Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 15:21–28): 21 Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 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.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (ESV)
In last week’s Gospel—in Satan’s tempting of our Lord Jesus—we saw an enemy acting like a friend. The devil put on the guise of a friend when he offered to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world—but of course there was a string attached: Jesus would first have to sell His soul to the devil. In today’s Gospel—in our Lord’s testing of the Canaanite woman—we see Jesus putting on the guise of an enemy when He ignores and seemingly insults the Canaanite woman in her great need. These two Gospel accounts remind us that we have a enemy who likes to act like a friend and also a dear and true Friend who sometimes acts like an enemy.
Now, behind Satan’s friendliness is only malicious hatred. The devil befriends you for one reason only: so that he may enjoy tormenting you for eternity. First, he tempts you to sin, saying that it is such a light matter and will harm no one; and then once you have fallen, he attacks you with such accusations that you despair of being saved. But your true Friend Jesus—who sometimes acts like your enemy—behind His occasional rough handling of you is His pure desire for your salvation, that you come to share in His joy, peace, and love for all eternity. Your enemy, the devil, sugar coats his malice to make it appear attractive. But your Friend Jesus sometimes disguises His love beneath a guise of roughness that toughens your faith and makes it strong.
The Canaanite woman knows something of the Friend who disguises Himself as an enemy. She comes to our Lord, crying for mercy. Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. When blind Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, the Lord healed him immediately. Now, Jesus is every bit as much a Friend to the Canaanite woman. His choosing to treat her differently is not at all a sign that He loves her less. At first, though, it does seem very strange, for look at how her best and dearest Friend treats her. But he did not answer her a word.
Jesus ignores the Canaanite woman—as if she were not even there, as if He never heard her cry or saw her desperation. Jesus just keeps on going, as though He were not her Friend at all, but rather her enemy.
The unsympathetic disciples are apparently embarrassed by this woman causing a scene with her begging, and so they do some begging of their own: “Jesus, send this woman away, for she is a nuisance!”. And how does her dearest and truest Friend answer the disciples’ request? I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In saying these harsh words, our Lord Jesus is not acting like a friend at all; rather, He is stating in no uncertain terms that He knows this woman is not a Jew but a Canaanite and that she thus has no claim whatsoever on Him. He owes her nothing. So now would she give up? Would she crumble and lie on the roadside in despair? Would she believe the whisperings of the real Enemy, the devil, as he tells her: “See, Jesus does not love you. He does not care for you at all. You are not among those who might hope for His kindness. And so, despair and die!”
Whatever thoughts of despair are battling within her heart, the Canaanite woman does not give in to them. Rather, she refuses to take “no” for an answer. She refuses to believe that our Lord’s love and mercy are so small that they cannot embrace her and her daughter. And so as Jesus is speaking to His disciples, she uses the opportunity to plant herself in the dust before Him and to lift a tear-stained face to Him and to insist: Lord, help me.
Surely now Friend Jesus will help her? But no. He has his sharpest blow yet to deliver. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. The dogs. Luther was quite honest when he said that if he had been treated so by the Lord at this point, he thinks he would have just gotten up and walked away. But that is what this woman does NOT do. Rather, she looks up at Jesus and says: “Yes, Lord, I am a dog, nothing but a dog. I have no right to the children’s bread. But if I am your dog, won’t you give me the dog’s due and share the crumbs under the table with me? A crumb is all I ask, for my little girl. Please!”
Instantly Jesus throws off the guise of a enemy and shows Himself for who He really is: her dearest and truest friend, who will not abandon her in her need. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Have you ever known Jesus to act more like a enemy than a friend? Maybe even now our Lord is handling you or someone you know roughly. And Satan is whispering in your ear: “Why don’t you just hang it up—Jesus has no room in His heart for you.” But do not buy into the devil’s lies, no, not for a second. Like the Canaanite woman, even in your great need, persist in believing in the Lord’s goodness, that He is truly your dearest and best Friend.
For such Jesus is. He showed Himself to be the truest of friends by the path He walked for you. All the way to Calvary. All the way to the pain and abandonment of the Cross. There the Father made Him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). And this Jesus, your Friend, freely consented to do. To lay down His life willingly, to exchange His life for your death. To shed His blood so as to blot out your sin. To pour Himself out unto death so that death might not be able to hold you. Your Friend Jesus did not stay dead but He rose from the grave in glorious triumph over sin, death, and the devil. In rising from the dead, Jesus gives you the pledge and promise that the life He gives you is the life that never ends. As proof of it, He gives you His body and blood, that you might never forget how much He loves you—especially when times are rough.
Was there ever such a Friend? For He did this for us, when we could not have cared less. When we were still hopelessly mired in our sinful rebellion. This is the true Friend you have in Jesus. And knowing by faith all that Friend Jesus has done for you, you also know by faith that behind all of the rough handling, there is the certainty of the Lord’s kindness, love, and mercy.
As He did with the Canaanite woman, there are times when our Lord tests and exercises our faith by being silent, by appearing to reject us, by appearing to say “no”. But He tests our faith so that we may stand firm in the faith, so that we may learn to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3–5). God tests our faith so, come what may, we learn to cling all the more tightly to our dear Friend and Saviour Jesus Christ and His Holy Word.
With the psalmist and the Canaanite woman, we cry out in our suffering: To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame. And by God’s grace, we receive the assurance that none who wait for [the LORD] shall be put to shame (Psalm 25:1-3).We have been justified by faith in Christ, and so we now have peace with God. A peace so great, so confident, that we can even rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that God is using them to produce endurance, character, and hope that does not put to shame. Our Lord’s rough treatment does not scare us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Come what may—even when our Lord treats us roughly, when He seems to ignore our prayers or insult us—we KNOW that this One, this Jesus, is our dearest, truest Friend, who has won for us our salvation. This Jesus is the Master of working all things together for our good, for our blessing. So faith holds on tight to this Friend Jesus, who loved us all the way to the Cross and the Empty Grave. To Him be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen