to be with us, to help us, and to protect us; we know what the Scriptures say. But even in our own families and life situations we have strife, challenges, sickness, and death, cancer, children and spouses rejecting God, we the loss of jobs, accidents…the list is long. Do these things seem to reflect a compassionate and loving God? Does the evidence that we see and experience support our faith and trust in a merciful God?
The supreme example of this is the Caananite woman in today’s Gospel. Here is this woman – looked down upon by all the Jews including Jesus’ disciples. She begs – quite loudly – for mercy from Jesus, and she keeps it up. This was the hour of her utmost need; her daughter was demon-possessed, and she believed that Jesus was the Lord, the Messiah, something she makes clear with her own words. She begs Jesus to help her, for He is her last and only hope. And so she keeps her eyes and her faith firmly on Him alone.
But she does so in the face of tremendous opposition – opposition, it seems, also from Jesus. First, Jesus ignored her. Then He declared that He was not sent to any except the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And even when she came and worshiped him, Jesus’ answer is, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to their little dogs.”
How would you respond at this point? Would you throw in the towel? Would you give up? Would you decide that this Jesus fellow was not all He was cracked up to be? Many people do; it’s understandable. But they do so to their own peril.
This woman did not give up; she did not take “no” for an answer. She responded, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Now, that is not just a swift answer from a quick-witted woman. It is, rather, a deep expression of faith. She did not consider herself worthy to ask anything of Jesus; she did not consider herself worthy to place any demands upon Him, at least not on the basis of who she was or what she had done. She admitted that in God’s presence she was absolutely an unworthy dog.
And yet, on the other hand, she did have a demand on Jesus; she had the demand of faith. This woman believed in who Jesus was and in what He had come to do, and she was simply holding Him to it. In essence she said, “Remember, Lord, who You are, and have mercy on me and help me.” She had nowhere else to turn, she had nothing to lose, and she was holding firmly to Him in faith.
So, was Jesus tempting her? Of course not; He was making her stronger. He was encouraging her to exercise her faith. Was Jesus tempting her? No, He was displaying for the disciples and for the whole world what true faith really is. He said to her, “O woman, great is your faith; Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
The very essence of this woman’s faith was in something that Martin Luther called “believing God against God.” She seemingly had plenty of evidence that Jesus did not want to heal her daughter. But she also had God’s promise that He cared for her and that He did love her, as He does all His people. She had God’s promise that the Messiah would come to do battle with the devil, and to heal. Which did she believe? Well, she did not believe her circumstances. She believed the Word; she believed the promise.
And that is what you and I are called to do. In the face of all the evidence that sometimes piles up against God’s promises – yes, even the threats of God’s judgment on our sin – we are called to believe God’s promises. We must be confident that God’s words of mercy and forgiveness are the deciding words, the words that ultimately overcome; they are the words which will win out in the end: “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.”
There is another way this woman is a model for us. She had no idea that Jesus might choose to have mercy on her and her daughter. She had no idea how Jesus might have helped. In fact, if you noticed, she did not even demand that Jesus heal her daughter.
And neither do we always know how it is that God will ultimately help us. Earlier this past week I was pondering this exact thing in my own life, and I wrote this on Facebook: “I know nothing when it comes to assuming to know how God will work things out. There are so many days when I picture our Lord just standing in the corner, arms folded, tapping His foot patiently, and saying to me, “I will wait until you are done fretting and trying to figure Me out.” It seems that only when I get myself out of the way and have served myself – and learned this yet again! – that I realize He had it done from the beginning. Yes, even your own pastor has difficulty at times grasping God’s promises.
But, dear fellow redeemed, we have a great God who has given great promises and, by golly, we can most certainly demand His help and His mercy. And we may do so precisely because He has promised to give it to us.
In Romans 5 St. Paul writes words that are hard for us to hear and understand. In this chapter he writes, “…we also glory in tribulations.” Well, how in the world can we do that? How can we glory in our tribulations? He goes on to write: “We also glory in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
These are hard words for us to hear, but we can see how they were lived out in the life of this woman in today’s Gospel. You and I are often in the thick of things, things of which we cannot often see the end. But this woman was able to hold on to her faith for this reason: it was grounded not in her circumstances, not in her feelings, not in events in her life that the devil may use to get her to focus on herself. Her faith was grounded in the sure and certain Word and promises of God. She simply lived out and lived on the word of God.
And that Word on which she lived was God’s eternal promise of love and mercy to all which was bought and paid for in the perfect life, the bitter sufferings, the cruel death, and the glorious resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus Christ for all mankind.
Believe, O sinner, the Word of God: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Believe all the more when Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20) for it is true for you. And because it is true you can cling to it forever. Believe, O sinner, that you are indeed a poor, miserable sinner, and that you deserve nothing from God but His eternal wrath and displeasure for your sins. But believe all the more when Jesus says to you through the mouth of your pastor, “I forgive you all your sins,” for it is “just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” Believe, O sinner, when Jesus says, “This is My body given for you, this is My blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and it is true for you because of His love and sacrifice.
God loves you. Eternally. That will never change no matter what earthly circumstances or feelings or other events may come your way. That word and promise of God will never fade away until at last you are safe in His arms in heaven.
In the mean time, continue to hear His preached Gospel, and receive His body and blood at His table where He gives you a foretaste of that heavenly feast to come.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.