Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Sermon - Matthew 15:21-28 - Pentecost 9
August 14th, , 2011
The woman's request was urgent. It's one thing to have a need for yourself, but this was for her daughter. Who knows what other avenues she had exhausted. Doctors. Shaman. Folk remedies. Probably just about everything. Nothing had helped so far. She was desperate. She needed help.
What about you? Are you aware of the problem? Do you know what's facing you? Or are you cruising on autopilot? If you do know it, you might even be desperate. Have you tried everything? Have you tried to fix yourself all by yourself? Solve your own problems? Oh the little things we can handle, but the big problem staring at all of us is our own sin. Why can't we just knuckle down and stop sinning? Can't we just think positive? Can't we try harder? No, none of that works. We go on doing the things we hate, breaking God's law. Failing to love him and our neighbor. The inescapable punishment, the wrath of God hangs over the heads of all sinners. That nagging sense of gloom is real. We deserve condemnation. We should be just as desperate as that woman. We need help.
But she had some strikes against her. She was a woman. She was a foreigner. She was a pagan Canaanite. Not even the religious half-blood Samaritan type the Jews so hated. She was entirely an outsider, and perhaps the least likely person to expect a blessing from the Jewish Messiah.
We too, don't have a leg to stand on. In fact our very problem of sin is the same reason we shouldn't expect anything but God's disapproval. He hates sin, and we have lots of it. We aren't a holy people by birth, but original sinners. We are more like Adam and Eve, who spat in God's face and broke the one law he gave. And nothing we can do makes it better. The harder we try to be good, the more we see our shortcomings. We are so far removed from His holiness. It's as hopeless as we are helpless. So we're stuck with sin, and all that sin brings, including its wages. We can sympathize with St. Paul who wondered, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” We can know how trapped this woman was with her demon possessed daughter. Her enemy was way out of her control. Her problem was way bigger than she was. So is ours.
But she knew who could help. The rumors were telling of a miracle worker. The scuttlebutt was that this Jesus had done all these wonderful things, and that now, for some reason, he was coming to her region, near her home. Hope began to flicker as the possibility of a miracle formed in her mind. All other avenues were exhausted. All other helpers had failed. If there was any hope for her, Jesus was that one last hope.
So she cried out as needy sinners often do to their Savior. But then something strange happens. Jesus puts her off.
We don't know why he does it. Was he teasing her? Was he testing her faith? Making some sort of point? Suffice it to say, while we don't know his motives, as is often the case with God. When you call to him, why doesn't he answer right away? Why does it sometimes seem like he's acting out of character? Why does it seem like he's not keeping his promises?
The only answer to this is faith. And the Canaanite woman has faith in abundance. She is not deterred by the outward appearance of Jesus shutting her down. She persists in trusting the only one who can help her. And he does not disappoint.
She also humbled herself. He calls her a dog – not a nice term by today's standards, and also back then, too. The dogs where the outsiders, the non-Jews, the low-life scum. A dog wasn't seen the way we often treat them – like a member of the family, you see, but was a filthy animal. Far less than human.
Rather than be insulted by such a designation, she embraces it. Rather than be put off by her dog-ness, her faith barks and yaps for table scraps. For even the crumbs from his table are far more precious than gold.
We too, must humble ourselves to receive his gifts. He says we are sinners, and we could act all indignant and offended. He says we deserve death, and we could argue with him how good and worthy we are. But let's not. Let's face the facts. Let's be what we are – poor miserable sinners worthy of temporal and eternal punishment. Let's be who we are, people who actually need help, actually need a Savior. And let him be who he is – the Savior. The one who does come to help, and save.
He could give us crumbs, and we'd be happy with that. But he gives us so much more. He could give us a rich feast, but he gives us so much more. He lives perfection and gives us all the credit. And he dies on the cross in ultimate humility to bring us from the lows to the highest high. To rescue us from sin, death, hell, all the forces of evil. To destroy the demon that possessed that little girl, and to defeat the prince of demons who holds all sinners in his clutches. Jesus give us everything he has – and more.
And he does give us a feast of forgiveness – his own body and blood. Far more than crumbs from the table, but only the best for us, his children.
Here according to his promise, he is present for us. Here, just as he says, we receive forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness, there is always life and salvation. Even for sinners. Even for dogs. For people who see the need, even the desperate. For people who are humble enough to see it, by faith, that we need what he gives. And he gives so much more than we could ask.