Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
It is written in Matthew chapter 15,
22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” 23 But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” 27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered and 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. Thus far the text.
Let us pray: O Lord, who kills and makes alive, keep the promise you made when you baptized us, to drown the Old Adam and raise us in the New Adam so that both His death and His life may be our own; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Do you want to receive the mercy of the Lord? Are you sure? Do not answer so quickly. Remember, our God is the God who says, (Deuteronomy 32:39) “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
You have to be killed in order to be made alive. You have to give up everything to have anything. He who keeps his life will lose it, but he who loses his life will keep it. God is eager that you should live – so he's going to kill you.
This is what the Canaanite woman learns in today's Gospel reading. She comes to her Lord begging his mercy, ready to receive with empty hands, for she comes to her Lord as a dead woman. Her heart has been emptied. Her soul rings hollow: for she comes to her Lord as one who knows her powerlessness. She comes as one without pride. She comes as a parent who can do nothing for her sick child. She had been to the doctors, she's stayed up endless nights – but nothing has helped. Still her daughter is grievously tormented by a demon, one of the false gods of Canaan.
And what can this mother do for her daughter? She knows that she can do nothing. She has no hope of helping her daughter. Her pride is dead. And with that, now on the brink of despair, she is ready to receive the mercies and the lovingkindesses of God our Father.
She comes to Jesus with empty hands: Lord, have mercy. She does not ask for what she deserves: her pride, her self-esteem, is dead. She knows she deserves nothing at all, or something worse. But she comes to beg mercy. She comes with empty hands: no more bargaining for her. She has nothing to try to bribe Jesus with: she just asks for mercy.
And behold: the Lord ignores her, then even calls her a Gentile dog and not his child. But she clings to him still: these harsh words of rejection from her Lord do not strike her as harsh. For she knows that they are true. She knows she has no right to call upon the Lord; she knows that he is right when he calls her a unclean. But she also knows of his mercy and his lovingkindesses for they are from of old. So she confesses: Yes, Lord: it is as you say. I am a dog, I’m unclean, I’m a sinner. I know that very well. There is nothing that I can rightly ask of you, nothing that you owe me. I do not ask what is right: I ask what is merciful. I ask only for a crumb of mercy from your table.
With her pride dead, with all hope of dealing gone, having given up on justice and instead begging for mercy: now the woman is ready to be made alive. Great is your faith, woman! - Your daughter is healed.
Faith is having nothing to offer God: so to say that your faith is great is to say that you are small.
Beloved in the Lord, you are in the shoes of the Canaanite woman. God seeks to kill you also that he might raise you to life. Each hardship you face, each cross you must bear, each prayer that seems to go unanswered: all these are God's work to crush your pride, to empty you of yourself, to knock from your hands any chips you would use to bargain with Him. For God wants to fill you up. But to fill you up he must first empty you. To make you live, he must first kill you. So beloved, repent. Admit that you are dead. Give up on yourself. And instead cry out: Lord, have mercy. Nothing in my hand I bring, only to your cross I cling.
For there, in the cross, the Lord will fill you up. He emptied himself on that cross to pay for your sins – he poured out his life so that death for you would be but the gate to life immortal. He took upon himself the sin and pain and loneliness and sorrow and guilt of all the world and took it with him down to death – but then he rose from the dead all alone – for he left the sin and the pain and loneliness and the sorrow and the guilt down in that grave. He lives: and he now makes you alive.
Day in and day out, he will kill you and make you alive. Day in and day out, he will drown that own Adam in you by repentance and raise you to new life in himself. Day in and day out he will empty you so that he may fill you up. For he has lifted you up: he brings you to the table to give you the children's bread: the Bread of Life: the daily Bread of the children of the Heavenly Father, indeed the very Body and Blood which he shed on the cross. Beloved, come and receive him. Come with empty hands, with nothing to offer; Come calling on his mercy alone. Come and be filled, be raised, be made alive through faith in Jesus. Amen.
The peace which passes understanding guard and protect you in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.