Lent 2: Name-Calling

by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lesson: Matthew 15:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus teaches us profound lessons in today’s Gospel lesson in Matthew 15. He upholds a foreign woman as a great model and example of faith. At the same time, our Lord hurts our pride in a good way (something we will get to later).

Jesus is with His disciples and traveling in the area around Galilee. A foreign woman—a Syro-Phoenician—calls out to Jesus asking for mercy. She’s looking to Jesus for help because her daughter is demon-possessed. She wants Jesus to drive out this demon from her daughter.

But what does Jesus do at her request? He does nothing. He keeps silent and acts as if no person had approached Him. He does so for a reason. What we learn from this woman is this: when you have requests, ask. You’re used to doing this in some places. If you get sick, you don’t wait for the doctor to show up. You schedule an appointment. If you’re in the grocery store and can’t find something, you ask. If you can’t do something in your home or if you need a ride, pick up your phone and ask a neighbor. Instead of pretending that you’re too much of a bother, give your neighbor the opportunity to help you and be of service. And if you need something from the Church or the Pastor (such as a visit to the homebound or hospitalized) or if you desire a communion call, ask like the Canaanite woman did.

If anyone didn’t need to be asked, it was Jesus, for He knows all things. Yet He was asked to help or visit someone many times in the Bible. The woman in today’s Gospel is a great example.

And if you don’t get what you’re looking for, ask again. When we pray to God and He doesn’t give us what we’re asking for, does this mean we should stop praying about it? Of course not. We sometimes have people in our church prayer list for more than a year. This is perfectly fine. We keep on praying. It’s what God has taught us to do and He promises to hear us.

If we ask our neighbor for something, and he says no, we either ask again or we ask another. If we ask someone and that person forgets, we forgive that person and ask again. We don’t ever hold grudges because that person came up short.

If this woman would have held a grudge against Jesus, Jesus would have never told her that she had great faith. Instead of getting angry with Jesus, she persists. That’s what God’s people do.

After Jesus says nothing, the disciples want to get rid of her. Jesus says, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus’ point here is that He has not risen from the dead. His primary work prior to His crucifixion is among the Jews. Upon His resurrection His work will be extended to the ends of the earth. He does that work through His Church which He has established in all the world.

But by saying this, He appears to be dismissing the pleas of the foreign lady. She’s not a Jew. She’s not in the house of Israel. Yet, Jesus does this for a reason, for He is demonstrating that this woman has great faith.

Today, when people are wronged, their faith becomes manifest. Those who are Christian will forgive those who have wronged them. Those who are not will begrudge them. Some Christians will have an unwanted grudge. And, as Christians, they will plead guilty of this sin and receive from their Lord forgiveness.

When Jesus basically dismisses the woman, she gets closer to Jesus and worships Him. What amazing faith! She doesn’t storm away in a huff because she didn’t get what she wanted. She clings to her Savior even more. She knew Jesus. She knew He is the only One who could rescue her daughter from the clutches of Satan.

Jesus then responds with words that most people would be insulted by. After not responding right away, after dismissing her as a foreigner, now Jesus says, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” He basically calls her a dog.

Now, some would chalk this up as another example of the Bible being against women. But that isn’t the case at all. The Scriptures extol femininity and the contributions women bring to the family and society. And plus, Jesus is using this woman as one of the finest examples of faith ever recorded.

So, how does she respond? By calling her a dog, does the woman get super-sensitive and get angry for the rest of her life? Does she respond by calling Jesus names? Does she dismiss Him as some unnecessary religious figure?

No, for she has no such sinful pride. Instead, she demonstrates her faith by saying, “Yes, Lord.”

She says, “That’s right. It is as you say. I’m a dog. And even dogs receive whatever little morsels fall from their master’s table. I’ll receive whatever you want to give me, Jesus. Since You are my God, I trust in You and whatever is fitting, I will receive. And since you promised to hear my pleas for mercy, Lord have mercy!”

We can certainly see this lady’s strong faith. Had she simply given up after her first request, there probably would be no mention of her in Scripture, her daughter would not have been healed, and she would have dismissed her Lord. But since she refused to give up, she would not let anything come between her and God. Not even this little trial and test.

Jesus tested her to show the disciples her faith. He upheld her persistence as a model of profound faith.

But what is even more profound is what Jesus is teaching us here. Had this lady been unwilling to accept the name Jesus called her, her daughter would not have been healed and she would not have been found as a woman of great faith.

Here’s what’s so profound: we need to accept who we are and the names God calls us in order to receive the names God gives us.

Here’s what I mean. We all like to be called saints, children of God, redeemed, and so forth. Our flesh hates it if we’re called hypocrites, brood of vipers, sinners, unrighteous, and so on. Yet, we need to recognize that’s what we are. When God calls us such names, we need to respond as this faithful woman did in today’s Gospel. We need to say, “Yes, Lord.” That is, “Yes, Lord, you have called me who I am. I am unrighteous in Your sight. I have failed to do what You have commanded. I have not loved You or My neighbor as I ought. I have broken Your commandments. I am, as Your Word teaches, selfish, arrogant, greedy, sinful, wicked, corrupt, and a little dog.”

If we are unwilling to say this of ourselves in repentance and in agreement with God’s Word, then we’re basically telling God He’s wrong; we’re right. That’s a path that we don’t want to go down.

And plus, if we cannot accept the names we are according to the Law, then we cannot expect God to call us the other names He has given to us according to the Gospel. After calling the woman a dog, He then proceeds to call her another name: a woman of great faith.

If she wouldn’t have accepted being called a dog, she wouldn’t have been called a woman of great faith. When we don’t accept the Law’s accusations, we then cannot receive the Gospel’s acquittal and forgiveness.

That’s what’s so profound about today’s teaching. We live in such a “nice” society where we aren’t allowed to make waves or ruffle feathers. So we do it behind other people’s backs. In our “nice” society we cannot state anything about what’s right or wrong and we can’t ever say “Thus saith the Lord.” We can’t call anyone sinners—all because we’re supposed to be “nice.”

Jesus did something that comes across as “not nice.” Yet what He did is the most loving act of all. He accused her according to her fallen nature. In humbleness, she accepted this accusation, and drew even closer to her Savior.

When we can’t accept that we’re sinners, then we’re telling God that we don’t need Him to call us saints. If we can’t accept that we’re unrighteous, then we’re telling Him that He doesn’t need to declare us righteous.

Jesus did not come for the righteous. Just as healthy people do not need a doctor, so also those who think they’re righteous do not think they need a Savior. Jesus came for the sick. If we want to be saved, we must become sick. That is, if we want to be saved, we must acknowledge that we are sinners. We then repent and God calls us His children—holy ones—His dearly beloved.

God can call us saints and righteous because of what Christ has done for us. He went to the cross and paid for our sins there through His bloody death. When He was nailed to the cross, He said, “For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalm 22:16). We are the dogs who surrounded Him and pierced His hands and feet.

Yet in this, God’s love is manifest. He paid for our sins. He set us free from them. We receive the gifts which come from our Master’s table. We hear His Word, are baptized into Christ, and eat and drink His Body and Blood. We receive His pardon and peace in these gifts. We are given new names: beloved, saints, redeemed, heirs of God, sons of God, holy ones, righteous, and many more.

What a blessing it is for God to call us by name and give us such precious names! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen