St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
Sermon on Matthew 15. 21-27
The Gospel lessons in the first three Sundays in Lent comprise what we might call a mini course in demonology. Everything you wanted to know about demons but were afraid to ask. Well, may not everything you wanted you needed know about demons.
So last Sunday Jesus goes into the wilderness and is tempted by the devil himself on three separate occasions, which serve to inform our understanding of the triple renunciations Christians make in Holy Baptism.
Today we have the story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon.
Next Sunday we have the story of the demon who was cast but come back with some of his buddies.
So what exactly is a demon?
Basically, demons are wicked, unclean, spiritual powers or perverse spiritual principles and ideals, which we experience, in part, as it says in the Collect, as “a thought that assaults and hurts the soul.”
So, maybe you’re feeling a little beat up this morning. It’s been a rough week.
Why is that? It may have been physically demanding, but chances are you have been you have been battling some demons. You have been dealing with various dark thoughts which have been assaulting and hurting your soul.
Because the soul is the animating principle of the body, and because man is a union of body, soul, and spirit, when the soul is afflicted, suffers assault and is wounded, our bodies and our spirits suffer as well.
Traditionally, the soul has been understood as possessing three powers. There is the power of thought, the power of will or desire, and the energetic power. The mind settles on a thought, feeds that thought into the will or desire, which is then put into action. This, in a nutshell, is the life of the soul.
It’s why you need to be vigilant about the thoughts that you entertain, and why the remembrance of God is so important, lest you act on the ungodly thought, which has become a desire or act of the will. There is a wounding that takes place in sin, which unless repented of, results in the death of the soul, and turns you into something akin to a zombie.
This is why we have church, and the great healing service that is the Holy Communion. In repenting of sin, and turning to Christ, in feeding your soul with the truth of His Word and with His Body and Blood, you receive the forgiveness of our sins, and are given new thought and new desire: to love God and love neighbor, and you receive the spiritual strength and energy needed to carry it out. In this way Jesus Christ preserves your body and soul unit eternal life.
So what are these thoughts that assault and hurt the soul? I mentioned last Sunday that there are 8.
The first is gluttony, which isn’t just about eating and drinking too much, but about being anxious about physical health that leads you to obsess about food and drink.
The second thought is lust or fornication which is the thought that leads you to treat your own body or that of another ( often imaginary) as an object of gratification, which is quite different than the thought that leads you to desire another person, to love and care for them.
The third thought is “sadness” which isn’t the sadness that comes from loss or hurt, but the sadness that comes upon you when you think and dwell on “the good old days.” Ah, the good old days when…., you fill in the blanks. They are long gone, never come back. How sad.
The fourth thought is anger, which is the thought that someone has slighted you, or hurt or mightily offended yor Man of man, are you ever mad. It’s the thought that says, ” Don’t talk to them,”, or,’ How can I get even?”
The fifth thought is “despondency” or “sloth”, which is the thought that it’s all a waste of time, there is no point, and so why bother praying?
Then we have the thought of vain-glory, which is the thought of how wonderful I am, and how much better I am than anyone else.
Finally we have the thought that is pride, which is the thought I don’t need God, because, you know what I am God.
These are the thoughts which assault and hurt your soul. They are your spiritual enemies.
What all these thoughts have in common is a love of self, as opposed to love of God, and present us with false picture of God, ourselves, and the world we live in. They are distractions, temptations, which lead us away from prayer and love and into sin.
IN his time in the wilderness, Jesus overcame sin at the point of temptation. He defeated and was victorious over the ungodly thoughts that devil, who is the father of lies, was feeding Him.
Today’s Gospel we all about how you and I participate in that victory.
Matthew tell us that a Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came out to Jesus and started shouting at Him, ” Have mercy upon me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Leviticus, Moses warned the people of Israel to have nothing to do with the Canaanites, whose demonic religion and culture embraced all manner of sexual perversion and included the practice of burning children in the fire as a sacrifice to their idols.
This helps to explain why Jesus greeted the Canaanite woman’s prayer for mercy with silence.
“He did not answer her at all.”
But she would not keep quiet. “Have mercy upon me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
The disciples urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
But Jesus declared, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
In other words, my mission is to my people, not these foreigners.
And even when she comes and kneels before Him pleading for help, all Jesus can say is “1t is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
And with this, her humiliation is complete, and whatever human dignity she had absolutely shredded, having been silenced, rejected, denied, and now, repudiated.
This story is so deeply offensive to our modern sensibilities around race, religion, and gender. Look no further than this encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman for evidence of a theory of tyrannical patriarchal oppression of women through the centuries and the exclusion of religious and ethnic minorities, and the idea, popular in the universities today, that it’s all about power.
How dare Jesus treat here like this! Is this grounds for a human rights complaint, or what? I should say so.
But how does Canaanite woman respond to her humiliation?
Does she call the lawyer? No.
She responds to her humiliation with faith and humility.
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.”
She accepts that as an outsider to God’s covenant with Israel, she has no claim whatsoever to a place at the table with the children.
But that’s not what she is asking for.
All she asks is that along with the dogs she be allowed to catch some crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. This was a prayer that pierced his heart, from which flowed a river of grace.
What is also so remarkable about this woman is that unlike most men in Israel, she recognizes Jesus for who He is. Not only does she confess Jesus as “Lord,” and “Son of David,” but she also engages in a very real struggle of faith in Jesus. She persists and perseveres in the conviction that He would have mercy on her.
In the Book of Genesis , we have the story of Jacob who wrestled all night with God, and in the morning asked for a blessing, and so was given the name of Israel, which means, “one who strives with God.”
In confessing the faith of Israel, and wrestling and struggling in faith with the King of Israel, this Canaanite woman, proved herself to be, in spiritual terms, an Israelite, and so Jesus is able to exercise mercy upon her, without betraying his vocation.
Jesus answered her, “Woman, (which is a title of great dignity) great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed instantly.”
And so the moment of her humiliation becomes the moment of her exaltation, to this day her story is told all around the world.
Now does this not remind you of anybody and anything?
Do we not have here a picture of what happened to Jesus on the Cross?
On the Cross, and before the whole world, was not Jesus silenced, rejected, refused and repudiated?
On the Cross, was His humiliation not complete, his human dignity absolutely shredded?
And yet God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name.
In the Church, it has been given to proclaim, not same vague belief in the existence of God, but the humiliation and exaltation of the Son of God.
And not only to proclaim it, but to enter into Communion with Him in His humiliation and exaltation.
How do we this? By placing ourselves in the shoes of this Canaanite woman.
She stands for us all in our moral, theological, spiritual perversity.
She also stands in for us all in the true confession of Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David”, as well as our striving an persevering with Him in faith. It has been given to us as Christian not only to struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but to struggle and strive with God in faith.
She stands for us all in our humbling ourselves before Him who humbled Himself before us upon the Cross. It is humility, which make no presumptions whatsoever, which alone gains us access to His mercy
And so as the Communion Service in The Book of Common Prayer would have it, we too, would come before the Lord this morning, on our knees, and praying,
We do not presume to come to this thy table trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much to gather up the crumbs under thy table…” but wonder of wonders, we find ourselves lifted up and seated with the Lord around the table as one of His children.
When, with an open and humble heart, we bear the humiliation of our silencing, our rejection, our refusal and our repudiation of the Word of God, then God, in His humiliation, opens His heart to us, and the healing waters begin to flow from His heart into ours, and, as from a distance, we are healed of the tormenting demon.
This is our participation in the triumph and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.