Reminiscere: The Second Sunday in Lent: Wrestling

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman
Jesus heals the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). From a book by Veit Dietrich summarizing the entire Bible (1562).

Lessons: Genesis 32:22-32, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7, Matthew 15:21-28
Hymns: LSB 571, 612, 756, 743, 760

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

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

      You could say last week’s readings were about wrestling—especially wrestling with temptation brought on by Satan. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan’s lies, and they ate the forbidden fruit. They wrestled with the Devil and lost. Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. He, too, was tempted by the Devil. Yet, Jesus never gave in to any temptation. He wrestled and won. And given that we live in a fallen world, we continue to wrestle that old evil foe. It is written, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

      If you are reading the Gospel of Mark right now as part of your Lenten discipline, you will notice that Jesus is dealing with many who are possessed by demons. Satan was working extra hard to bring down the Son of Man, to keep Jesus from obtaining the victory over sin, death, and the Devil. Satan wrestled with Jesus—and lost. Jesus, though He was crucified, lives. We will sing at Easter, “The foe was triumphant when on Calvary The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.” Satan thought he was winning the fight—that death solves everything. But Jesus will not be defeated in death. In fact, the shedding of Christ’s innocent Blood means the payment for our many sins is made in full—that though our sins are like scarlet, we shall be as white as snow. The resurrection of Christ proves that Jesus is victorious, and eternal life belongs to us. “But short was their triumph; the Savior arose, And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes. The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die” (LSB 480). Our God lives. He fought the battle and won. Our salvation is complete!

      As Christians, we take confidence in what Jesus has done for us. Last week we boldly sang, “But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever” (LSB 656). Jesus may have seemed weak as He was stripped of His clothes, mocked with a crown of thorns, whipped to a bloody pulp, and nailed to a cross. But Jesus did this to obtain our salvation. He fought the temptation to sin, the sting of death, and the power of the Devil—and Jesus won. He wrestled with these all—and overcame them all.

      This week’s readings feature wrestling with our own flesh, with others, and even with God. Our epistle addresses wrestling with the flesh. It is written, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Many people think they can do whatever they please with their own bodies, as if there are no consequences for their choices. But experience shows rather quickly that there is no such thing as inconsequential sex when it is done outside the safety of holy matrimony. Many are left scarred from a moment’s pleasure. Children suffer from broken relationships. STDs are rampant.

      The Bible says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body… Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:13-20). Sexual desire is part of God’s creation. It is good, for it drives men and women to get married and have children. But, of course, there is much sexual temptation. And so, we must wrestle against the temptations of the flesh. It is also written, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:2-5).

      In addition to wrestling against our flesh, there are times when we must wrestle with others. We do not see in them enemies to be destroyed, nor do we fight to advance Christianity with torches and clubs and weapons. But we do see examples in today’s readings. In Genesis 32, Jacob had spent about 20 years serving his father-in-law, Laban, and building a family. Now Jacob is preparing to meet his brother, Esau, in the Promised Land. After sending word to Esau that Jacob is coming, Esau came out to meet Jacob with 400 men. Given that Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and he stole the blessing of their father from Esau by dressing up as him, Jacob was afraid. He fled on bad terms 2 decades earlier. Now Esau is showing up with 400 men! So Jacob, fearing for his own safety (and the safety of his family, servants, and animals), divides them into groups to prevent Esau from destroying all that belongs to Jacob.

      But there will be one more night before they meet—the night Jacob wrestles with God. The following day, Jacob and Esau meet. Jacob is prepared to give him gifts and possibly fight, but “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen. 33:4). I suppose Jacob could have avoided the whole thing. He could have tried to stay away from Esau forever. But Jacob did the right thing. He had to wrestle with these matters, and they were reconciled.

      In addition, the Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel had to wrestle with the disciples. They were annoyed when she begged Jesus for mercy to help her demon-possessed daughter. They wanted Jesus to send her away.

      There will be times, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when people will be wanting to keep you away from your Savior. They will be annoyed if you keep on praying to Jesus for mercy. They will belittle you and make you feel insignificant for being Christian.

      But, as gold is purified by fire, so our faith is tested and strengthened through trials (1 Peter 1:6-7). Our faith gets tested when others try to pull us away from our Savior. And so, we wrestle with the situation. We cling to Jesus. While there may be times we wrestle with others as Paul did with Cephas (Gal. 2:11-14) and Alexander (2 Timothy 4:14-18) by contending for the truth, we do not get even or take revenge. God declared, “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

      In addition to wrestling with our flesh and even others, there are times to wrestle with God. Jacob did just that. God came and wrestled with him throughout the night. When Jacob realized he was not wrestling with his brother, but with the Son of God, Jacob would not let go until he received a blessing from God. As part of his blessing, Jacob is now named Israel. On this, Luther wrote, “Israel [means] a prince or God’s fighter, that is, he who wrestles with God and wins. This happens through that faith which holds so firmly to God’s Word, until it overcomes God’s wrath and obtains God as the gracious Father” (TLSB p. 67). Yes, wrestling with God involves overcoming God’s wrath and obtaining God as the gracious Father!

      You can see this with the Canaanite woman in our Gospel. When she approaches Jesus, she does not do so timidly, but with boldness and confidence. She makes her petition before the Lord. She says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon possessed.” You’d think that Jesus would instantly respond by performing a great miracle with great compassion. But Jesus doesn’t respond to her; He remains silent. After the disciples petition Jesus to send her away, Jesus finally spoke, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Given that this woman was a foreigner, she could have gotten the hint and left. But she knew the true nature of Jesus. She knew it was best to stay and wrestle with Him. And so she draws near to Jesus, kneels before Him, and says, “Lord, help me.” Jesus responds with words that sound rather offensive: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Instead of getting upset or taking offense, she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:21-28). She fought against any emotions telling her to run away in tears. Instead, she recognized that everything Jesus said of her is true. She doesn’t deserve God’s mercy. But she will take whatever morsels God will grant her. And so, she, like Jacob, clings to Christ without letting go.

      God is no opponent to despise, so they wrestle with Him, knowing that He will provide for them every blessing.

      And that is exactly what He does. God blessed Jacob that night. And God blessed the Canaanite woman. He healed her daughter and upheld this foreign woman as an excellent example faith.

      In the same way, God blesses you. He blesses you by sending His Son to save you from your sins. Jesus paid for the many times you have been immoral with your thoughts and deeds. Jesus even paid for the sins of adultery and divorce. He paid for the sins of neglecting children or not wanting them. He paid for the sin of revenge, or fighting brothers in the faith. And Jesus paid for the times we have been too timid to come before God to receive His great blessings.

      When God promises to give us things, let us be bold in receiving them. Jesus promises that the Lord’s Supper will unite you to Himself and forgive you of your sins. Jesus promises the Absolution will do what it says. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will strengthen your faith through the Word of God. Wrestle to receive them. Do not let go. For in Christ and through His Word, your sins are cancelled out and you are declared a saint—a child of God—acceptable to Heaven. Amen.

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