The Second Sunday in Lent| March 8, 2020| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 15:21-28
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 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. St. Matthew 15:21-28
The religion of the Canaanites was much like the religion of America’s popular culture in the year of our Lord 2020. We date the years of the calendar from the birth of the Lord Jesus, but the teaching taught by Jesus has been largely abandoned by what was formerly known as Christendom. The so called Christian nations have abandoned Christianity. They have embraced the religion of the ancient Canaanites.
Jesus met a woman of Canaan in his travels. She cried out to him for mercy. He ignored her, rejected her, and called her a dog. What a callused attitude, you say. That God in the flesh would treat someone pleading for mercy in such a cruel fashion! In ancient times as Israel was entering the Promised Land God commanded them to kill all of the Canaanites. Today’s Canaanites say that the God of the Bible is a brutal god unworthy to be worshipped. But God had good reason to command Israel to destroy the Canaanites. He knew that if they didn’t, sooner or later they would adopt the Canaanite religion. It is a religion of the sinful flesh. It is the religion of those who presume to judge the true God.
The Canaanites had a pantheon of gods and goddesses that were anything but holy. The head god of the Canaanites murdered his favorite son and beheaded his daughter. Three popular female goddesses, Anath, Astarte, and Ashera, were goddesses of both war and sex. The Canaanites also worshipped Moloch and offered their children to him as bloody sacrifices.
The Canaanite religion glorified violence, sexual immorality, and living a completely debased life. It was the established religion. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was epitomized by the popular slogan: “If it feels good, Do it.” It was revolutionary then. Today it’s the established religion. Nominal Christians defend the practice of sex outside of marriage, living together as husband and wife without becoming husband and wife, even sanctifying such gross perversions as same sex “marriage” as if God’s condemnation of homosexuality in the Old Testament and in the New Testament no longer applies. They despise marriage. They defy the God who created us male and female. They teach that killing unborn babies is every woman’s right. They stand in judgment of those who object to such teachings and hold instead to God’s word. This is the religion of our day. Contrast this to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, which is set forth clearly in today’s Epistle Lesson:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
In Galatians 5:21, St. Paul lists the sins sanctified by today’s Canaanites, called Progressives, and concludes:
I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Canaanites do not inherit the kingdom of God. Canaanites are not children of God. They worship false gods and goddesses. They despise God’s commands, God’s promises, God’s institutions, and God’s love. They don’t want mercy from God. They want him to approve of their sin. They don’t want to be delivered from their sins. They don’t want to be delivered from evil. They want the evil they love to be sanctified as good and holy.
One would assume that a woman from Canaan held to the religion of the Canaanites. But the woman from Canaan who appealed to Jesus for help was no Canaanite. In fact, she was a Christian. Jesus knew this all along because he can see into the heart. We must keep this in mind if we are to understand how Jesus treated this woman. Her first plea to Jesus was a confession of her Christian faith. St. Matthew writes:
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.”
She cried out to Jesus for mercy. This is the plea of a Christian heart. She confessed him as Lord, as the Christ, the Son of David. She was not Canaanite! She knew the difference between good and evil. She saw the evil in the demon that was tormenting her daughter, keeping her body under his control. She wanted nothing to do with the religion of her ancestors. She knew that the slogan, “If it feels good, Do it,” was a demonic deception.
Our God is portrayed as a spoil sport who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun. That’s not true. Our God blesses us with good food and drink, with the natural affections of family and spouse, and joyful celebration of life. God loves a good time.
Those who sanctify sexual sin lie when they say it is joyful, fun, and rewarding. The biggest lie of our generation is the false claim that those possessed by homosexual desires are gay. They are not gay. Underneath this pretense they are as bound to misery as was the poor daughter of the woman who went to Jesus appealing for his mercy. The sophisticated womanizer, admired by foolish boys and men for his sexual prowess, ends up with an empty life, void of anything worthwhile. Today’s Canaanites worship pleasure unbound to any obligation of God’s law. They confuse their lusts with love and their selfishness with character. Calling bitter sweet and sweet bitter they neither want nor grant mercy.
The cry for mercy is the cry from the heart that knows the devastating power of evil. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” She loved her daughter. So did Jesus, but he answered her not a word. She kept crying out her plea. Christ’s disciples asked him to send her away, presumably granting her her request, just to shut her up.
When Jesus says to the woman from Canaan that he was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel it appears that he is rejecting her plea because she is outside of Israel. She belongs to Canaan. Her roots, her family ties, her religious background are all bound to Canaan. She is not of Israel. She does not belong to God’s people. She’s an outsider, and Jesus points out to her that he was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. So that excludes her.
She ignores his rejection and keeps on begging him. She worships him. “Lord, help me!” she cries. Then comes the final rejection. Jesus says, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The Jews used the word dog to refer to the most disgusting kind of sinner imaginable. Make no mistake. Jesus insulted her. He did so deliberately. He would be called a hater by the Canaanites of our day. Where is his concern for the woman’s self-esteem? How would you like it if God incarnate called you a dog? What’s wrong with Jesus?
Nothing is wrong with Jesus. Everything is right with Jesus. He scorns the rules of religions that trap people in lies and send them to hell. Jesus sees in this woman what only God can see. He sees her faith. He saw it right away. There is nothing within us as precious to God as true faith, faith that trusts in God’s mercy and in his willingness to deliver us from every evil of body and soul. Her faith was so precious to Jesus that he set out to refine it. And he did.
The woman was a Christian. She was not a Canaanite. She was a true daughter of Israel, a child of God, a sheep of the Good Shepherd. This is why Jesus tested her. He did so in love. He did so to strengthen and purify her faith.
There are many examples of what appear to be unanswered prayers in the Bible. Job cries out to God:
I cry out to You, but You do not answer me;
I stand up, and You regard me.
But You have become cruel to me;
With the strength of Your hand You oppose me. Job 30:20-21
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me? Psalm 13:1
Jeremiah laments about God,
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer. Lamentations 3:7-8
Why does God treat his children so? To drive them deeper into his word! The woman heard the word dog – as deep an insult as Jesus could have spoken – and she interpreted it according to God’s word and promise. “Fine! I’ll be a dog and claim no more than what a dog is entitled to: the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” To which Jesus replies, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” Her daughter was healed at that very moment.
Faith is hungry for God’s word. God makes us hungry so he can fill us. As his mother Mary said, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” Canaanites, whether of Jesus’ day or our own, think they are rich. They don’t want mercy. They want approval. They don’t want to confess. They want to be confirmed in what they are and do and say and want. They celebrate their devotion to their sinful lusts and despise the God who calls them to purity and holiness.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners. He saves us from our sins. He not only forgives us, he delivers us from the control of sin. For us it is a lifelong battle. We have desires for what is wrong. We know it and God knows it. The Canaanites tell us to give expression to it. Live it. Embrace it. But it will destroy us body and soul. It will leave us in the pitiful state of that woman’s daughter, enslaved by a demonic power. We don’t need validation from God. We need mercy. We don’t need somebody to protect our tender sensibilities. We need a God who loves us enough to break our pride, shatter our self-confidence, and render us helpless before him. This is how he strengthens our faith by purifying it from idolatrous desires. It appears cruel at times, but it is pure love, for he always has mercy. He who bore our sins on Calvary forgives those sins that would destroy us. He forgives us and delivers us. So we cry, “Mercy!” He is always merciful.