The Faith of a Dog (Reminiscere, Lent II – 2012)

Reminiscere Sunday 2012 (Portions received with thanks from Johann Heermann)



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter 15.  Today we hear and learn about the holy persitence of faith, and how we are all beggar dogs who receive God’s mercy at His table.  Let us pray:

O my most beloved Lord Jesus, at whose table of grace I wait even now: cause, I beseech You, a mere crumb of Your help and assistance to fall to me, and I and my hearers will be satisfied with instruction, comfort, and exhortation.

Today might properly be called Canine Sunday or Doggy Sunday.  Jesus calls this Canaanite woman a dog and she agrees with him!  It is a very odd thing, you have to admit.  See how the Christian faith is like the dog seeing the crumbs or scraps from his master’s table, and how this is a good thing for poor sinners like you and I.

In the Bible we find that dogs are almost without exception seen as dirty, generally unpleasant animals.  You may remember the giant Goliath mocking David and saying, ““Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”” (1 Samuel 17:43)  And you know that you are down on your luck when the dogs are the only ones who will help you, as in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:21).  Dogs are both pathetic in the Bible, but also not to be trifled with.  We hear in Proverbs, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17)

So this woman comes to Jesus with the simple request: heal my daughter!  She is possessed by a demon, and cannot free herself.  Jesus answers her with silence, then seems to question whether God’s promises are for her, and finally says ““It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”” (Matthew 15:26)  It is as if Jesus is saying to her, “Look, you aren’t of the people of Israel.  You have no right to sit at God’s table.  You are nothing but a dog.”  Harsh words, coming from the compassionate one.

But if we are honest with outselves, there are times when that is exactly what God does with us.  We pray and get silence.  We beg and get put off.  No amount of tears or weeping or questions seem to give us the peace we long for.  Eventually things may even get so bad that we are stuck wrestling with God in His Word.  Like Jacob in our Old Testament reading, there are nights where we do nothing but fight with the One who is one our side.  ”I will not go unless you bless me,” Jacob cried out as he wrestled with the Lord (Genesis 32:26).  That’s this woman.  Her persistence is rather amazing.  It reminds us of Luther’s words introducing “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Luther says,

With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.

Truth be told, this dog of a Canaanite woman sounds more like a, uh, persistent child than anything else.  She will not be put off. She will not be deterred.  She will not quit until she receives what is promised to her.

For you parents, you know that when the child starts flinging your own words back at you, that you are in trouble.  When the dog begins to know what to expect, then you really have to keep up with things.  I eat at this time!  They know what you give them.  Give it once, and they fully expect you to keep on giving it.  Luther once remarked,

“See how the dog jumps, leaps, and scratches at the table, and does not give up until you give it a bit of bread or a piece of meat. Even if you chase it off, it comes back. Would to God we poor men might be more like them…”

So it is that our Canaanite woman catches Jesus in His own words.  He calls her a dog, and her response is “yes, Lord, and even the dogs get fed from the master’s table!”  She will cling to these words of our Lord as a burr does to your clothes (Katie Luther).

In 1941, the newly elected Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, met at the Harrow school and gave a speech. It was shortly after the Blitz, while London was being bombed almost to oblivion.  It wasn’t a long speech, but here is the line that concerns us here.  Churchill said,

Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Today God invites you to persistence.  He invites you to come to Him with boldness and confidence, as dear children come to their dear father.  He invites you to come to Him like our Canaanite woman, like blind Bartemaeus, like the Centurion, like Joseph, and yes, even like Jesus Himself prayed to the Father in the Garden.  He says to you, NEVER GIVE UP.

Dearly baptized, suffering remains for the night, but eternity comes at the break of day.  Job suffered for seven years, then prospered for one hundred and forty.  Joseph suffered for thirteen years, then ruled over Egypt for many more.  Yet even if the relief for your hardships does not come in this life, it will come in the next.  God promises you an end like Simeon, when you may depart in peace.  He promises never to leave you or forsake you.  He promises to hear your cries, and to answer them every single time.

Sometimes the answer may seem no more than a crumb., a pittance of a promise against all the forces of evil.  But with that crumb, that drop of His blood comes everything He won for you in His death and resurrection.  The crumbs and drops can move mountains, create faith, give hope, and draw you into Him.  We pray it this way in the hymn,

Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood,

Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food;

Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow’r to win

Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.

Or if we want something more appropos to our text today,

The Lord His little dogs adores,

And from His table crumbs He pours;

Wait but on Christ, who satisfies,

With bounteous grace—’tis sure advice.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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