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slightly edited from Dr. M. Luther

Matthew 15:21-28

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Lent 2, Reminiscere
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Feb 28, 2021 

This Gospel presents to us a true example of firm and perfect faith.  This woman endures and overcomes in three great and hard battles, and teaches us in a beautiful manner the true way and virtue of faith, namely, that it is a hearty trust in the grace and goodness of God as experienced and revealed through His Word.  For Saint Mark says that she heard some news about Jesus.  What kind of news?  Without doubt good news, and the good report that Christ was a pious Man and cheerfully helped everybody.  Such news about God is a true Gospel and a word of grace, out of which sprang the faith of this woman.  Had she not believed, she would not have thus run after Christ.  In like manner we have often heard how Saint Paul in Romans ten says that faith comes by hearing, that the Word must go in advance and be the beginning of our salvation.

But how is it that many more have heard this good news concerning Christ, who have not followed Him, and did not esteem it as good news?  Answer: The Physician is helpful and welcome to the sick.  The healthy have no use for Him.  But this woman felt her need, hence she followed the sweet scent, as is written in the Song of Solomon.  In like manner Moses must precede and teach people to feel their sins in order that grace may be sweet and welcome to them.  Therefore all is in vain, however friendly and lovely Christ may be pictured, if man is not first humbled by a knowledge of himself and he possesses no longing for Christ, as Mary’s Song says, “The hungry He has filled with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.” All this is spoken and written for the comfort of the distressed, the poor, the needy, the sinful, and the despised, so that they may know in all times of need to whom to flee and where to seek comfort and help.

But see in this example how Christ, like a hunter, exercises and chases faith in His followers in order that it may become strong and firm.  When the woman follows Him upon hearing of His fame and cries with assured confidence that He would according to His reputation deal mercifully with her, Christ certainly acts differently, as if to let her faith and good confidence be in vain and turn His good reputation into a lie, so that she could have thought: Is this the gracious, friendly Man? or: The good words that I have heard spoken about Him, upon which I have depended, must not be true.  He is my enemy and will not receive me.  Nevertheless He might speak a word and tell me that He will have nothing to do with me.  Now He is silent as a stone.  Behold, this is a very hard rebuff, when God appears so earnest and angry and conceals His grace so high and deep, as those know so well, who feel and experience it in their hearts.  Therefore she imagines He will not fulfill what He has spoken and will let His Word be false, as it happened to the children of Israel at the Red Sea and to many other saints.

Now what does the poor woman do?  She turns her eyes away from all this unfriendly treatment of Christ.  All this does not lead her astray, neither does she take it to heart, but she continues immediately and firmly to cling in her confidence to the good news she had heard and embraced concerning Him, and never gives up.  We must also do the same and learn firmly to cling to the Word, even though God appears different than His Word teaches.  But, oh, how painful it is to nature and reason, that this woman should strip herself of self, and forsake all that she experienced, and cling alone to God’s bare Word, until she experienced the contrary.  May God help us in time of need and of death to possess like courage and faith!

Since her cry and faith avail nothing, the disciples approach with her faith, and pray for her, and imagine they will surely be heard.  But while they thought He should be more tenderhearted, He became only more indifferent.  Now He is silent no more nor leaves them in doubt.  He declines their prayer and says, “I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This rebuff is still harder since not only our own person is rejected, but the only comfort that remains to us, namely, the comfort and prayers of pious and holy persons, are rejected.  For our last resort, when we feel that God is ungracious or we are in need, is that we go to pious, spiritual persons and there seek counsel and help, and they are willing to help as love demands.  Yet that may amount to nothing, even they may not be heard, and our condition becomes only worse.

Here one might accuse Christ with all the words in which He promised to hear His saints.  Such as, “If two of you shall agree on earth on anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them.” Likewise, “All things whatsoever you pray and ask for, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them,” and many more passages.  What becomes of such promises in this woman’s case?  Christ, however, promptly answers and says: Yes, it is true, I hear all prayers, but I gave these promises only to the house of Israel.  Is that not a thunderbolt that dashes both heart and faith into a thousand pieces, when one feels that God’s Word, upon which one trusts, was not spoken for him, but applies only to others?  Here all saints and prayers must be speechless, yes, here the heart must let go of the Word, to which it would gladly hold, if it would consult its own feelings.

But what does the poor woman do?  She does not give up, she clings to the Word although it is all but torn out of her heart by force.  She is not turned away by this stern answer, still firmly believes His goodness is yet concealed in that answer, and still will not pass judgment that Christ is ungracious.  That is preserving steadfastness.

So she follows Christ into the house, as Mark informs us.  She perseveres, falls down at His feet, and says, “Lord, help me!” There she received her last mortal blow, in that Christ said in her face, as the words tell, that she was a dog, and not worthy to partake of the children’s bread.  What will she say to this?  Here He presents her in a bad light, that she is a condemned and outcast person, who is not to be reckoned among God’s chosen ones.

What an unanswerable reply!  How could there be a satisfactory answer?  Yet she does not despair, but agrees with His judgment and concedes that she is a dog, and desires also no more than a dog is entitled to, namely, that she may eat the crumbs that fall from the table of the Lord.  What a masterly stroke of a reply!  She catches Christ with His own words.  He compares her to a dog, she concedes it, and asks nothing more than that He let her be a dog, as He judged her to be.  Where will Christ now take refuge?  He is caught.  Truly, people let the dog have the crumbs under the table.  It is entitled to that.  Therefore Christ now completely opens His heart to her and yields to her will, so that she is now no dog, but even a child of Israel.

All this, however, is written for our comfort and instruction, that we may know how deeply God conceals His grace before our face, and that we may not estimate Him according to our feelings and thinking, but strictly according to His Word.  For here you see, even when Christ appears to be hardhearted, yet He gives no final decision by saying, “No.” All His answers indeed sound like no, but they are not no.  For He does not say: I will not hear you.  But He is silent and passive, and says neither yes or no.  In like manner He does not say she is not of the house of Israel, but only that He is sent only to the house of Israel.  He leaves it undecided between yes and no.  So He does not say, “You are a dog, one should not give you of the children’s bread.” Instead He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs”; leaving it undecided whether she is a dog or not.  Yet all those trials of her faith sounded more like no than yes; but there was more yes in them than no.  In fact, there is only yes in them, but it is very deep and concealed, while there appears to be nothing but no.

By this is set forth the condition of our heart in times of testing.  We feel that there is nothing but no, and yet that is not true.  Therefore our heart must turn away from this feeling and lay hold of and retain the deep spiritual yes hidden under the no, with a firm faith in God’s Word.  As this poor woman does, we must say that God is right in His judgment that He visits upon us.  That is how we triumph and catch Christ in His own words, as she did.  For example, when we feel in our conscience that God rebukes us as sinners and judges us unworthy of the kingdom of heaven, then we may experience the fear of hell and think that we are lost forever.  But whoever understands here the actions of this poor woman can catch God in His own judgment and say, “Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of Your grace, but still You have promised sinners forgiveness, and are come not to call the righteous, but, as Paul says in First Timothy one, ‘to save sinners’.” Behold then God must, according to His own judgment, have mercy upon us.

King Manasseh did likewise in his penitence as his prayer proves.  He conceded that God was right in His judgment and accused himself as a great sinner and yet he laid hold of the promised forgiveness of sins.  David also does likewise in Psalm 51 and says: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, that You may be justified when You speak, and be clear when You judge.” If God is to be righteous in His words that teach you are a sinner, then you may claim the rights of all sinners that God has given them, namely, the forgiveness of sins.  Then you eat not only the crumbs under the table as the little dogs do; but you are also a child and have God as your portion.

This is the spiritual meaning of our Gospel and the scriptural explanation of it.  For what this poor woman experienced in the bodily affliction of her daughter, whom she miraculously caused to be restored to health again by her faith, that we also experience when we wish to be healed of our sins and of our spiritual diseases.  Here she must become a dog and we become sinners, already on fire in hell, as it were.  When we embrace His judgment and expect the mercy that He promises to dogs like us, then we have already recovered from our sickness and are saved.

Furthermore, that Christ and His disciples along with the woman in this Gospel exhibit to us an example of love, in that no one acts, prays, and care for himself but each for others, is also clear enough and worthy of consideration.

The Lord help us consider and act upon their example, as well as believe upon His promise.  Amen.

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