This Jesus seems so wrong – no matter how many times we hear today’s text, no matter that we know how the story ends. After all, we hear this Jesus call unfaithful Peter to walk on water to Him. We hear Jesus refuse to send the 5000 away, making miracle bread so the crowd can stay with Him. We hear Jesus scold the Disciples because they got in the way of the little children coming to Jesus. But today Jesus sounds so foreign, cold, and distant to this Canaanite mother who brings her little daughter to Jesus in prayer.
She is not asking for a nicer house, more money, or better friends. Her daughter is in the clutches of Satan. The pain of knowing your child hurts is one thing. But can you even imagine how terrified you would be if a demon possessed your little girl? So she prays, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). She looks to the One stronger than demons, the Son of God who comes to destroy the Devil’s work. I ask you, was there ever a request so pure? A more noble request than this?
And all the more noble since this is a Canaanite confessing Jesus as the son of David, the Messiah. King David fought battles against the Canaanites. They were descendants of Cain, the son of Adam who murdered his brother. Israelites and Canaanites had a mutual hatred. Jewish people referred to them as filthy dogs. We do not know what the Canaanites called the Israelites.
Some might think that she is simply at her wits’ end, that she has tried everything else and figures this is her daughter’s last chance. She has heard others praise and honor this Jewish miracle worker, and works to butter Him up by repeating what they say. But no, as Jesus tests her, we see that this woman has honest-to-God faith. She is a better student than the Disciples as she recognizes the Son of God! “But He did not answer her a word.”
She prays without ceasing. She will not give up. The Disciples cannot take it anymore. They beg Jesus, “Just give her what she wants so she will leave us alone.” She is an embarrassment the way she cries out. But, by an accident of birth, she is not an Israelite. She has no standing, no claim to make on Jesus. Jesus says this in one of the most brutal declarations He ever makes, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
She refuses to go home disappointed, angry and self-righteous over what one might take as an insult. She is now more determined than ever. As surprised as we are to the way Jesus acts in this text, no less surprising is how she responds. The harsh, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” drives her to worship Him on her knees before the Lord. She will not release her grip on His Word, not matter how foolish or hard it seems. She trusts Jesus is good. On her knees she begs, “Lord, help me!”
And Jesus still does not give in. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What do you think would happen if you called some strange woman a dog to her face? It was no less an insult back then.
But, you know, if the all holy Lord calls us a dog, that is actually a compliment. We deserve far worse. He has every right to call us filthy no-good, dirty, double crossing cheats and swindlers and liars and murderers. Damned sinners, every one of us. We have earned that. We have no right to approach God. He owes us nothing but eternal destruction, torment in the presence of the demons. Do not think that He is impressed by you and your intentions. You have behaved disgracefully, as wickedly as I have. God says, “I gave you everything, and yet you rebel, seeking love and help and hope from worthless idols.”
What do you and I say to that? We really have only three choices, but the end result is the same for two of them. You can get depressed and give up on God, and walk away, angry at yourself. Or you can walk away angry at God, denying that He is right. In self-righteousness you can say, “Who does Jesus think he is? I’m going to find a better god that suits my tastes and says what I want to hear.” You can proudly proclaim, “I will show you God! I’ll cut myself. And in my temper tantrum, I’ll choose Hell over worshiping You.” And if you do, you will join the demons sooner than you expect.
That is the common way to respond to God’s harsh Truth of His Law. But there is a better way, the way that causes the holy angels in Heaven to rejoice. You can repent. You can agree that God’s Law is right. You can confess, “Yes, Lord, I am a dog. I wish I were not this way, but I am guilty and ashamed.” That sorrow is the first step of repentance. The second is trust in God’s mercy. Without the second half of faith, it is only sadness and despair, only self-pity and anger at yourself. Therefore our holy confession continues, “Yes, I am a dog. I have no merit or worthiness in me. I have justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I believe that You are the Christ who has mercy upon us. That You forgive. That You are slow to anger and abound in steadfast love, therefore You will not cast me away from Your presence, nor take Your Holy Spirit from me. I believe that through the death on the Cross, You will restore to me the joy of salvation.”
That is not only how you respond to the Word of Christ, it is also how the Canaanite mother responded. She throws herself upon His Word, even when it is harsh. Like a bull-dog, she grabs on and will not let go. “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She knows God is exactly as Isaiah and Paul describe todau – a God who has mercy on all. He brings even foreigners to His holy mountain. His House is called a House of prayer for all peoples. She knows Jesus is the Son of David who has not come for the righteous, but for sinners, to seek and save the lost. With that faith she asks Him to save her daughter.
And Jesus does. Her daughter was healed instantly. And this mother becomes a hero of the faith that the world has seldom seen. That is what the Lord was up to, why He seems so strange to us in this text. He was making an example out of the mother, a good one. Our dear Lord Jesus is not willingly afflicting her, torturing or tempting her. He was exercising her faith, strengthening her, teaching her to live by the Word of God and not by appearances. In her suffering, Jesus draws her – and us – closer to Himself. For in the end, Jesus does more than relent and give in to what she asks for. Not only is her daughter saved, but she is given a lively faith that has been recorded as an inspiration for Christians everywhere.
Demons still haunt our children and lead them away from the Lord. Why do you think the chaos London is happening? In part because the parents have swept their homes clean of God, and the demons have rushed in to make their homes. Churches are empty and being used now as art galleries, restaurants, warehouses, or worse. Better parenting and police action might help to make things better on earth, but in the end there is only one thing that will overcome the darkness we face – that is the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is stronger than the demons.
Last week at my Doxology conference, Dr. John Kleinig said that in Australia Christian parents and grandparents face the same problem as here – they feel guilty because they cannot get their kids to church. They see their family members trusting the Devil’s lies that life is better apart from God, and these Christians want to know what to say. Dr. Kleinig answers that we must not badger them. He points to today’s text and says just like this mother carries in prayer her daughter to Jesus, so can we prayerfully bring our wandering and erring loved ones to Him. As you pray for God to change their hearts, see yourself piggy-backing your loved one here to church, to the Lord’s Altar, and leave your loved one here in His presence. From now on, if you would like me to specifically name your loved one among the lost, wandering and erring during the prayers of the Church, just let me know – even if you would just like me to use only part of their name, so others do not know. But God will know.
You are not the only one who sorrows and struggles with this Cross. Let us pray to the Son of David for our children with as much determination as this Canaanite mother. Let us pray our “Lord, have mercy”s. Trust as she did that Jesus will help and save. For He does not ignore her, nor is He deaf to your prayers. He came for sinners like you and me who could not stand on our own, who can do nothing to free ourselves from our sinful condition. Jesus came to destroy the Devil’s work, to heal your wounds, bind your broken heart, and free you from Hell. You now hear His word and He takes away your guilt, shame and regrets. Receive His righteousness, holiness and innocence, especially as He invites you once again to come to His Table, to eat the Bread of His Body and the wine squeezed from His heart at the Cross. Forgiven, renewed, sanctified and blessed, Jesus gives us far more than crumbs that fall from the table. He gives us Himself.
God grant each of you a bull-dog like grip on Jesus – faith like this Canaanite mother had – so that with your whole heart you firmly believe His Word and promises. Amen.