Sermon for Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent, AD 2022

Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

St. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about their sanctification, that they become holy as God is holy. Many of the Thessalonians were Gentiles and did not grow up with the Old Testament or the Law of Moses. Among these Gentiles who followed pagan religions, there was no sense of being holy in the way God commands us to be holy through the Ten Commandments. So while believing Paul and becoming Christians, the Thessalonians were not used to living in a way different than the world.

The gods of their world, the Greek and Roman, did not care about any holiness that included refraining from sin. One could just go to the temple of the pagan god, pay for whatever sacrifice or rite, and he would be good with that god until he needed him later. There was no sense of freedom from sin, no holiness, just service and payment. Such was the problem for the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus. She is from a pagan world and the pagan gods cannot help her. In fact, her daughter is now severely oppressed by a demon. She needs the deliverance that only Jesus can give.

Even though she is from a pagan place, she must have heard about Jesus, for she cries out to him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” You may remember from a few weeks ago, the blind man calling out to Jesus on the road to Jericho, saying the same thing, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people try to silence the blind beggar, but he calls out all the more, and Jesus comes to him and heals him.

Yet the opposite happens with this woman. She cries out to the Son of David, and he does not answer her. No one tries to silence her, and even the disciples beg Jesus to send her away, for she keeps crying out continually. Why doesn’t Jesus answer her request to the Son of David? What is different about her from the beggar? The answer is in Jesus’ answer to the disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

The Son of David comes as a promised king, the messiah who will restore all things, but specifically he is the king of Israel. Jesus has come as their king and shepherd, when they are led astray by their false leaders, Herod’s people and the pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus desires to bring these lost sheep back to Him. So when there is a blind beggar in Israel, when no one will take care of this man who God commands they care for, Jesus is there with compassion and healing. He is restoring and growing his kingdom.

This Canaanite woman calling out to him is far outside of that kingdom. At least it appears so. She does not have any Jewish ancestry and was probably raised in paganism. The area of Tyre and Sidon where she is from was never under Israel, and always avoided as a wicked place. One would think she has no right to ask Jesus Christ, the Son of David for anything. Jesus would seem to confirm this with his answer. To her it seems like Jesus is saying she is none of his concern.

If the woman was trying to figure out Jesus’ motivation behind this, maybe she would have turned away. Maybe she would have tried to reason to bargain with Jesus for what she needed. Yet the woman did nothing of the sort – she fell down and knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.” She threw everything she had at the mercy of the man who seemed to have rebuffed her for be presumptuous. She did not think, “well, Jesus must not want to help me after all” or “I guess since I am a Canaanite I am disqualified.” Trusting in what she knew of the mercy of Jesus, she begged for help.

See how she doesn’t act toward Jesus like a pagan. She doesn’t just try to bargain and please him to get on his good side. She doesn’t come to him like someone she has to convince. She throws everything on his character, his mercy. She knows that Jesus is one who gives good things to those who believe in Him, only out of love and compassion for those in need. Jesus gives her the opportunity to say it when he responds, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She answers this test, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She knows that whether you are part of Israel or not ultimately doesn’t matter in the kingdom. What matters is the disposition of the King towards you.

Jesus came as the one to gather the lost sheep of Israel, but there are many of his fold who are not of Israel by blood. In fact, most of natural Israel will reject him. Natural Israel, the Jews, widely reject Jesus because he doesn’t establish a kingdom for them on earth, because his kingdom is not of this world. This continues with the Jews today. Despite what some popular books and teachers may say, being part of the modern nation of Israel or born of Jewish parents will not save you. All are saved by being brought into Christ’s kingdom, not any kingdom or tribe of this world. All, Jew and Gentile alike, come into Christ’s kingdom by faith in Him.

Faith like the Canaanite woman’s, that even despite circumstance and what seems like direct rejection, keeps requesting from Jesus, knowing who He is. Knowing that He is merciful. For no one, Jew or Gentile has any right to anything good from him on our own. In our sin we do not deserve a morsel of bread. Yet Jesus in His mercy became man to die for us and rise again and ascend into heaven, where he has established his rule over heaven and earth. Knowing this, and that he has promised to hear us and intercede for us to the Father, we can make our requests known to him like the woman, even when everything else seems to be saying “no way!” For Jesus is not a God of sight but of faith, faith in his character a love for us. Pagan gods may need you to earn their love, but Jesus loved us first, so that we could love him.

Since Jesus rules heaven and earth and has put the Spirit of love into our hearts, let us walk to please God more and more. We please God by being holy as he is holy, most of all by being merciful as he is merciful. For if Jesus can extend his kingdom to we Gentiles only out of mercy and compassion, we can certainly live to serve and love our neighbors. For the essence of the law is love, and to follow God’s commands is not just personal moral purity, but shows love and mercy for our neighbors. This is difficult, especially with our enemies. We are in many ways like the Thessalonians, for this is not the way the world around us thinks. Yet it is not our job to set everything right, Jesus is already doing this through his kingdom.

He extends his kingdom even now, through the means of the Word and Sacraments. By these means he rules in our hearts, giving the forgiveness of sins. Receive these words and Christ’s body in blood in faith today, coming as the Canaanite woman only knowing that you need mercy and Jesus is one to give it. For by forgiving your sins and bringing you into his kingdom, Jesus is making you holy, and that is the will of God – your sanctification. What may seem like mere crumbs from Jesus are everlasting life for the hungry soul seeking his divine mercy. Amen.

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