This morning we witness the faith of the Canaanite woman. First off, you should know this woman is no run-of-the-mill gentile. She’s a Canaanite, and that means that her forefather was Ham. Remember Ham? He was the son of Noah. The bad son of Noah, the one who mocked his own father, the one through whom God had preserved all humanity. So a curse was put on Ham and all his descendants after him.
So when this cursed daughter of Ham, this Canaanite woman, comes to Jesus pleading for mercy for her demon-possessed daughter, the disciples, for what they know, aren’t totally out of line for wanting to quickly shoo her away. She’s a Canaanite, after all, an idol worshipper, and an outsider of the worst sort.
But we know Jesus to be eager to help. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He befriended the poor and took in outsiders. So when this Canaanite woman cries out for mercy to Him, you’d expect Jesus to come running in that second for a miracle. But not here. At least, not yet. Our text says, “Jesus didn’t answer her a word.” That is, He gave her the cold shoulder in response to that prayer of hers. How cold. And then when the disciples asked Jesus to send her packing, He seems to agree with the notion, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He seems to rebuff her again.
You’d think she’d finally get the point and move on. Her pagan priests couldn’t help her and apparently neither could Jesus. But you don’t see her give up so easily, do you? Instead, she plants her knees in the dust before Jesus and her prayer loses all its lyrical luster, and now just becomes short and more urgent. “Lord, help me!” she prays.
You can see that this woman is not deterred. Her daughter was suffering, and on account of that, she herself was suffering. But she believed in her heart that Jesus was the promised Messiah – and that He was the Savior from sin and the devil’s power.
Although she was a Canaanite, of a half-pagan tribe, she believed the promise of the Gospel that was made to Abraham, “In your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” God had, after all, promised a Savior for all people – all sinners – and her faith rested firmly in that promise, and she had the faith to see herself included in that promise. The “for me” part. She believed that!
But then Jesus says something that sounds just downright offensive. “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That’s right. Jesus calls her a dog. Martin Luther in a sermon confessed to his congregation, “If Jesus had said such words to me I would have charged right out of there, convinced it was all useless and my efforts in vain.”
But the Canaanite woman doesn’t charge out, and she knows with certainty that her prayers are not in vain, and we should all be thankful for that, and for her example. Now strangely here, she doesn’t even sound offended or put off. In response to being called a dog, she fires back this zinger, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
What’s interesting is that this Canaanite woman actually doesn’t argue with Jesus here, but seems to agree! It’s as if she’s saying, “Yes, Lord. You’re right. I am a dog. I am a poor miserable sinner, and from the wrong side of the tracks too, a Canaanite. But I believe that You have come into the world to set sinners free from Satan’s tyranny. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God. And I believe that You’re going to help me and my daughter.”
Luther in his sermon would go on to say that the woman caught the Lord with His own words. And stuck to Him like burrs stick to a dog. She was saying to the Lord, “Lord, I will not let go of You until you bless me.”
Hopefully, you’re picking up on something of a theme this morning in our readings. Last week we focused on spiritual warfare when the devil attacks us.
But today, it’s a different sort of fight, isn’t it? Because what do you do when it’s not the devil you’re up against but God instead!? Jacob wrestles with the Lord in our first reading this morning. The Canaanite woman wrestles with the Lord as well. Both say, “I will not let You go until You bless me.”
Let’s face it. God doesn’t always appear to be in our corner, does He? And sometimes it seems like He’s dead set against us.
But this is where Christians learn a much-needed lesson. And it’s this: Christian faith does not rest or rely upon human experience, human wisdom, or human thoughts. And if this Canaanite woman were to have believed the experiences of her life, she would have concluded that God did not care for her, did not care for her daughter, and did not care about her salvation. But none of this, as you know, is true. Instead, Christian faith relies only on the promise of the Gospel – that Christ, the Son of God, is sent for sinners only – and that through His blood they are healed, restored, and reconciled to God in heaven. This faith is a stubborn and tenacious thing. It will not let go. It will not turn aside.
This is what so delights our Lord this morning. “O woman, great is your faith!” Let it be done for you as you desire. And her daughter was healed instantly.”
Jacob, after that wrestling match with the Lord, was named Israel. It literally means “He who strives or wrestles with God.” And he prevailed. But how interesting that in our Gospel this morning, it’s the Canaanite woman, the outsider, who proves to be the true Israelite. The one who strives with the Lord and prevails. She’s got the sort of faith that delights the Lord.
This morning we learn that the Christian life is no walk through the roses. There’s suffering, there are times of trial, and many disappointments along the way. God does not always rush in with a miracle. At times, He holds back for a brief time, and lets us feel pain and sorrow.
The Scriptures say that God disciplines the sons and daughters whom He loves. That is, He often treats us harshly. But this is all the sanctifying will of God, as Paul put it in today’s epistle. All to test your faith in order that it may be refined and strengthened. For tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope in Christ does not disappoint.
But through it all, remember the love of God who gave Himself for you. He gave His Son to die for you. He was pinned to a cross and raised for your justification, all so that your prayers would never be ignored.
So finally, let us all have the attitude and faith of that Canaanite woman, who was not turned aside by the unpleasantness she experienced, but put all her trust in the Word of the Gospel, knowing in her heart that all the promises of God are Yes in Christ. And how right she was about the Lord’s Supper that we receive! Because even the crumbs that fall from our master’s table prove to be a feast – laden with the gifts of forgiveness, bliss, and eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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