Reminiscere Sermon, 2017

Reminiscere (Lent 2), 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Matthew 15:21-28

Is it wrong to hurt someone’s feelings?

I think that’s a good question, because it seems when someone says “That offends me,” (which is just another way of saying “My feelings are hurt”), that saying shuts down conversations.

Sometimes, I hope I hurt your feelings.

Sometimes, I hope God hurts your feelings.

If your feelings are wrong.

In today’s gospel lesson, the 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 [Jesus] did not answer her a word” (Mt. 15:22-23).

He ignores her. He means to ignore her.

He means to hurt her feelings. He really does.

It’s not always a sin to hurt someone’s feelings.

Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s necessary.

Here, Jesus gives this woman a cross to bear.

It’s terrible and wonderful.

It’s important to note that the disciples don’t get it: They “came and begged [Jesus], saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us’” (Matthew 15:23).

As for them, so for us, we can’t imagine Jesus not healing. We want to skip to the part where Jesus performs the miracle and the woman leaves happy.

But Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24).

He’s saying that the Canaanite woman shouldn’t even be there.

In Genesis chapter nine, Canaan, Noah’s grandson, was cursed by Noah after the sin of Ham, Noah’s son.

The Canaanites were an incestuously heathen people, marked for destruction. For thus says the Lord in Deuteronomy chapter twenty: “In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you…you shall save alive nothing that breathes…the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and 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” (Deut. 20:16-18, cf. Deut. 20).

She shouldn’t be there for Jesus to save.

This Canaanite, regardless of the merit of her request, shouldn’t be there, she shouldn’t have a daughter, she shouldn’t be alive, because God commanded Israel to “save alive nothing that breathes” from among the Canaanites (cf. Deut. 20).

The only reason she’s there is because Israel was unfaithful.

The only reason we’re here is because Israel was unfaithful. The only reason we have the gospel is because Israel was unfaithful.

On the surface, that’s what it looks like.

God’s covenant seems to be an enormous barrier between Jesus and this Canaanite woman.

He ignores her. He hurts her feelings. He means to.

He gives her a terrible cross to bear.

And she takes it. She prays.

Each time she prays, she asks for the same thing, but she does it in very different ways.

We recognize her first prayer as the Kyrie.

She implores God for mercy, invoking His title as Son of David. It’s terrible and wonderful that this Canaanite knows Jesus as the Son of David—and many of the children of Abraham don’t!

Jesus ignores her. So she prays again.

This time, she drops the formality.

When a child asks his Father or Mother for help, he doesn’t say, “Father, have mercy on me.”

A child simply states, “Daddy, I need your help.”

And so this woman prays, simply, “‘Lord, help me.’ And [Jesus] answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (Mt. 15:25-26).

There’s nothing redeeming about what Jesus calls her.

“Dog” was a term of ultimate scorn used by Jews to describe Gentiles.

In the Talmud, the collection of Jewish traditions and teachings, it says, “As the sacred food was intended for men, but not for the dogs, the Torah was intended to be given to the Chosen People, but not to the gentiles.”

That’s one official way Jews speak of Gentiles.

Now, we know the end to all this—the daughter’s healed.

It’s the slow, torturous “getting there” that we don’t like. Why not rip the bandaid off, heal the girl, and send the mom away?

Do any of you like taking band-aids off slowly, drawing out the small agony as long as you can, hairs and all, or, in one smooth motion, do you rip the bandaid away?

Why would Jesus hurt her feelings on purpose and drag her through it slowly?

Well, it’s only wrong for Jesus to hurt her feelings if her feelings are good and true. We don’t know why Jesus ignores an ailing mother and calls her a dog. We know God tests our faith and that if this were us our feelings would be hurt.

But so what?

Maybe your feelings are wrong.

There are so many examples of feelings being wrong.

Men feel like women, men feel like marrying men.

Or men don’t feel like being men, and leave their household to fend for itself.

There are Christians who believe that God doesn’t condemn people to hell, because they feel that’s unfair.

I met a Christian who believed Jesus was married, because he felt that Jesus was married.

That’s when I hope I hurt your feelings. That’s when I hope God hurts your feelings.

Because feelings, emotions, are not a litmus test for truth.

When we serve our feelings, instead of them serving us, we’re serving a fickle, false god.

God knows this.

So He gives us more bandaids than we can count, if you follow my meaning, and He pulls them off slowly over time, drawing out our agony, teaching us, training our flesh to wait and hope in the Lord and His Word, and not our feelings.

The Canaanite woman never disagrees with Jesus.

She doesn’t balk at being called a dog.

She prays faithfully and dutifully.

She understands that salvation is to the Jews. But she also knows that salvation belongs to the Lord.

And we can always fall back on this: God saves sinners.

The slow test of faith is painful, and we often fail, but…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, who, before God, are nothing and have nothing—except that which He makes you and gives you.

Blessed, even, are the dogs. If you’re not a Jew, a child, then you’re a Gentile, a dog.

But God and this Canaanite woman knew the children of Abraham would drop their bread.

And God knew that you’d be satisfied with even the crumbs that fell from the table.

And, guess what, He wanted you to have them all along.

St. Paul writes, “[God our savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

The slow test of faith is painful, and we often fail, but…

“We 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” (Rm. 5:3-4).

The slow test of faith is painful, and we often fail, but…

We always return to the fact that—in the fullness of time and according to plan—God the Father sent forth Jesus to die for the ungodly. For us. For you and me.

So we pray, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” And it may seem like God answers us not a word.

But remember: God saves sinners.

So we pray, “Help me!” and we may feel like dogs ignored.

But remember: God desires all to be saved. God has sent forth His Son to bear our sin and be our Savior. He’s answered our prayers before we’ve prayed them!

And so, when the Word of God confronts our sin, when our feelings are hurt, we say, “Yes, Lord.”

And then we rejoice in the crumbs.

Contentment in the Word of God, the gifts of God, God’s will and ways and wisdom, is among the highest arts for Christians.

But when you believe that Jesus, true God and man, perfect and holy, crucified and risen, when you believe that that Jesus is God’s “Yes!” to our prayers for salvation and help and relief, when you believe that, thus says the Lord:

“Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”

And you are healed, saved, instantly.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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