“Everything in Christ” / Reminiscere / Matthew 15:21-28Pr. Christopher Gillespie
March 10, 2017
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
It’s been a rough week. Just last Friday, my grandmother went to the hospital and on Tuesday she died. Everything changed in a matter of days and hours. We never know when death will come. Sometimes it is quick and sudden. Other times it is slow and excruciating. But it always comes for everyone of us. Death is, as the Bible says, the last enemy to be defeated.
The thing about dying is that we and those around us learn that nothing in this life has provided an answer to death. As we face death, we can claim nothing in ourselves. All our works die with us. Our possessions are split up among those who are left living. Our achievements are quickly forgotten and swallowed up by time. We’re laid out flat by death, quite literally into a coffin and into the grave.
Our whole life from our baptism into Christ Jesus until our death and resurrection in Him is one of learning this hard lesson. To put it another way, all our attempts to find confidence, hope, and a future in ourselves—whether from obedience, good works, faithful service to church, identity, and any other achievements—are brought to nothing that Christ may be everything. This is God’s will and work, devastating and humbling, all that you would fear, love, and trust in Him only.
“Cast every idol from its throne, For God is God, and he alone: To God all praise and glory!” The Holy Gospel today shows us where God will bring us all in the end or even now, if you’ll let him: claiming nothing and needing everything from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That poor Gentile woman calls out to Jesus in her desperate need. The woman is all-on. She will not stop begging our Lord until He grants what she needs. Faith clings to Christ and Him alone.
She is the most unlikely place we’d expect to find faith. She wasn’t born into a Christian home, with godly parents. She is from Tyre and Sidon, a Phoenician. Her people gave us wicked queen Jezebel. This is not a faithful people but pagan Gentiles. And St. Matthew is careful to name her a Canaanite. Remember them?
God gave explicit orders to Joshua regarding these people: “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deut 20:17) In other words, she shouldn’t exist at all.
And then there’s how Jesus interacts with her. He doesn’t answer her a word. He tests and tries her faith. What could be more terrifying than to be told, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel!” She’s not one of them. She’s a Canaanite. Her people were devoted to destruction for the idolatry. Even when she keeps persisting with Jesus, he says it’s not right to take what is Israel’s bread and throw it to her, a Gentile dog.
So, Jesus has laid her out flat. He’s destroyed any possibility of this woman in claiming privilege, right, or merit of His gifts. But what’s even more fascinating about her “great faith” is that she never bothered to claim obedience, good works, faithful service to her church, her identity, or anything else. She came to Him from the beginning with nothing except bare trust in Jesus.
So she cried out to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” And again kneeling, “Lord, help me!” And finally as she has been drawn to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She is bold and direct, fully accepting the Lord’s harshest judgment but clinging to Him despite it. Her fear, love, and trust is in Him and Him alone.
From the Canaanite woman, we all learn to have the same sort of faith, persistent in prayer and laments. From new birth in Holy Baptism to our grave, we rest confident He always answers for our good. He answers not because of who we are according to the flesh, what we have done for others, or even what we claim to have done for God. He tests us, even taking from us everything in which we trust apart from Him. Goods, fame, children, and even spouse… even though everything be gone, the victory is won and is ours for the sake of His suffering and death alone.
When we finally face our own death, be it today or tomorrow, we will have nothing. Even our life will leave us. We are left with nothing but and yet, by faith in Christ, we have truly everything. We have the adoption of sons in our Baptism. We new life and gift of renewal by the Holy Spirit. We have the scraps from the master’s table, sufficient enough for our Gentile dog need. He gives us forgiveness of sins in His body and blood. No matter what may come, whatever trial or cross, pain or suffering, and even death, God grant that we as Christ’s baptized holy ones cling to Him and him alone, to die confident by faith in Jesus alone.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church