Believing Against Hope. Reminiscere 2015
Reminiscere—2nd Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 1, 2015
“Believing against Hope”
According to the flesh, the woman in the Gospel reading was not one of God’s children. God’s chosen people were the Jews. This woman was a Canaanite. She belonged to the people the Jews were commanded to wipe out when they entered the promised land because of their idolatry and abominable practices, which included burning babies alive in offering to their gods. (The Canaanites did not have particularly merciful gods.)
So according to the flesh she was of a nation that was under God’s condemnation. She had lots of reasons to expect that Jesus would not do anything for her. Then Jesus’ actions and words were not promising either. In response to her cries for mercy, Jesus says nothing at all. In response to His disciples’ entreaties to send her away and end her pitiful crying, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and presumably not to her, not matter how lost a sheep she might be. Then finally in response to her own kneeling down in worship in front of Jesus, He tells her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” How else would you take Jesus’ words except as a heartbreaking “no”? He seems to be saying, “I’d like to help you, but I’m just not here for you.”
Yet even though according to the flesh this woman is not one of God’s chosen, by faith she is a daughter of Abraham and an heir of God. Because “all things are possible for the one who believes,” Jesus says elsewhere. A mustard-seed sized faith can tell a mountain to be uprooted and planted in the sea. And what is far more difficult—faith in Christ makes the ungodly to be counted righteous, as the Epistle for today says: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Through faith in Jesus this Canaanite woman believed in a merciful God. She had left behind the gods of her fathers which demanded the blood of sons and daughters. She had renounced the devil and his demons who were oppressing her daughter and believed in Jesus Christ, crying out what you and I cry out in the Divine Service, “Lord, have mercy! Kyrie eleison!” And she would not be turned from her faith that Jesus would show her mercy. She would not even be dissuaded by Jesus Himself.
God has always dealt with His saints in this way. He is a God who hides Himself. He told Abraham that in his offspring all the nations would be saved and blessed, but then he let Abraham wander childless for decades. He promised to bless Jacob, but in the Old Testament reading He violently wrestles with Jacob all night. And this Canaanite woman He puts to the test also. She has heard that Jesus is merciful, but Jesus acts as if He has no mercy for her because she is not the physical descendant of Abraham and Jacob.
But she proved herself to be a true descendant of Jacob and Abraham because she walked in the faith of Jacob and Abraham. Like Jacob she refuses to let Jesus go until He blesses her. Like Abraham she believes against hope that Jesus will help her.
In the eyes of reason Abraham was a fool to believe God’s promise. He was old. His body was as good as dead, and His wife’s womb had been barren since her youth, and now she was 80 or 90. Yet Abraham believed that nevertheless God would keep His promise to give them a son, even though it was impossible.
In the eyes of reason this Canaanite woman is a fool to persist in trusting Jesus to help her. She’s brushed off, rejected, and called a dog by Him. Yet even though it seems impossible, she nevertheless believes that Jesus will have mercy on her.
This faith makes her a child of God. It is this kind of faith that saves—faith that takes hold of Jesus and His mercy even when everything else tells us that it is hopeless, that He won’t have mercy on us. By this faith the ungodly are justified, regarded as righteous. By this faith we who are in the depths of hell take hold of righteousness and eternal life—by faith in Jesus.
By this faith you are a child of God. You don’t come to Jesus with a resume full of qualifications for Jesus’ mercy. You come with no qualifications whatsoever, in fact, with a thousand reasons why He should reject you. For instance, that your ancestors were sinners, just like the Canaanite woman, and you yourself were conceived and born in sin. More still your thoughts, words, and deeds have been stained by sin. We are born and live under the curse of God for our sins. If we look at ourselves in the flesh, we find no reason why God should receive us and every reason why He should reject us.
But having no qualifications is our qualification. Jesus has come to earth to have mercy on those in the depths, those without any righteousness at all to bring to God. He has come to justify the ungodly.
We come to Him, crying, “Lord, have mercy.” We come with our own heritage of sin. We come bringing our children to Jesus, who like us were born helpless in sin. Jesus baptizes our babies, washing them clean in His blood. He satisfies the hunger of our souls for God’s mercy by giving us His body given into death as the bread that nourishes our souls. He quenches our thirst for mercy not with our own offerings but with His own blood which He poured out for us.
And what if we cry to Jesus, “Lord have mercy,” and He seems to answer us harshly or turn us away? Only keep crying out to Him, falling at His feet. Because when He seems to reject you He is only proving you to be a child of God. He is transforming you into His image. All the saints are chastened. That’s how we know we are sons and our Father loves us. He puts us through tests where we seem to be rejected by God or abandoned by Him, and then we must cling that much more to Christ in whom God has accepted us as His sons and heirs.
Even Jesus experienced this testing. He agonized in Gethsemane, praying for His Father to find another way to redeem us from sin than through His abandonment by the Father. And the answer was no. Just as the Canaanites were to be wiped out for their sins, Jesus was annihilated on the cross for the sins of the whole world.
He was abandoned by the Father on the cross as He was made sin for us. In this the Father has accepted us, spoken His yes to us. He does not demand that we bring Him offerings to atone for our sins. He has offered up His own Son to atone for us and to provide reconciliation and peace with Him. We are received through Jesus’ being cast away. God has given us mercy in Jesus by pouring on Him the strictness of His justice. We eat of this sacrifice that God provided in the Sacrament of the Altar and God satisfies our hearts with His mercy.
So when it seems that God is saying “No” to you,” know that in Jesus, in His cross, God’s final word to you is “Yes,” and “Amen.”
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria