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.
The Canaanite woman comes to Jesus because she is seeking mercy for her daughter, who is severely oppressed by a demon. There is urgency in her request. She knows that only God can help her daughter. She knows what St. John will write later in his Epistle: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” So she seeks Jesus, that He would set her family free from this demonic grasp. What she asks for is good and God-pleasing. She confesses that Jesus is the Christ. She asks for spiritual help. Yet Jesus is silent. However, as it always is with God, things are not as they seem. Jesus wasn’t ignoring her or refusing to help her. He was teaching her to trust His Word. And she did.
Why? How can she trust the Words and promises of God when He is silent? It’s because she was able to ignore what she experienced. Experience can’t be trusted because it’s always tainted by our devil-implanted inclination to attribute bad motives to God. Experience can lead one to believe that the devil cannot be beaten, that men cannot resist sin, that there is no hope. Experience must be brought under the subjection of the Scriptures, and that’s what this woman does. She keeps crying out because God’s Word tells her to, tells her that God loves us, that He listens to us, that He wants to hear us, and most importantly, that He wants to defeat the devil for us.
But then the disciples become embarrassed. They ask Jesus to send her away, to which He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now she has to fight reason. Reason would tell her to understand these words to mean that Christ was not sent for her. But once again she brings the Word of God to bear. Isaiah promised, “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for He has glorified you” (Is. 55:5).
Reason cannot be trusted. The Word of God might seem to contradict itself. But the woman humbles herself and clings to an understanding that is beyond her understanding. She knows that the Holy One of Israel came for the Gentiles. He has told her to come to Himself. She needs His help because she cannot conquer demons without Him. So she persists. Jesus is testing her to make her faith stronger.
So finally she throws herself down in front of Jesus and asks for help. He responds remarkably: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She doesn’t protest this insult. She doesn’t walk away from Jesus, upset because He refused to play on her terms. She humbles herself, admits her sin and her unworthiness. She doesn’t bargain with Jesus or offer Him something. She doesn’t tell Him what she has done or what she is going to do if He grants her petition. She makes no claim, no statement of what she deserves. She knows she does not deserve the bread, but begs merely for crumbs. She begs for mercy. And at last Jesus relents. He praises her faith and heals her daughter of her demons. She was not deterred despite the appearance, her reason, or even experience. She knows that God is in control and that He has sent His Messiah for this very purpose, for defeating the devil who seeks to overthrow us.
This teaches us to be relentless. The devil is evil and wants our demise. He wants us to rely on experience, on reason, on ourselves. He wants us to be quickly insulted and turn away from Our Lord when He is testing us to strengthen our faith. Jesus tells us “Ask, seek, knock.” This woman knocked and the door was not answered. She knocked again and was told, “Go away.” And how often do we, when we are told no, or God does not answer our prayers in the way we want or demand Him to, put our tail between our legs and go off and pout? We give up, say God doesn’t care or prayer doesn’t work. But see what this woman does. She refuses to quit. The more her knocking is ignored, the louder she pounds. She will not leave because she is confident that the Lord will hear, that He will have mercy, because that is precisely the promise He made in Eden, to crush the devil’s head, to have mercy on His children. Like Jacob, she has grabbed hold of Jesus and will not let Him go until she receives His blessing.
This is how we all must pray. St. Augustine said it best: “Lord, You are a Physician; I am sick. You are sympathetic; I am a wretch in need of pity.” What the Lord gives is exactly what we need. He gives His gifts to us sinners because He wants to be merciful and wants to give every good thing in abundance. He wants us to remember His promise, to cling to it, and to say back to Him what He has said to us. This is what faith does, it repeats what it has been told and clings to the promises, despite logic or reason or experience or what we think is right based on how we would act.
When you find yourself in trials and tribulations in this life, remember that God is working through them for your good. He uses them to strengthen your faith, to teach you to rely solely on Him, because He is the only one who can help. Nothing else can help, because nothing else and no one else is God Himself.
But in these trials, Jesus knows that sometimes you will fail. Sometimes you will look like the Canaanite woman, but other times you will try to find help in all the wrong places. When those times come, repent, confess your sin, and God, who is faithful and just, will forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. He forgives you for not perfectly bearing your crosses because He has borne His own, and carried on it all of your sin. He has died for it, and forgives you. And with that forgiveness He gives His Holy Spirit to help you in your growth in the faith, to teach you how to stand in times of trial, to look like that Canaanite woman, clinging to Jesus and His promise in faith, despite what the devil, the world, and your flesh may throw at you.
This growth in the faith is not a comfortable process. But Jesus will see you through every difficult trial, giving you His abundant mercy that has no end. So in these trials, be relentless with your requests for mercy, for divine gifts, because your God’s love for you is relentless; His mercy endureth forever.
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.