The Faith of a Dog
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.” So we prayed in the Introit for the day. Sometimes in your prayers it seems as though you have to remind God of who He is, so maybe He’ll finally do His job. It’s like God is forgetful, and it’s your job, so to speak, to remind Him of what He’s supposed to do for us. “Remember, O Lord.” Why does the Psalmist call on God to remember, unless God had forgotten His mercies? So it seems in life. Aren’t there times in life it seems as if God has forgotten you? Doesn’t it seem as though you are alone and God has left you here flapping in the wind to fend for yourself? Tempted to ask God, “Why do you let something like this happen?” It’s easy to blame God for all the problems of the world. It’s just like the cry of the Psalmist: “Remember, O Lord.” Remember that you are here to save me. But the silence is deafening. Sometimes the suffering continues. It’s enough to make you want to stop praying. But this, of course, is the devil talking. God hasn’t abandoned you at all. He is doing things in His time, in His own way and pace. But the devil won’t let that go. He doesn’t want you to know that God will do anything for you. The devil does not want you to hear God’s Word of forgiveness and peace and healing. And listening to the devil comes naturally.
So we come to the faith of the Canaanite woman. Her plight is much like yours. Jesus went over to Tyre and Sidon, the land of the Gentiles, or half-breeds that weren’t Jews but they weren’t Greeks either. They were despised by all. But Jesus goes there, nonetheless. And when He is there, this Canaanite woman comes to Him and cries out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Son of David, for my daughter is demon-possessed.” She doesn’t care that He is an Israelite. She doesn’t know what He’s going to do. She just knows that she’s stuck, and that her daughter has the worst thing imaginable happening to her. Her daughter is possessed by a demon. This is hard for our 21st century way of thinking. When we see a child that hasn’t been baptized, that doesn’t go to church, and has major problems, it would never occur to us that something sinister was happening. We would simply assume that it was an attitude problem, or maybe some sort of problem with improper medication. But in this Canaanite woman’s case, there is no question. Her daughter does not have faith. Her daughter is possessed by the devil.
For this woman, there was little hope outside of Jesus. A Gentile, a woman, with a possessed daughter, it could hardly be worse. So she goes to the only one who could possibly help her. His answer, though, is hardly a ringing endorsement of her faith. The text says that He answered her not a word. There are few things more frustrating than being ignored. No one likes that. It’s insulting. It shows a callous disregard for someone else’s feelings. It’s one thing to get mad at someone, but it is another to ignore them. It is as if you are saying that they aren’t worth the trouble. He’s ignoring her; but she’s not going away. She won’t be deterred. Like Jacob who wrestled with the Lord, she comes and worships Him and says, “Lord, help me!” Notice what she didn’t say. She didn’t say, heal my daughter. She didn’t say, make my life perfect. She simply said, “Lord, help me!” My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is great faith. Her faith was great because Jesus is great. She knew that Jesus would give her what she needed. Maybe that would be healing her daughter. Maybe that would mean giving her the faith to continue to take care of her daughter. Whatever it meant, she believed that Jesus would supply it.
But even then Jesus doesn’t give her what she clearly wants and needs. His insults continue. “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” So she’s a foreigner and an outsider, and now Jesus calls her a dog! For most of us, if God were to respond this way, we would simply give up and go home. But this woman of great faith knows better. For now she has Jesus trapped in his own words. He has called her a dog; so be it. She will be a dog. She then says to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She had Him. She knew that she was a part of God’s household of faith. She believed that God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. She clung to Jesus’ word of promise in the face of what appeared to be certain failure.
Finally, Jesus reveals what He wanted to reveal from the very beginning. “O woman,” He said, “great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. You see, God’s ways are not your ways. It might have seemed that Jesus was being cruel to this hurting woman. What Jesus saw, though, was a faith so great that it had to be revealed to the world. So even though it looked cruel on the outside, all Jesus did was remove any filth from around the gold. He cast everything else aside, so that all that was left was this woman’s trust that Jesus would keep His Word, no matter what.
God does not abandon you. It may appear as though things are as bad as they can get. It may look like God wants to rip you to shreds and leave you bleeding on the floor. But it’s not true. God was with her all along. If there are trials and tribulations in your life, God will use them so that your trust in Him may grow, and so that others around you will be able to learn how to trust in God above all things. This is what worship is all about. Sometimes, worship is exciting and wonderful. You sing a certain hymn, or something from a reading or the sermon hits you just right. But there are the other times. There are times when you leave more frustrated than when you came. You can’t base God’s presence on your surface experience. You may feel frustrated, or bored, or excited, or distracted. But the reality is that God is in your midst. Jesus comes to you to forgive you your sins. He comes to comfort you with the Gospel. He comes to feed you—not with mere crumbs, but with His very body and blood. That isn’t just experience; that is reality. As our confessions say, the chief worship of God is the desire to hear the Gospel: Jesus died bearing your sins, and He rose so that you would have life in His name. Join your voice to the voice of the Canaanite woman this Lent. Cry out to God, “Lord, help me!” Cry out in prayer and the boldness of faith, for He will not disappoint you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.