Reminiscere- Second Sunday in Lent
“Remember Your Mercy, O Lord”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 15.21-28; Psalm 25.6
28 February 2021
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Sometimes I lament the use of newer English translations of the Scriptures. I grew up learning all my bible passages in the King James Version. During my academic days we were using the Revised Standard Version, and then a few other new versions were thrown in. For a while our Synod used the New International Version but it had a Reformed theological bias. Then the descendant of the RSV, the English Standard Version, was born, the one we use and read in the DS, and in which our catechumens, both children and adults, are catechized. It’s good to be able to compare different translations for nuances, but when I am trying to remember a specific passage I almost always “run home to Mama,” the King James Version. It’s the one stuck in the deepest recesses of my memory, and I sometimes find myself digging deeply when I can’t find what I’m looking for in a modern translation. Out comes my big KJV concordance. There is a software program that does most of the work, but I pretty much gave up using it for concordance work because I can find it quickly in that bound volume, and besides, I like the touch and smell of real books. The King James Version is still the best when it comes to the Psalms. No other English edition can match its majesty and beauty. The New King James Version is probably the next best when it comes to keeping the majesty and beauty of Elizabethan English in the Psalms.
What set off this liturgical snit for me about translations were two things. First, the Tract appointed for today. You see it in the bulletin. It’s the phrase, “his steadfast love endures forever.” [Ps. 106.1-4] Quite simply, I don’t like it. It isn’t that it’s wrong. It’s not heretical. It just doesn’t convey what the focus should be. It’s like a jab and not a knockout punch. The King James and New King James versions use the word “mercy” instead of “steadfast love.” The Hebrew word can be rendered either way but “mercy” fits better theologically. In my childhood our family always prayed Luther’s Small Catechism, Daily Prayers, Returning Thanks, thus:
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: For his mercy endureth for ever. [Psalm 136.1 KJV]
Second is the editorial decision by the ESV and others to label this reading The Faith of A Canaanite Woman. Such headings are not in the text of the Bible. The German Bible, bequeathed to us by Luther has no such heading. The 1912 edition, which I used in undergraduate and in the seminary, has only this title: Evangelium am Sonntag Reminszere, translated, “The Gospel for Reminiscere Sunday.” In the Greek New Testament there are no headings, except in the Synopsis of the Four Gospels [Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, ed. Kurt Aland] where it simply reads The Canaanite Woman. The same goes for modern German versions. The Latin Vulgate has no heading, either. No editorial decision was made to make her faith the focus.
Mercy is really the focus of today’s Gospel reading, not the faith of this woman. I know that most focus has been on the faith of the Canaanite woman even in Lutheran pulpits. I plead guilty to having preached sermons on that. Sometimes wisdom comes only with age. Perhaps the opening phrase of the Collect of the Day can help us:
O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength . . .
The danger for the preacher must be to preach faith without making it into a virtue that we produce. That would be heresy. The first words the woman speaks are these:
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 15:22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Today is Reminiscere. That word is the first word of the Latin Introit as most of them are. “Remember.” We plead that God will remember his mercy in dealing with us.
This woman wasn’t a Jew. She had no right to ask. She was a Gentile, and yet she will not give up. She wants mercy from Christ! She could not plead privilege nor worth, but only mercy. She had nothing. To the Jews she was a dog, a scavenger. Yet, she confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of David. [v. 22]
The Hebrew word for “mercy” is Chesed. It has several nuances, one of which is “steadfast love.” It means “kindness, especially extended to the lowly, needy, miserable.” It comes from a superior to an inferior. [Brown, Driver Briggs, חֶ֫סֶד, p. 338]. This woman was an inferior. Yet, we are all “inferiors,” every last one of us, all of mankind, or as Luther said on the day before his death, “Wir sind alle Bettler. Hoc est verum.” “We are all beggars. This is true.” [AE 54. 476] We have nothing to plead but God’s mercy in Christ.
In each Divine Service we pray the Kyrie Eleison, “Lord have mercy.” Those two Greek words are on the bottom of this antependium, a fitting reminder during the Lenten season. It’s pronounced Kyrie, not Kai-ree, as the NBA player Kyrie Irving uses it. Four times in Divine Services 1 & 2 we beg the mercy of God. In the Gloria in Excelsis [not used during the Lenten season] we again pray that Christ would “have mercy on us,” and that he would “receive our prayer.” Every sermon begins, “Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ” [2 Timothy 1.12; 2 John 3]. Then in the Agnus Dei we pray again for mercy:
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; Grant us peace, grant us peace.
Without God’s mercy we would have no hope and no peace. It is all by mercy! Mercy is all that we can plead because we are not worthy to have Jesus “come under our roof” and dwell with us, as the centurion so clearly spoke in that first prayer on the yellow card in the pew which offers you prayers to pray before, during, and after receiving the Sacrament. There is no worthiness on the part of anyone. “We deserve your present and eternal punishment” is what we confessed in the opening rite of the Divine Service.
Mercy can be shown only to those in need. Those who are healthy do not need to beg for mercy in their condition. Those who are rich do not need to beg for alms. Those who see their situations clearly do so because they know that mercy is their only hope. Hear this woman’s simple plea as she knelt before Jesus:
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! [v. 22] NKJV
“Lord, help me!” [v. 25] NKJV
Amazingly, this Gentile woman makes a great confession of Jesus as the Christ, a confession seldom made by the Jews.
What is your greatest need? [pause] Maybe you think of health, that you be kept from the Covid, a job, or better circumstances in your life, but it’s mercy. Listen again to our General Confession: “We deserve your present and eternal punishment.” This woman does not doubt that Jesus can have mercy. She does not doubt that he has the ability to heal her daughter. Her plea is that Jesus will grant this mercy to her, to let the crumbs fall from the table of the children. She will be satisfied with crumbs! It’s very personal, as it is for each of you when you suffer. “Jesus, have mercy on me! Lord, help me!” Sometimes in the dire circumstances of our lives those are the only words we can utter, “Lord, have mercy.” All other words are useless. We have no eloquence. In the face of great tragedy what else can one pray? What greater gift can one plead than the mercy of God?
In the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Our Father are these words which explain that forgiveness is all by grace, by mercy:
We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that he would give them all to us by grace . . . [SC Our Father, 5th Petition]. Mercy.
None of us deserves God’s mercy. Perhaps that is what makes this woman stand out so clearly. One might mistakenly get the idea that the Jews somehow deserved God’s mercy, but this woman stands outside of the Word and the Promises. She has no lineage to plead, no sacrifices offered on the altar in the temple. Like the centurion, she can plead only mercy.
As it was with her, so often it is with us. We pray and plead with God. It might seem as though he is ignoring us as he did her. He gives us the “silent treatment,” but he is not punishing us! He is making us wait until it is his time. You see, timing is everything here. Jesus waits until he can draw out her faith in his mercy.
Remember how he delayed coming to Martha and Mary when Lazarus died. These sisters thought Jesus had delayed too long, “Lord, if you had been here . . . “ [John 11.21]. Where was his mercy? Too late! Lazarus was already dead four days. Oh, they had no idea what Jesus would do! Jesus did more than if he had merely healed Lazarus of his disease as he had done for others. He showed his power over death! So, a similar weight of glory awaits us if Christ does not act immediately.
In all of the circumstances of our lives Christ has mercy on us even if it seems he has forgotten us. Like this woman, I too have felt that silence from Christ. It is not easy to bear, and yet, the only words I can find are these words, “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord, help me!”
The Father has had mercy on us in Christ, sending him to be the propitiation for all our sin! He does not send us away but instead invites us to come to him. In this Blessed Sacrament we receive the salvation already accomplished for us. His body and blood, given and poured out on the cross for you and for all, are the proof of his mercy. Christ himself feeds you with the bread of life, his body and blood in the Sacrament. These are no crumbs which fall from the Lord’s table[!], but an extraordinary feast of mercy, forgiveness, life, and salvation. These precious gifts remind you that Christ does remember you, that he knows your greatest need, that he does indeed hear your pleas for mercy, and that he grants your prayers in his good time and in his perfect way. Here is Christ’s mercy, this precious gift of himself.
When all have communed, this often-used closing collect again brings us back to God’s mercy in Christ:
We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another . . .
Thus, our fervent prayer this day and every day must be the antiphon of the Introit and the end of the Tract:
Remember your mercy, O Lord . . .Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them. [ Ps. 25.6, Ps. 106.4]
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.