15 March 2014

A Homily upon Reminiscere

If you want to make sense out of the readings for Lent you need to remember that this season was designed as an instruction period for those who were new to Christ.  So the first Sunday in Lent introduces the newbees to the devil.  Let’s them know that yes, there really is an enemy out there literally hell-bent on destroying them and wiping out their faith in the God who is calling them to life in Jesus Christ.  The first Sunday in Lent warns:  Expect to be tempted, and prepare for all kinds of seduction because if the tempter can’t get at you one way, he’ll just try another.  The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive this enemy away.

The second Sunday introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that old Christians know well, but that will seem quite shocking to those who are just beginning to walk the way.  We tell them not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will have to content with another quite common and trying spiritual experience:  getting the cold shoulder from God.  Don’t be deceived we tell them.  There are times that you pray and God’s answer to your prayer seems to drop on your plate before you even say “Amen” – but this Sunday warns:  don’t get used to it and think that’s what it’s always like; it most certainly is not.

No, instead many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, and like Jacob, we walk away limping.  We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel and we feel ignored, excluded and insulted.  And what then?  Do we give up and believe what the Enemy is whispering in our ear?  When he tells us:  See, it was all an illusion; there is no God to hear your prayer; or if there is a God who hears prayers, he sure as shootin’ isn’t listening to the prayers of someone like you.  Should we just hang our heads and walk away from the whole Christianity thing and think:  It’s no good; it’s not meant for me?

Today the Church urges you:  Don’t do it!  Don’t give into those despairing thoughts!  Look at the little lady from Canaan and follow her example instead.  She is a living enactment of our Lord’s words:  “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.”

She came to Jesus.  Maybe she was trying to disguise the fact that she had no claim on him by using the title “Son of David.”  “Son of David, have mercy on me.  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”  One of Satan’s crew had a grabbed hold of her daughter like a bull-dog and wasn’t letting go; filling that poor child with the hatred and bitterness, the rage and anger and resentment that is the beating heart of hell.  And when she hears that the great Healer has come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven.  Never had any been known to cry to Him in vain.  And so she runs to him and pleads.

But what is this treatment she receives?  “He answered her not a word.”  Even the disciples are shocked at how he treats this woman.  They intervene on her behalf, but it does no good.  He simply tells them:  “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

If she thought that she had fooled him by using the Messianic title “Son of David” that he might think her a Jew, she now knows that no one pulls the wool over Jesus’ eyes.  He knows that she is not one of the chosen people.  Does she slink off then?  Does she give up?  No!  She falls down before him and insists:  “Lord, help me!”

Surely now?  But what does He say?  “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

He doesn’t just tell her that she is not one of the chosen people; He tells her she is a dog unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people.  Now does she slink away?  Now does she finally give up?  No!

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”  She only was asking for a crumb.

See how she wrestled with our Lord!  See how she clung to His words!  “I will not let you go until you bless me!” See how she let herself be emptied of every claim and yet still throw herself on His pity, mercy, and kindness!  And see how see was not disappointed.  “O woman, great is your faith, let it be to you as you desire.”  “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Study at this woman, the Church says to the new Christians, on this Sunday in Lent!  Learn from her!  When you pray, come to Jesus and bring your requests to him.  Own up to the fact that you have no claim on Him for you are but a poor, miserable sinner, and yet do not cease to plead for His mercy.  But if He seems to turn His back upon you, don’t believe it.  Not for a second.  You stick to Him like a burr on a dog.  You hold Him tight and don’t let Him go.

You see, it’s His way to test those who come to Him.  No two ways about it.  He teaches them the long and hard way not to rely on themselves and their feelings and how they think things should go in their lives.  He teaches them to trust in Him and in His great love and mercy and He does it by giving them the cold shoulder.

Think of it:  this woman didn’t even know the whole story.  Not like you do, and yet she clung to Him.  How much more reason do you have not to give up on Him?  After all, you know that where His love landed Him:  upon the cross, laden with your sin!  You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life.

St. Paul, in thinking about this, wrote:  “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”  Every time we share the Eucharist, eating the crumbs from His Table, our confidence is reinforced that the God who would do THIS for us can be trusted absolutely not to deny us or forsake us in the end – no matter what we may be going through right now.

And that’s what the Church would say to the newbies and, by way of reminder, to the old foggies too on this, the Second Sunday in Lent:  Stick to Jesus and keep praying and asking, and no matter what.  He uses the cold shoulder to bless you, for tribulation will produce perseverance and perseverance, character, and character, hope, and that hope will not disappoint!  Amen.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Wow. Thanks for this message...fits well with our confirmation class going through prayer right now.

In one sense, reminds me of when Abraham was "negotiating" with God about destroying Sodom.

He wants us to be bold. Boldly trusting in His goodness. and ultimately of course, his incarnate goodness, His Son.

In Him,