Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

The hymns in the Confession and Absolution section of our hymnal are, thematically, more difficult for us to sing, because to be a good Confession and Absolution hymn, you have to deal with a topic people don’t like.

We just sang these words:

“When in the hour of deepest need / We know not where to look for aid; / When days and nights of anxious thought / No help or counsel yet have brought” (LSB 615:1).

While true—that’s not the hymn with which we sing ourselves to sleep.

But—it is true.

Let’s start there: We know not where to look for aid.

So often, to care for others, we look only to ourselves.

And we should not.

I don’t mean the times when it’s my turn to change the diaper, unload the dishwasher, or fold the laundry—when it’s my turn, I just have to do those things.

(If I say that enough I’ll be ready in a few weeks, right?)

I mean when another person is stricken by God, smitten, and afflicted.

They’re hurting—and the burden for us is double, because we see their hurt—and—we convince ourselves that we can fix it. That we can help.

I could do this or that—or I could have.

I should do this or that—or I should have.

Or—if I had it to do over again, I would have—what?

You can’t fix everything.

Some things you must endure.

But with the hymn in mind, it does help if we know where to look for aid.

The Canaanite woman knew exactly where to look.

She put no trust in her own efforts.

She relied not at all on her own person or standing.

She knew Jesus as Lord, the Son of David. She knew the promises of God to establish His throne forever.

And as Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon, behold, this Canaanite woman came out and was crying, “‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (Matthew 15:21-26).

Consider this woman, this mother.

Her daughter is severely oppressed by a demon—which could mean the demon casts the girl into fire or water, constantly seeking her death.

If she acted as we often act, she wouldn’t dare leave her child—even to find help.

We’re practical—we think of what we can do.

Try this. Try that. What feels better? What works?

And when we fail, we consider only that we could’ve done more or less or different or better.

We don’t consider that we—actually—know not where to look for aid.

This woman left her demon possessed child—at best—in the care of others and—at worst—alone.

She acts on faith that’s willing to allow her daughter to suffer.

She acts on faith that simultaneously willingly endures the scorn of the Lord.

Jesus ignores her!

He denies that she has standing before God, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” which seems to imply, “And not those incestuous Canaanites.”

And he answered her again, “It is not right to take the children’s read and throw it to the dogs.”

She endured the suffering of seeing her daughter distraught. 

She bore the scorn of the Lord, seeking help.

And yet faith cries out all the more, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

And that was her hope.

Not preferential treatment—but crumbs.

She’s a dog with a bone, and she won’t let go.

She’s a Christian, with a promise from God, and she believes.

“Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28).

The gospel is not to be found apart from hardship, because the gospel is the forgiveness of sins—life after death.

Healing when all we know is hurt.

Joy when all we have is sadness.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

In the midst of sorrow and sickness and even death, that’s where the gospel will be found, because that’s where Jesus goes.

Into our flesh He’s born—to bear our sin and be our savior.

Upon Him was put the chastisement that brought us peace, and in our place He dies—destroying death and delivering us.

All He knew was pain—to pry us out of the grip of death.

He was despised and rejected; a man of sorrows and sadness, acquainted with grief—all so that we would know joy.

“O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face; / Absolve us through You boundless grace. / Be with us in our anguish still; / Free us at last from ev’ry ill” (LSB 615:5).

We find ourselves in anguish, still.

We all have this hardship, and all, therefore, suffer.

But Christians endure the will of God faithfully.

If the Equality Act, for example, which is obvious double speak, if it passes in the Senate, all Christians will be made to suffer, but use the mind that God has given you and see the world for what it is.

It’s no longer acceptable to say that “boys will be boys,” but our current government would require you think that it’s acceptable for “boys to be girls.”

“All men are created equal” means everyone is equal before God.

But “All men are created equal” does not mean that everyone is the same height—or that there aren’t obvious and good differences between male and female.

Be prepared to endure the will of God faithfully, to speak the truth in love to those who hate you.

It will happen. You will suffer.

But Christians prosper in the plans that God has made for them.

Walk the narrow way.

Honor your father and mother that it be well with you and you live long upon the earth (cf. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:3).

Pray and live as Jesus teaches—for God to forgive your trespasses as you forgive those who trespass against you (cf. Matthew 6:12).

Build your house on the rock.

Walk in the narrow way of the Lord.

Be prepared, because all suffer.

But Christians hear and receive and hold on to the promises of God unto life everlasting.

“So we with all our hearts each day / To [God] our glad thanksgiving pay, / Then walk obedient to [His] Word, / And now and ever praise [Him], Lord” (LSB 615:6).

The Canaanite woman is a great example for us.

She knew where to look for aid.

She was a dog with a bone she wouldn’t let go.

She was a Christian with a promise from God that she certainly believed.

Great was her faith! And great is yours.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reminiscere (Lent 2), 2021
Matthew 15:21-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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