05. March 2023
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
What sweet words of Gospel comfort! “Let it be to you as you desire!” Her daughter was healed from that very hour. Jesus heard her prayers and gave her what she asked. What better news could Jesus give this Canaanite woman than the direct and immediate answer to her petitions? Except, that’s not exactly what happened. Rather than promptly give her what she wants, like a divine vending machine in the sky, Jesus ignores, rebukes, rebuffs and discourages her.
This is the life of prayer, the life of the Christian. We know what God has promised, but our experience contradicts it. He promised a land flowing with milk and honey, yet it refused to give up its fruit. He promised a kingdom that would never end, yet the kingdom fractured in two, and both north and south were exiled. He promised a world ruled by peace and love, yet all we see around us is war and hate. He promised to come and save us, yet we are still waiting for rescue.
How long, O LORD? How long? That is the lament of the Christian in prayer. We trust that Jesus will do what He promised while it seems undone. We live in the peace of sins forgiven by declaration, not experience. We live by the Word even while its fruits seem never to show. We live in the hope of what we have not yet seen. We’re not praying against imaginary enemies and for imaginary gifts. We pray according to God’s Word, by the reality it reveals, and for the promises made.
But the things we are given to believe are the first to be doubted: healing, peace, joy, and resurrection. The things we experience are what we count as most real—sickness, pain, sorrow, and death. Even in our experience, we doubt their cause and deny their fundamental reality. We hear stories like those of today’s readings and think of them as metaphorical, analogical, or parabolic. Jacob didn’t really wrestle with God’s Angel all night. A literal demon didn’t possess the Canaanite woman’s daughter.
When we hear about the source and reality of our slavery and bondage, we lack the frank truth-telling of the Syrian woman from Phoenicia. We don’t believe in the demonic. That’s just something to be treated by diet, drugs, or psychotherapy. That statement in the Baptismal rite that we’re under the devil’s captivity until Christ claims us as His own is an exaggerated metaphor. Our little infants, newly born, couldn’t possibly be under the devil’s sway by nature and from our mother’s wombs. Baptism is not actual, physical, and spiritual rescue by water and the Word, but a picture of the abstract idea of change, something we do to show our truth to what we call God.
But demon possession is real. The Scriptures do not lie. Jesus doesn’t tell the woman, “Oh, your daughter needs less sugar or food coloring, maybe some medication and therapy sessions. Go and do this, and she’ll be saved.” Those things may help the body, but to be held captive under the devil is to be bound to the lies he speaks. But we don’t know her daughter’s age. Perhaps, to speak anachronistically, it was something more like this. She’s come back from college. She’s been filled with strange ideas, contradicting God’s Word’s truth. She spews lies and half-truths as if they’re from Jesus. She distorts her persona with filters on social media. She’s mutilated her body. She’s engaged in sexual acts forbidden by God’s Word. She murdered children in her womb or helped and encouraged others to do the same. She thinks of herself as less human or more than human, a living cybernetic face melded to the black glass screen. Or any combination of the above denial of what God has given and revealed in His Holy Word. It’s spiritual bondage revealed in bodily transgression.
Does the mother stand by idly and say, “that’s just how kids are these days? What are you to do?” Does the mother forfeit her daughter to the altar of liar gods in Madison, Hollywood, or Silicon Valley? It wouldn’t be the first time. Canaanite gods were demanding, often requiring blood sacrifices with the death of children. The old gods have always demanded we give over our progeny to their lust for death and cultic sacrifices. But not this mother. She forsakes the old gods and attaches herself to Jesus, the true God who demands not sacrifice but gives rescue and life.
She cries out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed!” That’s the life of prayer, the life of the Christian. Demon possession isn’t a casual matter. You can’t make it less serious by euphemistically playing word games, e.g., “gender fluidity,” “woman’s right to choose,” “a celebration of diversity,” or whatever lipstick gets put on that pig, polishing that. No, these sorts of demons can only be cast out by the Word of God and prayer. The truth revealed by God in His Word must be preached, taught, and spoken into the ears of those held under the devil’s deceitful sway. You don’t speak your truth or any truth, but the God’s-honest-truth as recorded in Holy Scripture. A failure to pray and speak is to let the demons win.
But it’s not that easy for the Canaanite woman or us. We risk losing family, friends, work, liberty, or even life for speaking the truth in love. The demons have possessed members of every institution, and they don’t take kindly to you rebuking them with Jesus’ Word. They’ll lie, cheat, blind, scream, and murder anything or anyone that gets in the way of undermining Jesus. So Jesus puts us through the wringer, refining our faith, testing and trying us so that our confession, hope, and trust are true in Him alone.
Jesus won’t let you put your faith in anyone or anything other than Him. He won’t let you trust in your resources to wage war against the world’s lies, the devil’s deceits, or your own flesh’s lusts. Left to yourself, you’ll never win and are doomed. He won’t let you trust in your bloodline or lineage, revealing that even His own people rejected Him over and over. He won’t let you trust in your renown and identity but rather devastates you with the confession that you are poor and miserable, even an annoying dog.
The only way through is the way of His cross. So, He grinds you down and whittles away everything that isn’t faith in Him. And this faith knows what gives rescue. This faith trusts that Jesus alone saves. And He saves by a Word. “Let it be done for you!” You are baptized! You are forgiven. You are loved. You are my child. You will never be left behind or forsaken. You are invited. You are welcome. Here! Have my Word of forgiveness to exorcise the demons and their spells. Have my Life that overcomes Death. Have my body and blood to comfort and strengthen you until the warfare is ended. Cry out, “Lord, help me!” Kyrie, eleison! And He will. That’s His promise today and always. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin