Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 20, 2011
The first three Sundays in Lent deal with the devil, demon possession, and the demonic influences among us. As I mentioned in a sermon last year at this time, we don’t like to talk about demons and spiritual warfare. We’d like to pretend that that is the stuff of old times and we don’t have to worry about this outdated topic. After all, most Biblical exegetes today say that most of the people who suffered from demon possession in Biblical times were probably just epileptics and this was the language they used to speak of them having a seizure.
I’ve actually witnessed someone having a seizure as the result of a brain tumor, and to be completely honest it scared the hell out of me. Seeing this happen to a co-worker with Georgia Power made me see how one would think this type of medical episode must come from the devil himself.
The Scriptures are replete with stories of the power of darkness and demonic forces, and we are beyond arrogant and foolish to pretend it doesn’t still happen today. Our very baptism service speaks explicitly about our receiving of the grace to manfully fight under Christ’s banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil. One of my favorite hymns and perhaps one of yours as well confirms the demonic influences are alive and well against which we must do constant battle. The third stanza of Martin Luther’s great hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God contains these words:
And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
One little word should bring the fall and demise of the Prince of Darkness. So what is that one little word? It’s not just a word, but it’s the Word – the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The word, the Word – capital W, the name is of course Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua which literally means the Lord saves or the Lord’s salvation.
In our Gospel lesson for today that speaks about demon possession of a Canaanite woman’s daughter, we see the power and salvation that does in fact come from that name – the name of Jesus.
If you will allow me to backtrack just a bit, let’s ground what’s happening here by what has transpired before this episode. I think it will help us understand the woman’s words to Jesus and His harsh sounding words in return.
At the end of Matthew 13 we have Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth and those famous words, “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” Chapter 13 closes with the words, “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Keep that last statement in mind because its counterclaim will come out in our passage we heard this morning.
The next chapter of Matthew contains the death of John the Baptist, the feeding of the 5,000 (which we will hear about on the Fourth Sunday in Lent), Jesus’ walking on water, and the miraculous healings and tremendous outpourings of faith by those in Gennesaret. Jesus is in some of the remotest regions of the Promised Land, areas quite removed from Jerusalem by a fairly large distance.
I mention this only because of how chapter 15 begins. It says that Pharisees and Scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem to harass him about the hand washing habits of his disciples. Jesus explains to them that it isn’t what goes into the body that defiles it, but what comes out that causes trouble.
In our lesson today we have him traveling to Tyre and Sidon which was one of the furthest and remotest places from Jerusalem, and as William Barclay points out, “the only occasion on which Jesus is outside Jewish territory.” He has actually travelled to Phoenician territory and thus into Gentile lands. As Barclay puts forward Jesus is trying to have some time away from the hand washing police and the pure food club that truly was the bane of Jesus’ existence.
So, Jesus has come into Phoenician territory and a Canaanite woman comes to Him seeking a miracle for her demon possessed daughter. Perhaps Jesus’ reputation has preceded Him and she knew that He was the miracle worker and healer that she had heard rumors about. However, at closer look there is more here than meets the eye.
First of all she calls Him by His rightful title of kurios or Lord. That by itself isn’t overly significant, but combined with the fact that she used the messianic title, Son of David, it is quite significant.
Combining Jesus, with Lord and Son of David is an acknowledgment that the long-awaited Messiah was right there in front of her. And to that acknowledgment, Jesus answers her not a word.
The disciples are annoyed with her and beg Jesus to simply send her away. Jesus’ response here is quite interesting considering where he had just travelled from and where he was at the moment. He tells her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
At closer inspection there is something remarkable about that statement – Jesus is outside Jewish territory. He’s not in Israel anymore. He’s on the outskirts and yet there are those out there who see him, acknowledge him, and call upon Him as the Messiah and Saviour.
To this, Jesus responds in what are stinging words where He says that it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. The woman is undaunted by this response and replies with words exhibiting the most humility imaginable. She says in response, Yes Lord, but even the dogs have a chance to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
She has no problem admitting that she is an outsider, an outcast, not part of the Chosen people, a Gentile, a dog. Yet, she replies with no indignation whatsoever, but that nourishment comes from the master’s table, even if it is just a crumb or scrap that happens to fall.
Jesus praises this Gentile woman’s faith and her daughter was healed immediately. If you remember what I said a few minutes ago that Jesus could do no miracles in his own hometown. The hometown folks were the part of the house of Israel and they did not have faith through which He could work miracles. Thus, they suffered in being deprived of their native son’s power.
Jesus wanted for the chosen people to know Him, acknowledge Him, and believe on Him. They would have none of it, and thus, Jesus does go to find some of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, except many of them were outside the Promised Land. The lost sheep of the house of Israel is anyone who would call upon the Name of the Lord, proclaim before all mankind that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, and that there is no hope, no salvation, no life, no nourishment apart from him.
This Canaanite woman was bold enough to make this proclamation on behalf of her demon possessed daughter and she was instantly healed. May we be bold enough to make that same proclamation in the midst of the trials and tribulations that we face in this life! May we be bold enough to make this proclamation so that we might not seek solace simply from the crumbs which fall from the master’s table, but that we might have a seat at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that awaits all who place their trust, their hope, and their life in the One who was sent to seek and save that which was lost, the lost sheep of the house of Israel of which you and I claim adoption as His children, and heirs of all that the Master has promised since time immemorial for those who love Him.