Reminiscere – Second Sunday in Lent
St, Matthew 15.21-28
“Lord, Help Me!”
Seminarian Andrew Keller, Vicar
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“I’d hate to be a bother.” “Don’t worry about me.” “I figured you were too busy.” “I’m sorry; I didn’t want to disturb you.” These are some apologetic phrases spoken by those who need help, but can’t bring themselves to ask for it. In a culture obsessed with individuality, we shudder at the thought of depending on another person’s help. Many see it as degrading to oneself to have to ask for even the smallest favor. Thus, we keep uttering these apologetic phrases, while in our heads, we cry out, “Help me!” But when our need becomes so great, to whom do we turn and from where does our help come?
In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus encountered a woman desperate for His help. This wasn’t an uncommon meeting for Him. After all, He was notorious for His miraculous healings and signs. Many came to Him seeking help of some sort. What made this encounter slightly different, however, was the background of this woman. She was not only a Gentile, but she was a Canaanite. Her ancestors were pagan enemies of the Israelites and were a people who were to be driven from the Promised Land. Yet here she was, crying out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David…Lord Help me!”
Jesus’ treatment of the woman is not an expected response to this cry. Initially, He ignored her, which appeared to be a denial of her faith and a refusal to answer her prayer. When the disciples would have sent her away, He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This phrase seems to imply that the Messiah has come only for the salvation of the Jews. The woman wasn’t dissuaded, but fell on her knees and cried, “Lord, help me!” To this, He finally said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Dogs, in this culture, were not the loveable, domesticated creatures we know them to be today. Most dogs were feral or scavenging creatures, living off scraps and garbage rather than being fed by an owner. She is compared to a little dog, not worthy to eat from the riches of the master’s table.
Even though Jesus called her a dog, she does not reject His word. Instead, she receives it and agrees, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” The Canaanite woman believed the Gospel. She agreed with Jesus. She was a dog, that is to say, a sinner. She was not entitled to the Lord’s help. Yet, she asked for it any way. She believed that the smallest amount of grace, a crumb of mercy from God was sufficient to heal her child. She knew Him to be the Christ, the one promised through the line of David, who would come to redeem the lost people of Israel. Apart from Him, there was no hope, no life, and no salvation, hence her cry, “Lord, help me.”
Jesus, seeing her faith, responded, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” The Canaanite woman’s faith was great because the object of her faith was Christ and His saving Word. She knew that nowhere else could she find help for her demon-afflicted daughter. And Jesus could have immediately healed the woman’s daughter, yet He treated the woman in such an unusual way in order to reveal the faith of her heart. Had she come to Jesus only as a means and out of unbelief, she would have departed after He ignored her. She could have resigned herself to believing that Jesus truly only came for the house of Israel, and that He was not interested in her salvation. On the contrary, she, having heard the great news of Jesus and she believed it, came to Him with the heart of faith, believing that Jesus was her savior even though He didn’t appear to be. She had faith that through Him, she too would be called a child instead of a dog.
Does God help us? How can we be sure that God is listening or that He cares for us? We know from His faithful Word and actions throughout Scripture that God not only listens to His people, but also helps them. Didn’t He wrestle with Jacob and blessed him, halting the anger of his brother Esau? Didn’t He bring His people out of the land of slavery, crossing over the Red Sea on dry land? Didn’t He protect Mary, Joseph and His own Son from murderous Herod? These examples and many more show the promise God spoke in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” This promise is for you as well. Whether you struggle with your faith, with money, with health or any other need, your only help comes from the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot look to ourselves for help, for we are helpless. Though the world would try to steer you away from God and towards self-reliance, cling to Jesus for help as the Canaanite woman did. When your prayers seem to fall on silent ears or your life does not go as you expected it, do not stray from the Word of God. Our help is found solely in the Lord. The struggle with sin in our lives and the constant temptations from Satan are used by God to draw us away from relying upon ourselves to relying upon Him alone. Faith believes the Gospel that proclaims Christ and cries out to God for help. Like the Psalmist, we cry, “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” (Psalm 30.10) God graciously listens to our cries for grace and answers us. Indeed, God sent His Son, Jesus to be the world’s helper, delivering us from the ultimate peril of sin, death and the devil. By His death and resurrection, we are no longer wretched dogs in our sin, but called children through the holy waters of baptism. And if children, then we are heirs to the kingdom, which He has prepared for us. Therefore, do not fall back into the traps of self-reliance. Do not shrink away from God in fear, but, empowered by the Spirit, we cry to Him, “Abba, Father.” And He gives you the bread of His blessings from the table intended for His children.
You will continue to need help. As a Christian, you are squarely in Satan’s sights. Do not be tricked into self-deliverance schemes, for they fall short. Instead, cling to the Lord like the Canaanite woman, recognizing Him as the sole-source of eternal deliverance. When the devil assails you, like he did the Canaanite woman’s daughter, when sin burdens your conscience, when sickness, death loom among you, when you are in dire need of help, remember Psalm 121, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit