Last week, it was the battle against the devil that we spoke of. That we can readily understand. But what are we to do when it is God that we have to fight against? When He puts our faith to the test? When He appears to us in the guise of an enemy, as one who opposes us or who acts as if He doesn’t care one bit about us? What then?
Jacob in today’s Old Testament reading knew something of this. He discovered it the night when he knew that his brother Esau was coming against him with a small army, and he stayed behind on the far bank of the River Jabbok and wrestled with a Man all night long. When morning was breaking, Jacob cried out: “I will not let you go until you bless me.” That night Jacob got a new name: Israel. The one who wrestles with men and with God and wins.
The Canaanite woman in today’s gospel is also struggling with God, wrestling with Jesus and, like Jacob, she holds on with the tenacity of a bull-dog - won’t let Him go until He blesses her by setting her daughter free. “Kyrie, eleison! Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, for my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” His response? Silence. He ignored her, just like she wasn’t even there. Just like she didn’t even count for anything.
But as He walks on, so does she, shouting and pleading more loudly. In fact, she becomes downright embarrassing. The disciples are befuddled. Why won’t He help her? He always has helped anyone who asks for His help. And yet He just keeps walking on as though His heart were made of stone. What has happened to Jesus?
They say to Him: “Lord, send her away, for she cries out after us.” His answer? “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” As though He had said: “She’s not one of Mine; her trouble has nothing to do with Me.”
Have you ever been there? Have you ever come to Him in prayer and received the stony silence of heaven as your answer? And what did you do then? The thing we’re tempted to do is to walk away in despair. Satan whispers in our ears: “See, it’s just like I’ve been telling you. He doesn’t care about you. You can’t count on Him. You’re going to have to handle it on your own.” Words bidding us despair, when we know we can’t handle it on our own at all.
But this woman won’t listen to the lies of Satan. She keeps up the asking, the seeking, and the knocking. She won’t give in until Jesus opens the door of His heart and hears her request. She grovels on the ground before Him, worships Him, and begs: “Lord, help me!”
Surely now He’ll give in. Surely. What does He say to her heart-felt plea? “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to a little dog like you.” Ouch! And if He had spoken so harshly to you? If He called you a dog unworthy of His assistance, when you were bowed in the dirt before Him, your tear stained face pleading for His help?
But listen to this woman’s words and learn! They are words of faith. Faith is being given to by God. Faith is receiving from His hands what He gives you, accepting it from Him as from a heart of love. Jesus gave her the gift of being a dog – and after all, she HAD been holding on like a bull-dog. In faith, she receives that gift and asks for nothing more than a dog’s due: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
See the joy in His face as He looks at her and exclaims: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” “Great is your faith” means “Great is your givable-to-ness.” What He dishes out, she receives. And yet she won’t let Him not be for her. Under His harsh words, she heard a deep and hidden “yes,” the answer to her prayer. He did indeed remember His great mercy and love and had pity on her.
Now what about you? In the great struggle of faith, there is only one thing to do: to cling to Him all the tighter. To hold to Him and say: “Lord Jesus, you may treat me as harshly as You like, and yet I will not let go of you or doubt your love for me. You only are my Help and my Hope. On You I will rely. After all, You went to the cross for me and died so that I might be Yours forever. Do with me as You will. But I am Yours.”
So you may speak to Him when you are going through the rough and discouraging times of trial. But where may you find Him then so that you too can sink your teeth into Him with the holding-power of a bull-dog? Where else but here at His Table. When everywhere else it seems that He is against you, you can come here and find out the truth. Here He shows how much, how deeply, how beyond all measure He is FOR you, as He place His body and His blood in your mouth with His promise that says: “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”
So this is what it means to belong to Him, you who have been branded with His name in Baptism. This is His way of training you to rely on His Words and promises and not on your feelings. Through the constant putting of your faith to the test, He drives you ever back to where He speaks His sure and certain words of life, and thus He strengthens you all the days of your pilgrimage.
God grant each of you a bull-dog like grip on your Jesus - faith like this Cannanite woman had - and you too will discover that even the crumbs from His table supply us with more than we could ever ask or imagine. To Him with His all holy Father and life-giving Spirit be all glory and dominion, now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen.