Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2020

Today is one of my favorite days in the Church Year, because if you remember the What Would Jesus Do? fad of the ’90’s, today’s Gospel lesson, in many ways, provides an example of what Jesus can, should, and did do—that we absolutely cannot.

Do you remember the WWJD? bracelets? They were supposed to encourage Christians to consider what Jesus would do in their situation and act accordingly.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus insults a woman by calling her a dog after ignoring her and letting her be rebuked by His disciples.

The only good answer to WWJD? is the answer also to “What did Jesus do?”

Begotten of His Father from eternity, Jesus’ incarnation and birth were prophesied from the Garden, He’d be born of a Virgin, live a perfect life, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak with perfect authority, suffer innocently in the place of and for sinful mankind, be crucified, die, rise on the third day, breathe the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, ascend to His Father in heaven, and, there, be seated at His right hand until He comes again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead.

Asking WWJD means well but we’re better off remembering what Jesus actually did.

Today, I can’t imagine doing what Jesus did—intentionally ignoring a woman who cried out, “Have mercy on me…my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22).

“But [Jesus] did not answer her a word” (Matthew 15:23).

I can’t imagine doing what Jesus did, allowing His students, the disciples, to rebuke this woman. They say, “Send her away, for she’s crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23).

That’s not how we teach compassion in confirmation class.

And then, Jesus responds, not to the woman but to His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

Given the choice, I’d rather be ignored than singled out like that.

“But [this woman] came and knelt before [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, help me’” (Matthew 15:25).

How would you like it if you prayed that simple prayer to God and He responded as Jesus did: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26)?

Too often, we jump to the conclusion—that Jesus is testing this Canaanite woman’s faith—He only seemingly ignores her—He only seemingly allows the disciples to rebuke her—and Jesus calls her a dog but He meant it as a compliment.

Ladies—can any good come from you being compared to a dog?

With today’s Gospel lesson, we generally jump to the conclusion too soon. We should first ask if there’s any merit, any truth, to what Jesus does and says.

He ignores her.

Is there any reason why He should?

Jews hated Canaanites, because they weren’t Jews. I haven’t learned all the local rivalries yet, but we all know how this goes. There are rivalries between families, factions, even, in every congregation. Arguments over money. Arguments over children. What to do with the money. What to do with the children.

We think in terms of sides, whose side you’re on.

If you’re on one side, you hate the other.

So imagine that you’re one of the disciples.

Jesus ignores this woman and calls her a dog.

He’s given you every indication that she’s on that side and He hates her—just as one on this side should.

Well of course you’d hate her.

She’s not on your side.

So if Jesus is testing her, if all of this is a matter of faith, what’s the point? Why ignore a Canaanite woman who cries out for mercy?

And the answer is: She shouldn’t be there.

This woman shouldn’t exist.

In Deuteronomy 20, God describes how Israel is to make war. When you go to a city, offer peace. Only if they make war against you shall you besiege the city.

But then, thus says the Lord: “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes…you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites…the Amorites, the Canaanites…the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18, cf. ch. 20).

The Canaanites were to be destroyed, because the Canaanites would teach the Jews to do according to their abominable practices.

Had Israel remained faithful, there’d be no Canaanites. This woman wouldn’t be there.

By ignoring the Canaanite woman, Jesus reminds her that she doesn’t deserve the air she’s breathing.

But it doesn’t stop with her. Perhaps you’re here because the Jews ignored God’s command.

Are any of your long lost ancestors included in the peoples that were to be utterly destroyed?

Can you say that you deserve the air you’re breathing?

Jesus isn’t only testing the Canaanite woman.

He’s teaching her. He’s teaching us, that “God hides his eternal goodness and mercy under eternal wrath, his righteousness under [sin]. [And] the highest degree of faith [is] to believe [God] merciful when he [seemingly] saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable…” (Luther, Bondage of the Will, AE 33:62-63).

“It seems that God delights in our misery and is worthy of hatred rather than love” (par. Ibid.).

The Canaanites were to be destroyed, because the Canaanites would teach the Jews to do according to their abominable practices.

The great irony, of course, is that if the Jews had the faith of this Canaanite, they would all be saved.

But God’s mercy is hidden under His wrath.

His righteousness under sin.

God used the sin and rebellion of the Jews to bring His Word to this Canaanite woman—and us all.

She prays, simply, “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25).

She trusts that God is merciful (cf. Lk. 6:36).

She knows He desires mercy not sacrifice (cf. Hos. 6:6).

She has heard that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires the wicked to turn from his evil way and live (cf. Ez. 33:11).

This woman knows that God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Pt. 3:9).

This Canaanite is a Christian.

When everything around her suggests otherwise, she knows the truth—God is merciful.

And that’s great faith.

When your day comes and you play the part of the Canaanite woman, don’t ask WWJD?

Instead, remember and confess what God has done in Christ—what God is doing by His Word.

Hidden under the wrath poured out at the Cross is the goodness and mercy of God who saves sinners.

Hidden under the sin of the world that dies on the Cross is the righteousness of God, the Lord, our righteousness.

When your day comes, when your prayers aren’t immediately answered—when your health fails—when everything goes wrong—when you suffer and your suffering seems only to increase—when there’s too much weight on your shoulders, too much darkness in your life, too much, remember what God has done and is doing:

He has every right to ignore you completely.

But He doesn’t.

Jesus says, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

God has every right to command His servants to send you away.

But He doesn’t.

He sends His servants to you to speak grace, mercy, and peace into your life for the sake of Christ.

God has every right to call you a dog.

But faith beats Him to the punch.

O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities…

We plead guilty before God of all sin.

And if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8-9).

It sounds like a raw deal: to remain steadfast in the faith when God tests us and leads us into temptation.

But fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith (cf. Heb. 12:2).

Perfect and without sin, He loved us to the end.

He was handed over by His Father unto torture and shame, crucifixion and death.

Treated like the worst sinner, deserving none of it, He endured His Father’s wrath for the sake of the world.

That’s what Jesus would do, because that’s what He did.

And all He did He did to save us, the dogs begging for crumbs from the Master’s Table.

Infinitely more than crumbs, He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.

To strengthen and preserve you in body and soul.

That you’d receive what you can’t deserve but what God gives freely, the forgiveness of sins.

And share it with others.

It’s not WWJD? “What Would Jesus Do?”

We know the answer to that one.

Rather, it’s TGFATJHD “Thank God for all that Jesus has done!”

That won’t sell many bracelets, but it is the Gospel—the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2020
Matthew 15:21-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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