Lessons: Isaiah 45:20-25, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7, Matthew 15:21-28
Hymns: LSB 756, 615, 760, 420, 422, 575
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week we heard Jesus being tempted by the Devil. One temptation Jesus faced was when Satan took some words of Scripture out of context, omitting some of it (Ps. 91:11-12, Matt. 4:6). Satan still twists words of Scripture as he attempts to confuse God’s people.
As Lutherans, we have a teaching called the Perspicuity of Scripture, which means we believe the Scriptures are clear. Yes, there are some passages we cannot interpret. But most of the Bible is clear enough for the average person to understand. After all, shouldn’t we boldly confess that the Holy Spirit is the clearest author of all time? We do not blame God when we don’t understand Holy Writ.
Often God teaches things that are very clear, but we don’t want to agree with them, so we dismiss those teachings as unclear. Our Epistle gives a great example. In it, we are taught not to commit adultery. God clearly teaches that He is an avenger to those who break this commandment. Yet, many are comfortable with ignoring this very clear passage and asserting that each person may do what he wishes with his own body. Wrong! God, who made us, teaches that sexual relations are to be reserved only for one man and one woman in the bonds of marriage. Everything else is sin. We cannot do as the Devil did. That is, we cannot twist the Word of God to suit our own opinions. As God’s children, we submit to His teaching on this matter.
Here’s another issue in which we submit to God’s teaching: the roles of men and women. On this topic, some feel the Bible is sexist and against women. And some people think God is oppressive toward women. When Christians try to uphold God’s teaching on the distinctions between men and women, they are often viewed as bigoted, out of touch, or downright evil. If you go back 60 years ago, most churches did not ordain women. Today, a majority of churches ordain women, even though God’s Word clearly teaches that women are not to be pastors. God doesn’t forbid women from being pastors because they’re unable; in fact, many women have the skills needed to serve in this capacity. But God has chosen to liberate women from the burdens and responsibilities of the pastoral office. Also, God teaches that the Church is wed to Christ our Lord, and pastors serve in the stead of Christ. Because Jesus is wed to His bride the Church and because pastors serve in Christ’s stead, they, too are, in a sense, wed to their bride, the Church. This important biblical imagery breaks down when women are ordained, for then women are wed to their Bride the Church—a type of marriage forbidden by God, for it is sterile and does not produce anything.
Those who feel the Bible is against women are foisting their worldview on God’s Word and they ignore important biblical accounts such as our Lord’s Resurrection and today’s Gospel. It pleased God to allow women to be the first eyewitnesses of our Lord’s resurrection. And it pleased God to use the Syro-Phoenician woman in today’s Gospel as perhaps the most stunning model for faith. Her account is engraved in Holy Scripture. We rejoice that God has chosen this woman to serve as an example for us today.
And she serves as quite the example! She’s a foreigner, and she asks Jesus for mercy because she wants Jesus to drive a demon out of her daughter. This is the first way she serves as an example for us: she made her request known—she didn’t assume that her request will automatically be fulfilled. In the same way, when you have requests, you ask. You’re used to doing this in some places. If you get sick, you don’t wait for the doctor to show up, but you go see him. If you need something at a restaurant, you ask your server. So if you’re accustomed to asking for help in some situations, know there are many more in which it is ok to ask. Ask a neighbor or a friend to help you complete a project in your home. Don’t pretend that you’re too much of a bother. If you need a ride, ask a neighbor or relative. Again, you’re not too much of a bother. And if you need something from the Church or the Pastor, such as a visit to the sick or homebound or hospitalized or a communion call, simply ask, like the woman did today.
If anyone doesn’t need to be asked, it is Jesus. Yet we can see many examples in which He was asked to help people. And if you don’t get what you’re looking for, ask again, as the woman did in today’s Gospel. 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? Not necessarily. We sometimes have people in our 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, and He will answer our prayers according to His good and gracious will.
After Jesus says nothing, the disciples want to get rid of her. Jesus said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24 NKJV). Jesus’ point here is that He has not yet risen from the dead. His primary work before His crucifixion is among the Jews. His work will be extended to the ends of the earth after He rises. He does that work through His Church which He establishes in all the world. 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.
But Jesus does this for a reason, for He is upholding her as a great example. 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. And yes, as Christians, we sometimes have an unwanted grudge, so we Christians plead guilty of this sin and receive from our Lord His forgiveness.
When Jesus appears to dismiss the woman, she doesn’t get angry, but instead draws closer to Jesus and worships Him. She clings to her Savior even more. She knew Jesus as the Merciful One—the Savior. 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 right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And how does she respond? Does she get all-sensitive, defensive, and angry for the rest of her life? Does she respond by calling Jesus names? Does she dismiss Him as some sort of unnecessary religious figure?
No. She has no such sinful pride. Instead, her faith is evident through her humility. She says, “Yes, Lord. That’s right. It is as you say. Label me as You want, Lord, for You are always right. 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 faith and humility. She refused to give up, she would not let anything come between her and God, and she accepts whatever names God assigns to her. In the same way, we accept the names God assigns to us. He declares we transgressors of God’s Law. But He also declares we are saints and children of God, for we are forgiven by Christ—redeemed by His Blood. We say, “Yes, Lord” as we hear God’s description of us in Col 2:21-23, “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
Jesus tested the woman to show the disciples—and us—her faith. In this He also shows us that faith is not just reserved for the biological descendants of Abraham, clarifying our Old Testament lesson.
In Isaiah 45:25, it is written, “In the Lord, all the offspring of Israel shall be justified.” To be justified is to be forgiven. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), for He served as the sacrifice for all sin on the cross. Because He shed His blood on our behalf, forgiveness is now available to all who believe in Him.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the devil loves to twist meanings of passages around to confuse people. Therefore, we really need to ask the question, “What does this mean?” When the Bible says, “In the Lord, all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” does it really mean that all Jews go straight to Heaven no matter what they do and believe? You see, some have used this verse to say that all who can trace their ancestry back to Abraham will get a free pass to Heaven. Many Jews believe this lie. Even some Christians teach this lie today.
First, know that this verse doesn’t trump passages like, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Second, the verse begins with, “In the Lord.” If a descendant of Israel is not “in the Lord,” he cannot hope to be saved. And third, listen to what the Scriptures teach concerning the children of Israel: “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom. 9:6-8). As a Christian, you are counted as a descendant of Israel. You are declared to be of the seed of Isaac. When God promised Abraham that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, He had you in mind. This means you are God’s chosen, you are His child, you are loved by Him. Abraham is counted as your father.
Jesus was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He was not sent except to save you. Jesus came and paid for your sins on the cross. Just as He healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, so also He has brought life to you through His death and resurrection. How do you know this? You are baptized into Christ. You have God’s clear word on it! His words are sure and certain! God never lies and His Word never fails. Satan will tempt us, but we cling to God’s true promises and in His mercies which are new to us every morning. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen