Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Several years ago there was a trend in American Christianity to wear Christian flair marked with WWJD? which asked the question “What would Jesus do?” and supposedly encouraged better behavior in the Christians that wore such things.
However, the authors of that motto must have forgotten that one possible answer to the question “WWJD?” is to insult a woman by calling her a dog after ignoring her and letting her be rebuked by the disciples.
The only answer to WWJD? that I like is also the only answer we’re sure of: Begotten of His Father from eternity, Jesus’ incarnation and birth would be prophesied for several thousand years, 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 until He comes again to judge the quick and the dead.
Asking WWJD means well but it forgets what Jesus actually did.
I can’t imagine intentionally ignoring a person who cries 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 being okay with a confirmation class that would basically do the same thing saying, “Send her away, for she’s crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23).
But that’s what the disciples say, and Jesus goes on to make it worse. He 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’” (Mt. 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 right to the conclusion—that Jesus is testing this Canaanite woman’s faith—He only seemingly ignores her—the disciples only seemingly rebuke her—and Jesus calls her a dog but meant it as a compliment.
Before we jump to that conclusion, we should ask if there’s any merit, any truth, to what Jesus does.
He ignores her.
Is there any reason why He should?
Jews, at the time, hated Canaanites, because they weren’t Jewish. I haven’t learned all the local rivalries yet, honestly, the biggest one I’ve heard of, amongst football people, had to do with where the varsity football team was going to play football—on the Girard campus or on the Virden campus.
Imagine being from one and hating the other.
Imagine you were supposed to crush them in the most recent homecoming game.
And imagine that they were the ones who squeaked by—bad calls, late flags, last minute scores, all that.
Now imagine—after your defeat—your sworn enemy asks you for help. Let’s say their car, decked out in their team’s ugly colors, is stopped on the side of the road.
We can all sit and pontificate that we would stop and help—but it’s in all of us to hatefully drive by.
To ignore a request for help because the one who’s asking is our enemy.
Does Jesus ignore the Canaanite woman because she’s not Jewish? The answer, actually, is yes.
But if He’s testing her, if 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 the 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).
If Israel remained faithful, this woman wouldn’t be there.
By ignoring the Canaanite woman, Jesus reminds her that she doesn’t deserve the air she breathes.
Or, think about it this way, are you here simply because the Jews ignored God’s command?
Were any of your long lost ancestors included in the peoples that were to be utterly destroyed?
Do you deserve the air you’re breathing?
Jesus is not only testing the Canaanite woman.
He’s teaching her, and 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 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.).
But the great faith of this woman believes the Word, not the world.
God the Father is merciful (cf. Lk. 6:36).
He desires mercy not sacrifice (cf. Hos. 6:6).
He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live (cf. Ez. 33:11).
God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Pt. 3:9).
But if there is no wrath, why would you fear Him?
If God’s anger were as a dog without teeth, you wouldn’t fear the bite.
When everything around the Canaanite woman suggests otherwise, she knows the truth.
God is merciful.
And that’s great faith.
When the day comes for you to play the part of the Canaanite woman—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 just too much weight on your shoulders, too much darkness in whatever room your in—too much—remember:
God has every right to ignore you completely.
But He doesn’t.
Jesus says, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
He has every right to command His servants to send you away.
But He doesn’t.
He sends His servants—in this case, your pastor—to speak grace, mercy, and peace into your life for the sake of Christ.
He has every right to call you a dog.
But before He does we confess that it’s true.
We confess that we are poor, miserable, sinners.
And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8-9).
It may sound like a raw deal: to remain steadfast in faith when God tests us and leads us into temptation.
But all eyes are on Jesus.
Faithful to the end—perfect and without sin—yet He was handed over by His Father to torture, crucifixion, and death.
Treated like the worst sinner but deserving none of it, He endured His Father’s wrath for the sake of the world.
That’s what Jesus would do.
That’s what He did.
And all He did He did for us.
So that to us—to the dogs begging for crumbs from the Master’s Table—to us Jesus says, “Great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire. Take eat, this is My body. Take drink, this is My blood. Given and shed for you—why?—for the forgiveness of your sins.”
That your body and soul would be strengthened.
That you would take what you cannot deserve but what God still gives freely—that you would take that—the forgiveness of sins in Christ—and freely share it with others, even your enemies from Girard and Virden.
All eyes are on Jesus.
It’s not WWJD? “What Would Jesus Do?”
We know the answer to that one.
Instead, 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!