The Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)–13 March 2022
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)
There is a single Bible verse that has come to be called “the Little Bible”,
for it beautifully summarizes the Bible’s main message.
You know the verse I’m talking about: John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Whoever believes—faith, then, is absolutely vital.
Sinners can be saved.
People we think of as the dregs of society—
including corrupt politicians, notorious criminals,
murderous drug lords, and power-hungry tyrants—
these all can still become God’s children.
Even you and I—with all our failures and secret struggles—
even we can enter heaven.
There are no sinners so great
that they cannot be forgiven through faith in Jesus.
But we must all believe in Him.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Today’s Gospel can teach us this.
Jesus said to the Canaanite woman: great is your faith!
We may be tempted to think that a great faith
is a faith that knows its theology well,
like a pastor or a seminary professor
who is able to quote and explain in intricate detail
all that Scripture says.
Now, being well-versed in biblical doctrine is a wonderful thing.
I have two excellent summaries of what the Bible teaches—
Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms—
which I would invite you to read and study.
Nonetheless, Bible knowledge is not the same thing as a great faith.
The Canaanite woman certainly did not have a deep grasp of theology,
but then, we do not hear Jesus asking her about any such thing.
The Canaanite woman simply confesses Jesus as Lord, Son of David
and sets all her hope on Him. And Jesus calls her faith great.
What, then, is such a faith that Jesus calls great?
Well, to have a great faith in Jesus
means to trust in Jesus, to set all your hope on Jesus,
to believe that He can help and will help.
This is what the Canaanite woman believed.
She showed it by seeking Jesus, following after Him, asking Him for mercy,
and continuing to pray even when Jesus did not seem to care about her.
This woman’s faith has two characteristics for us to consider.
First, she did not think much of herself.
She knew she had no right to demand anything from Jesus,
and she accepted that fact.
She would hear Jesus say that His duty
was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
She would hear that she belonged to the people the Jews called “dogs”,
meaning she was not part of God’s chosen people.
And she accepted the fact that she did not belong.
And yet, she set all her hope on Jesus.
That is how faith speaks. True faith has nothing to demand.
Those with true faith do not think much of themselves
and they accept the fact
that they have no right to receive what they need from the Lord.
Faith simply says and keeps on saying “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
And faith knows that when Jesus does help,
it is always due to God’s grace, God’s undeserved favour.
We cannot demand God’s grace.
Grace is given to those who stand under judgment.
That is how it was for the Canaanite woman; that is how it is with us.
This leads us to the second characteristic of great faith.
Great faith holds itself to Jesus, even when He does not seem to answer.
That is the picture today’s Gospel paints for us.
Jesus answers the Canaanite woman not a word,
but she keeps following him with her shouting.
Jesus explains to her that He was not sent to the Gentiles;
their hour had not yet come.
But this pagan woman doubles down and blocks the Lord’s path,
kneeling before Him and crying: Lord, help me!
Perhaps it was her being on her knees that inspired her
to play the role of a dog, a family pet, in a lowly place,
hoping for a crumb to fall from the master’s table.
The Canaanite woman shows us
that great faith persists in seeking the Lord’s help,
even in the most desperate of circumstances.
This faith knows that help is found with Jesus,
even when we do not see that help.
Therefore, we do not let go of Jesus.
And even when we do not get what we most eagerly pray for,
we still trust that Jesus knows best
and that all will be well in the end,
when and in the manner that the Lord chooses.
Before I read a book or watch a movie,
I will sometimes read a review that gives a brief sketch of the plot.
That is what we have in today’s Gospel.
In a matter of minutes,
we see the Canaanite woman going from struggling with Jesus
to having her prayer answered and her daughter healed instantly.
That brief encounter is a sketch of our entire lives, from Baptism to death.
At times, we may see speedy answers to our prayers,
but often, our struggles may last a long time, even a lifetime.
We pray for victory over all our sins. We pray for a pure heart, a great love,
a love that believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
But we do not receive it.
Instead, we receive a deep and humiliating experience
that we are not enough, that we are insufficient,
that we are miserable failures,
that we are too weak to be the persons we want to be.
We lose hope and we can almost be driven to despair.
But then, we get on our knees and we cry out again and again:
Lord, have mercy on me!
And we begin to see something new.
We see that the Lord Jesus has established a kingdom of reconciliation
where forgiveness never runs out,
a kingdom where our heavenly Father
never tires of loving His dear children
and renewing them in the true faith.
Do you see how the Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus
is a sketch of our entire lives?
That woman’s desperation over her daughter’s plight
mirrors our own desperation.
Like this woman, we struggle to hold on to Jesus
when He does not seem to answer us,
when He allows our troubles to continue and even to get worse,
when He calls us to persevere
in the face of ongoing troubles and personal weaknesses and failures.
The Canaanite woman’s struggle with Jesus
was intense but over in a matter of minutes.
But our struggles can last a lifetime.
We often experience no instantaneous healing,
no speedy answers to our prayer.
And until the day we die, we will have our struggles with our Lord,
who at times seems not willing to help us at all.
But the Canaanite woman teaches us that our Lord is not at all uncaring,
as He sometimes appears.
The Canaanite woman teaches us how to act in times of great distress.
And are we not now living in such times?
In addition to our fears over the present conflict are our worries over inflation, supply of goods,
and the general sense of distrust and unrest in society and even in the church.
Of course, as Christians, we know that the world is coming to an end.
And we remember our Lord’s words concerning the end of the age:
because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:12-13).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Canaanite woman teaches you
how to endure through these distressful times to the end
so that you shall be saved.
As you struggle
with the world’s troubles and your own weaknesses and failures,
as you struggle with your Lord, who does not always seem to care,
as you struggle with the devil’s attacks, both in the world and in the church,
your calling in Christ is to do what the Canaanite woman did.
First, do not think much of yourself,
but rather confess that you have no right
to receive from the Lord the help you so desperately need.
Say to the Lord:
I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth
which You have shown Your servant (Genesis 32:10).
But do not stop with your confession of your unworthiness before God.
Go on to take hold of Jesus, even when He seems not to answer you,
even when your troubles do not go away.
Keep on believing that the God you worship
is good and full of love and mercy.
When you believe that God is good and that His mercy endures forever,
then, in spite of your failures and this world’s problems,
you will endure in crying out: Lord, help me!
Like the Canaanite woman,
in our sorrows, you and I get down on our knees
and again and again we cry out to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy on me!
It may be that the Lord will provide us instant relief and healing.
Or it may be that the Lord chooses to sustain us as we continue suffering.
But either way, we begin to see something new.
We see that we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whose death and resurrection
we now stand in God’s grace and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
We even rejoice in our sufferings
and our hearts are filled up with God’s love
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (see Romans 5:1–5).
We see that through His death and resurrection,
our Lord Jesus has established a kingdom of reconciliation.
We see that Baptism brings us into this kingdom,
this kingdom where the Lord’s forgiveness never runs out
and His mercy endures forever,
this kingdom where our heavenly Father never tires
of loving His dear children and renewing us in the true faith.
A faith that confesses one’s unworthiness and that sets all hope on Jesus— this is the great faith which the Lord commends in the Canaanite woman.
And how do we get such a faith?
Of course, through God’s Word.
The Word teaches us to know Jesus
and to listen to His Good Shepherd voice calling to His flock.
As wonderful as it is for all of us to be diligent students of God’s Word,
learning to know and to listen to Jesus in His Word
is not just a matter of increasing our Bible knowledge.
At its core, knowing and listening to Jesus in His Word is a matter of trust.
In our ongoing struggles, we learn to trust in Jesus in everything,
to believe even when we do not see.
And of course, Christ’s Church is here is help us with this.
No matter how terrible things may get, no matter how weak our faith may be,
we still can sit down in God’s church,
to hear and learn, listen and ask, pray and receive.
And in the Lord’s Holy Word and Supper,
we still can receive a great faith—
we can trust in Jesus; we can set all our hope on Jesus,
we can believe that Jesus can help and will help.
What a wonderful place for us to be—
to be on our knees with the Canaanite woman and to say:
“Lord, I have no right to demand and I am not worthy.
I plea for Your mercy, not because I deserve it
but because that is what You are—
merciful and gracious to the undeserving”.
I cannot say for sure,
but I imagine that after her daughter was healed by Jesus,
the Canaanite woman said something like what we say every Lord’s Day:
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
and His mercy endureth forever.
Even now, as you patiently wait for the Lord’s help,
may these words of praise be on your lips and in your heart each day
until that day when your heavenly Father graciously takes you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Amen.