Second Sunday in Lent
ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One great acknowledgment that stands out in today’s Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Lent is this: Since our father Adam partook of the ill-natured tree in the midst of the Garden, Man must still find himself constantly relying upon that OTHER Tree in the midst of the Garden at Eden which he rejected – the Tree of Life. Because of that rejection, we are full of sin and incapable of helping ourselves. We even return to, stop and listen to, and partake of the ill-fated fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is only the Mercy and Grace offered by the Tree of Life that keeps us from constantly appealing to the serpent of the other tree. This Collect originates in the Gregorian Sacramentary. For a fuller study and brief meditation on the Collects, I recommend The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, by C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F.M. Zahl. (Erdmans, 1999)
Sir Francis Bacon has said: “A man’s nature runs either to herbs or weeds. Therefore, let him seasonably water the one and destroy the other.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Quite often, in discussion with the modern Christian, when the sins of abortion and homosexuality (and others of modern character) are raised, the response is: “Well, we have ALWAYS had these sins among us.” This seems to be some off-handed justification for toleration – a favorite tactic of the devil’s minions. The fact is that sins abound today that were not even uttered publicly in centuries past.
Though all generations are wicked and adulterous, we witness in history that some are far more wicked and adulterous than others. It must be admitted that it is rare in history to see the level of wickedness and rebellion against God as we see in the present generation. The notion that things are just as they have always been is a deception of the modern church as pointed out by Peter: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. ” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
We know, from the very Words of Jesus, that things have not continued as they have from the beginning. Those who support homosexuality love to argue that nothing has changed, but it certainly has. The nature of sin has not changed, but the abundance of it surely has increased. “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matt 24:6-13) It is a sad characteristic of man to always attempt to justify himself – even in sin.
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matt 15:21-28)
Jesus has just been confronted by the scribes and Pharisees (blind leaders of the blind) who have come to Him with a petty complaint involving hand-washing. These men ruled their charges by red-tape and the jot and tittle of the law, and not out of love. There is one cardinal principle in preaching that may be the most neglected, not only by the former Pharisees, but the contemporary ones as well. That principle is clearly elucidated in 1 Peter 5:2. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2-4) So Jesus, wearied of the harassment from the mean fellows, resorts to the far reaching coastline of Tyre and Sidon (Phoenicia on the Mediterranean) for a time of peace and quiet. There is also a certain woman in His thoughts that needs to see Him and is awaiting His arrival there. This dear soul has no idea that the Son of David will travel to her distant home, but the Son of David knows, and He comes.
The beauty and comfort of God’s providential care for us, even while we were yet strangers, knows no limits on time and distance. Perhaps, ere you came to Christ, you, too, were a great distance away among a people of Godless character; yet, Christ was aware of your plight and His Holy Spirit, swift as a Dove, came to you and answered your great need. He knew you LONG before you knew Him – even while you were yet in your mother’s womb where He MADE you! Such a wonderful visit of Christ the great Healer and Physician was beyond the realm of possibility in the imagination of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Yet, there was something in her heart that made her believe that God would provide. Already, she had more faith as a Gentile than the Jewish rulers had as the lost sheep of Israel. The reassuring thing about faith in God is this: We need not understand the ways and means of God’s answering our prayers, but only to know that He certainly WILL! The ear of faith, to, is very keen to hear every whispered detail of the Way of the Lord’s Coming whether it be on the road from Galilee, or from Jerusalem. The direction is not so important, but the fact that He will come after all. There is a parallel account of this event in the Gospel of St Mark 7:24-30.
We look in upon Jesus immediately after His confrontation over hand-washing with the Pharisees: 21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. Please do not argue that Christ knew not whom He would meet at His destination for I will not believe it. Christ always knew whom He would meet and whom He would heal in every case. He knew a woman of Samaria would come to Jacob’s Well at the noonday hour long before the woman experienced her thirst. So He waited there while the disciples went for bread. You may be the most incorrigible and egregious of sinners, judged so by infidel and Christian alike, but Christ may have already established a point in time when He will seek you out in a land far removed from the familiar people of God. This woman may not be an egregious sinner. In fact, I believe that she is a good and faithful mother to the treasure of her bosom, but she has not yet met Christ – and that meeting will make all the difference in her life. Now He is coming. The news is whispered about the villages and among travelers along the dusty roads. His fame has even reached the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and the woman has heard with bated breath. HOPE is the dominant quality that informs her germinating faith in a Figure see has yet to meet. The Gospel of St Mark tells us that Jesus went into a house to rest near the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, but “could not be hid.” (7:24) No truer statement can be uttered about Jesus – He cannot be hidden from the searching eye, for all that seek Him shall fid Him. (Luke 11:9 et al) There is a Syro-Phoenican woman that is seeking, and she shall find Him at all costs. This is always the cause that brings us to Christ – NEED! Many need, but fail to satisfy that need in coming to Him.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David. There are three important points to be made in this one statement: 1) The woman did not casually call out for help as if her need, or her expectation, was minor. She CRIED out because her NEED, motivated by a mother’s love for a dear little girl, was GREAT! “my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” . 2) She named no great need in her cry – only a request for mercy. If she has mercy from Christ, she has all else of her need. 3) She recognized Jesus as the Messiah. That is the meaning of her expression “O Lord, thou Son of David.” She did not call Him ‘a’ son of David, but the prophesied Son of David. When we go to Christ in prayer, do we fully realize He is? This woman KNEW before ever she met Christ. She knew out of NEED and FAITH. Perhaps feeling herself so much so unworthy as the publican who came with the Pharisee to the Temple that day and would not approach so near, she called from a distance unto Christ. Actually, our first call to Christ is always from a distance, for we call out of our bondage and need. It is just as the hymnist, William Sleeper, has written in the hymn we sang today:
Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
23 But he answered her not a word. Was Jesus being unkind to this precious mother? Of course he was not! Jesus showed nothing but the deepest compassion for others in need. Jesus does not answer for two reasons: 1) He desires to allow the woman’s faith to increase, by and by, through her persistence. If we pray ceaselessly and, yet, have not gotten an answer, do we cease to call upon the Lord? God would have us pray with persistence. As we pray continually, our eyes are opened more and more to the Mind of God – our prayers thereby become more and more in accord with His own Will to grant. Do you recall in our previous studies how those who are closest to Christ often prevent those who need Him most from coming? And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. Do we value our comfort and leisure so highly that we forbid others who have a great need from coming to the source of that comfort we have? Are we too cozy in our little buildings of stone walls and high spires? The salt that is not often shaken will harden so that it cannot be dispensed from the shaker.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Every Word of Christ is with power yet this is one of those ‘BUTS’ which deserve heeding. This woman is from the Canaanite race of Gentiles that the Jews despise. Christ is drawing out of a deep well, the refreshing waters of faith this woman has. He does it not only for her own benefit, but for the benefit of his Jewish disciples to learn of compassion. He is saying to the poor mother, “Look, I know you have a need, but I am not sent to any other than the lost sheep of Israel. If you become a child of the Promised Seed, you, too, shall be in the fold of Israel.” The statement of Jesus is looked upon with particular interest by His disciples. Jesus is slowly drawing the woman closer to Himself, and to His Love-Brimmed Heart. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. Yes, we see that the Love of Jesus does draw her nearer, don’t we? She finally is not afraid to worship the Savior of her soul. She asked for the deepest desire of her heart, and that desire derives from a love that is inexpressible for her daughter.
Please note thoughtfully the kind and loving response of Jesus to the woman: 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. At first glimpse, this may sound a bit harsh to such a loving mother, but it is laden with love. The word Jesus uses here to describe her relationship to the children of God (Israel) is not the term for the cursed and hated dog of the ghettos, but the Greek word, κυνάριον, pronounced ‘koo-nar’-ee-on’, meaning ‘puppy’ or ‘pet-dog.’ The puppy dog is a pet and is fed by the children by secretly dropping crumbs of food down to them. Perhaps we, as children of God, fail too often to drop these crumbs of the Bread of Life down to those who are starving for love and nourishment. Jesus, from eternity past, has loved this woman and her little daughter; but He needs to show her the manner in which she must come to Him. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. These words were evoked by Christ for the benefit of those standing nearby. He already knew these words were written in the red blood of love on the woman’s heart for her daughter. Had she not needed a healing for her daughter, she may never have sought Christ out.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. What has Jesus told the woman? He has told her (in other words): “Woman, you have known who I am. You have come seeking me out of a faith born of love. You have persisted in your prayers, so much so, that YOUR will is precisely the Will of God. It is by THAT latter Will that your faith has healed your daughter. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. God is Light, and His Finger travels with Light Speed. There was no lingering spirit-possession of the daughter – not at all. She was healed that very hour (moment).
So what valuable lessons have we learned from this most blessed mother of ancient Phoenicia?
- Love will call us into a higher place – even to a higher faith in seeking after God.
- We must seek the Lord diligently even in places that are perceived unlikely such as the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
- We must call out in earnest to Christ not holding back.
- We must clearly state our need in prayer.
- We must be persistent in prayer even if we only hear silence at first from the Throne of God.
- We must not only petition, but listen for the Will of God to be informed of it.
- We must worship God even while we are pleading our desperate cause as did the distraught mother.
- We must give evidence of our Faith in God without fear of man.
Have we exercised this example in prayer? Put it to the test. God is faithful always to answer if our wills are consistent with His Own.