This section of Psalm 119 assigned to this week in Lent interacts perfectly with Sunday’s Gospel of the Canaanite woman whose faith was tested by Jesus. Here the Psalmist teaches us that this kind of testing comes to all of God’s children. This is part of how our faith grows and is strengthened. But by this Psalm we are given the words to pray when the testing comes, a prayer that God would give us His grace to endure the testing and the grace to be an example to others of trusting in God, even when it’s hard to do.
Today’s gospel reading is all about distilling things down to their most essential parts. As He interacts with this Canaanite woman, Jesus distills her prayer to its most basic form, her knowledge of herself to its most basic form, and her trust in God to its strongest.
Tonight’s Readings do an excellent job of illustrating our lives. There is reality, and then there is perceived reality. “I walk in danger all the way” is the truest statement we could speak. Thanks be to God, though we walk in danger all the way, He is always beside us to defend us.
Today’s Gospel Reading is one of the most difficult ones we wrestle with all year. Not because of its doctrine or its interpretation, but because of the image of Jesus we receive. If you hold onto any image of Jesus being a fishing buddy or someone who is a cuddly friend, today sends that image right out the window. The first time this poor woman pleads for mercy for her daughter, Jesus ignores her. Then, the disciples tell Jesus to tell her to be quiet and go away, and Jesus’ response is that He wasn’t even sent for her. And then when Jesus finally speaks to her, He calls her a dog. And in first century life, dogs weren’t fur babies who get treated better than people. Dogs were filthy and mean and you didn’t want them around. They looked at dogs with all the affection that you and I have for rats. This is the equivalent of looking the sweetest grandmother in the eyes and sneering at her, you don’t even deserve the air you breathe. So, why? Why does Jesus do this? Why do we hear this account? Through this Canaanite woman Jesus is teaching us to put all of our trust in the Word of God and the truths it reveals. Do not rely on what your eyes see or your ears hear. They will deceive you. Trust only in what Holy Scripture reveals to you, because that is the only thing you can trust.
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus takes His disciples aside to let them know what is going to happen to Him. This is the third time He has told them, and it is also the most detailed of the Passion predictions. For the first time Jesus mentions that He will be handed over to the Gentiles and crucified. How exactly the disciples responded we do not know. But we know from the previous two times, they were shocked and saddened, but also perplexed. How could this happen to the long-awaited Messiah? How could their own leaders do this to their Savior? They did not yet understand that Jesus would enter into His glory through rejection, suffering, and death.
Be relentless! Do not lean on your own reason, your own experience, your own view of the situation! That is what Our Lord teaches us today by way of the Canaanite woman. He is not polite, the way we count politeness. He doesn’t give her what she wants so she is quiet and leaves everyone alone, like the disciples want Him to. Instead, He does what He knows is right for her, right for the disciples, right for us. Jesus teaches them and us to be relentless in prayer, always approaching the throne of grace with confidence. Jesus teaches them and us to rely solely on His Word and the promises it records.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.