Remember! Remember, is the first word we spoke to our Father in heaven in the Introit this morning after receiving His forgiveness. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Today is called Reminiscere Sunday, or “Remember” Sunday. We want God not to forget us as we struggle and tarry here in all our trials.
Have you ever thought you were forgotten? Have you ever come to God saying, “Remember”, but all you seem to hear is the stony silence of heaven? I have been there, but even when I know heaven is not silent I as a pastor am called to often travel that lonely road with you as your companion, a brother and spiritual father in Christ. I don’t know how many times I have prayed for God to make himself known to someone who feels so alone. For even I, a preacher of the gospel, am tempted to ask of God miracles and proofs greater than His Word and as certain as Christ’s resurrection from the dead. To be quite frank I often chafe at wrestling and struggling with God at these moments.
When I was growing up the first Nintendo game system came out. After a little while I learned how the creators of Super Mario Brothers created secret shortcuts so you could finish the game in 15 minutes or less. It would take you more than an hour or two if you played straight through. Other games were like this. It was almost impossible to survive the game Contra with only three lives, but if you learned the code you could get thirty lives and victory was possible. I know some of you out there can probably recite the code with me: up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A-start. Push the correct buttons in the correct sequence and you get the goodies.
I didn’t know then, but these cheats were training my mind to always look for shortcuts and to always expect instant gratification. Going the long road that took practice, obedience, and perseverance was for clueless chumps. If you were in the know; there was always a way to easy street.
Our gospel lesson this morning shows us that there are no hidden codes or shortcuts in the life of the Christian. There is a lot of comfort to be drawn from this story of the Canaanite woman, but first let me tell you what it is not. It is not a formula for how to get what you want out of God. It is not a story that teaches the moral “Good things come to those who wait.” Too often people see these great examples of faith in the gospels and conclude then they’ve learned the secret to get God to favor them. In other words, without admitting it, we think that we can manipulate God. I heard it once myself when a friend said, “I have waited like the Canaanite woman and the Lord still hasn’t answered.” The conclusion is either she was doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with God. Either we’re not pushing the correct buttons in the correct sequence to get the goodies or God has forgotten to hold up His end of the deal.
Jesus gives the Canaanite woman a hard reminder—He tells her that He is not beholden to her person or her will. He has come for the house of Israel, not the Canaanites. You are a little puppy Jesus says to her. He calls her a lap dog, a plaything, not worthy of the children’s bread.
What is shocking is that she says doesn’t deny it. She says, “Truth, Lord…” Everything the Lord has said of her was true. The blessing and mercy of Yahweh had been promised through Jacob who had striven with God and was named Israel. Israel’s God had chosen to remember His promise to Israel. He had not made such a promise to any other people and certainly not a Canaanite woman. “Truth, Lord…” how painful was it for her to say these words?
You probably don’t like how harsh our Lord seems here. Of course God blesses, of course God has mercy, of course He saves Jew and Gentile alike. We know this from the Scriptures you say. How can you say Pastor that it is true that she was an outsider and that God is not beholden to her? Well, first think on yourselves. Each and everyone of us. Think of every reason why God should keep you from His table. Paul says in our epistle lesson this morning “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Did you come here pure? Did you come here holy? Can any of us here claim we come before the Lord with clean hands, with truthful lips, with faithful hearts? Haven’t our prayers faltered and our hearts doubted? Have we not tried to manipulate God and man alike for our benefit? Can any of us claim we have spent our Christian lives abstaining from sexual immorality, lust, and exercise complete control over our bodies in holiness and honor? We confess that we deserve nothing, but God’s eternal wrath and condemnation for our sin. Yet, when we actually see God treating us this way we become indignant and angry—we don’t want to repent. This text calls us to confess with the Canaanite woman, “Truth Lord…” we do not deserve the bread on the children’s table.
The amazing thing about the Canaanite woman’s faith is she doesn’t ask for the children’s bread, she asks for the master’s bread. Humbled, even humiliated, she says, “Truth, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She wants not the children’s bread, but the very crumbs that come from the master’s plate. She will not do with any other bread than His.
Every response Jesus gave to her sounded like a “no”, but in fact He never said “no” outright. The comfort in this passage comes from the fact that it is so difficult to wrestle with. God is showing us how His grace can seem concealed when we are tempted and when trials come, but He does this so we will not estimate Him according to our feelings or reason or strength. Instead He desires us to regard Him according to His Word and promise whether things seem certain or not. For example when we feel in our conscience that God condemns us and that we truly do not deserve His mercy it can feel as though we’ve gone to hell and are lost forever. Yet, if you understand the actions of this woman there is great comfort. Recognizing she could not earn favor she still clings to Jesus as Lord and Master, as the only one who can heal her daughter. She knows that this man is the true God who remembers all who repent of themselves and call for His mercy. So also you, can say: Truth Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy of your grace; but you have promised sinners forgiveness and you came not to call the righteous, but sinners, not the well, but the sick, as St. Paul says, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners of which I am the foremost.”
Can you see the joy in Jesus’ face when the woman responded as she did? “Great is your faith.” He says. “Great is your faith” means great is your trust. Great is your give-able-ness. A person who trusts knows that no matter what the other person will make good on their promises. The person who trusts is ready to receive and this woman would receive whatever the Master was willing to give her. She trusted that even a crumb from His table had power to drive out demons and heal her daughter. Under Jesus’ harsh words, she heard a hidden yes, and she held on to Him like a bull dog does a bone. He did remember her. He indeed remembered His great mercy from of old and showed her that she was truly part of His Israel.
How about us? In the great struggle and wrestling of faith there is only one thing to do. We hold on to Jesus even tighter trusting that He will remember His promises. When you are going through trials and rough times you can say to Him, “Lord you might seem to treat me harshly right now, I may not understand why I struggle this way, and yet I will not let go nor doubt your love for me. I will rely on you. You died for me. You rose from the grave for me. You have gone ahead of me to prepare a place for me in heaven. Nothing on earth can separate me from your love, so I will wait.”
And while you wait, He feeds you from His table. He feeds you with something that is more certain than your thoughts and feelings. He gives you His Word of promise. He gives you His bread to eat and His cup to drink; His loving and divine presence in His body and blood given and shed for you to nourish you. When everywhere else in your life it seems He is against you, you can come here and know He is for you. Here as He forgives you, assures and comforts you and feeds you, you know that He has not forgotten you or His mercy for you. In fact, He assures of you that you are known, you are remembered, and you are His. You have received His name in your Baptism. His promise is sealed upon you. Those times of stony silence are His training ground for you to cling all the more to His promises that are more sure than fleeting feelings. He uses them to drive you back to Him to hear His Word and receive His comfort. The Canaanite woman walked away grateful for what the Lord did. We too can look at the difficult times with the same kind of gratefulness knowing that God will remember.
Let us pray: Lord, have mercy on me! We thank You because we may shout this even when we don’t hear an answer, even when we know we don’t deserve it. We thank You because this is reason enough: We need You. We can’t exist without You. We thank and praise You because Your mercy doesn’t depend on the power of our prayer. We thank You because we don’t need to find the right words, press the right buttons, or try to manipulate Your will. Our knowledge and experience don’t matter. The only thing we need is You. Therefore, we will not stop; instead we will pray over and over to You: Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us. Amen.
SDG~Rev. Eric M. Estes
Giertz, Bo (2009-01-01). To Live with Christ (p. 205). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.