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Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28

by pastorjuhl ~ March 3rd, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            All our lives we have been taught “No means no.” The difference between someone’s consent and someone’s violation is the simple word “no.” Saying no brings a sigh of relief. Saying no also brings a guilty feeling, especially when someone expects you to say yes and won’t stop asking until you change your mind. Nothing changes no into yes faster than a guilt trip. We might change our mind and relent to do or not to do something in order to make someone else feel better and make ourselves feel worse.

What looked like a stern no is actually a joyous yes in today’s Gospel. It might be a surprising yes to us, but not to Christ. He knew what would happen. He knew the Canaanite woman would not stop asking for help. He wanted to be trapped with His comment about dogs and crumbs. Jesus is pleased at heart when she, and we, persist in prayer and do not give up.

Giving up is exactly what the disciples expected the Canaanite woman to do when Jesus answered her request with silence. Giving up is what we expect the Canaanite woman to do because we know all about giving up when it comes to petitioning God for something. Our Lord exhorts us in Luke chapter 11 to ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. The thrust of the three verbs is to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. How many times should we ask, seek, and knock? There is no end to asking, seeking, and knocking.

Nevertheless, we stop petitioning God after a while. We’ve been taught “No means no.” It’s good not to be too beggarly, lest we be seen as a moocher or too eager to want something from God. Silent answers to our petitions probably mean our prayers will not be answered, let alone given a fair hearing. If this is so, why did the Holy Spirit cause this account of the Canaanite woman to be written for our edification? She is not an exception to the rule. She is the example of how a Christian should approach prayer.

What is more, she is a Canaanite, someone from a race that was supposed to be exterminated by Joshua and the Israelites. Not all Canaanites were exterminated, in direct violation of God’s command. They were Molech worshipers. The Canaanites killed their babies so they could be more prosperous. Sounds like present-day Americans, don’t they? At any rate, the wrath of God was never fully poured out on the Canaanites. From Israelite disobedience comes this woman and her demon-afflicted daughter.

Knowing Biblical history about Canaanites and Jews, we might think Jesus’ non-response is a fitting response. The disciples are right to say send her away, for she is crying out after us. Jesus speaks the truth when He later says I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Jesus could be enacting ultimate revenge on the Canaanite people by His behavior to this outsider’s request.

By now we would have given up and gone home if we were in the woman’s shoes. The answer is a clear no. Since “no means no”, it’s time to go. Not so for this woman. She’s locked in on Jesus and won’t let go. She is a pit bull terrier of a believer. Once a pit bull terrier locks on to a body part, the dog is not going to let go until it is ready to let go. The jaw structure of a pit bull terrier is almost a vise grip. The pressure builds and builds until the dog lets go or until the victim has been maimed.

The Canaanite woman builds pressure on Jesus not because He won’t listen. She builds up pressure because she believes without a doubt that Jesus will give her a fair hearing and answer her prayer according to His good and gracious will. Though she was a Gentile and not among the chosen people, she prayed and let nothing keep her from praying. Nor will we, for we desperately require help from our various needs. Where else can we look for help but to God in heaven, for the sake of His dear Son and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ? This woman is a hero, a soldier of the cross. She is truly remarkable! (Luther)

Faith takes Christ captive in His Word, when He’s angriest, and makes out of His cruel words a comforting inversion. The woman rightly says she is a dog. Let it be so. We are dogs too. She begs consideration that a human being gives a dog. We do the same from the God-man Jesus Christ. She catches Christ with His own words, and He is happy to be caught. (Luther)

No does not necessarily mean no with Jesus Christ. Where most people would stop asking and mind their own business, we persist in asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of the Lord. We sink our teeth, as it were, into Christ’s command to pray and won’t let go until we receive a blessing. Jacob did the same thing in the Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter 32. He wrestled the angel of the Lord all night and wouldn’t let go until He received a blessing. Along with a dislocated hip, Jacob became Israel. He strove with God and with men and had prevailed.

The Lord shows today how persistent prayer pays off. If He answers simple prayers from simple redeemed sinners like us, how much more He then answers the prayers of believers through the years in His death upon the cross for sin. Consider again the Canaanite woman. She comes to Christ in faith for an answer to her prayer. Jesus answers her prayer because she believes He is the Son of David. Her cry of faith and her persistence in prayer pleases Jesus to answer her prayer. She is an outsider, but is also an insider because of Jesus.

We are outsiders who do not deserve a fair hearing or any fairness at all. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ dies for our sin. The first words He speaks from the cross are Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Even in His death upon the cross, He begs forgiveness for His accusers. He begs forgiveness for us too. His blood speaks righteousness greater than the blood of bulls and goats. When Satan makes us think we are not worthy of any gift from God, let alone an answered prayer, God proves Satan wrong in the death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son. Our cries for forgiveness and righteousness are heard in Jesus Christ.

No meant no for the Canaanite woman for many generations. Jesus has come, has seen her great faith, and has given her a place among those who were commanded to exterminate her people. In Christ, no may not necessarily mean no. It may mean yes. It may also mean no to what you want, but yes to something you never bothered to ask. The same Lord Jesus who takes away your sins and gives you everlasting life might seem deaf as a post when you need Him most. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking, for He loves to hear you ask. He commands you to pray. Grab on to Jesus and don’t let go. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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