In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.
In the Chronicles of Narnia series, there is this story called The Horse and His Boy. And there’s one particular passage in this story where this horse is running on a very urgent and time-critical mission. And he’s running, and he’s running, and he is exerting every ounce of effort he could bring up from within him. He’s giving the very best that he knows how to give. He believes that he is giving the very best that he can. At this very time, if you could have come up behind him, and whispered in his ear, “Just a little bit harder. Just give a little bit more,” he would have said, “I can’t. I’m already giving the best I can give.”
And then, he looks over his shoulder while he’s running and he sees a lion. He sees the teeth. He sees the lion, getting closer and closer, and he hears the rumble and the roar of the lion. And fear wells up within him, for he knows that he would make a fine feast for an angry lion. And that is when he found out that there is a difference between running as fast as you think you can run, and running as fast as you can run, and he flew like the wind. He went even faster, and he was just barely able to get to his destination on time.
As we find out later in the story, this is not just any lion; this is Aslan. He was not out to eat the horse, but he was there to put the horse in such a situation that he would be pushed, and that his true character–his true ability–would come to the surface, like silver tried by fire.
You see, the trials of this earth are not here to test God. There are no barriers for God. With one wave of His hand, one blink of His eye, all poverty would disappear. Every field can grow an abundance of produce. Everybody could have plenty to eat. Everybody could have a roof over his head, every sickness would be gone. The trials of this earth–famine, sickness, depression, anger, hate–all these things that we have to face and endure, that people come after us with, these trials and these tests are here to test us, to see what we are truly made of, for what we think we are made of is a different thing from what we are made of.
That brings us to the story of the Canaanite woman. Jesus travels outside of Judea and goes to these cursed lands of Tyre and Sidon. And this cursed, second-class outcast of a woman, estranged from the Jews, this “Canaanite filth” in the eyes of the Jews, has the audacity to seek an audience with this Jew named Jesus. She wants healing for her daughter. Her daughter is afflicted with a demon, a devil, and she is begging for mercy for herself, her child.
Now we know how the story goes. We know that if Jesus had no desire to heal Gentiles, if He had no desire to heal this woman, then what was He doing in Tyre and Sidon in the first place? And obviously at the end of this story, He does heal this woman’s daughter. But she did not know any of these things yet, and look at the obstacles she faced: As I said, the Jews looked at the Canaanites as they looked at filth, like dirt and dust on the bottom of their shoes. Worthless, outcast. They would even look back to the fact that their ancestors had been ordered to slaughter and drive out the Canaanites, and no doubt some of the Jews thought, “You know, if my ancestors had just done their job, you wouldn’t have even been born. What are you even doing here, you worthless piece of trash?”
But she didn’t let any of this social ostracism be a barrier between her and the Son of God. She didn’t just stay home and cry about her situation. Against all odds, against the culture, she steps out of her house and she makes the journey to where Jesus is. And look at Jesus’ response. She comes in faith, believing that He can and will heal her daughter. And Jesus’ first response is silence.
Have you ever prayed to God, not to receive a “yes” or a “no” but just to receive nothing? Your prayers are not answered positively, but neither do you get any indication from God that the answer is “no.” It’s as if God Himself has become deaf. And so for days, for weeks, for years, you assail the door of heaven, and you pound on the door of heaven, and your prayers turn from sighs to wailings, and at times screams, and you just feel that He cannot or does not wish to hear you. Have you ever experienced silence to an answer to your prayers? And it breaks your heart not to receive a “yes,” but it gets to be such torture that you would rather just receive a “no.” For if the Lord would just say, “NO!” at least you would know that He hears you. But you hear nothing. You feel that your prayers have fallen into this great, dark pit, and that no one is on the other side.
She makes this brave, loving, faith-filled journey to the Son of God, beseeching Him for healing for her demon-possessed daughter, and Jesus says nothing. He answered her not a word. For some people, this right here would be enough to go home, to crack open the Crown Royal, get the remote, flip on the soap opera, and eat an entire gallon of ice cream. I’m thankful I did not hear any “amens.” But you understand that feeling. You understand that temptation. You have been there.
She did not respond that way. She stuck with it. She was even bugging the Disciples. They wanted her to go away. She asks again, “Lord”–she calls him Lord–“Have mercy on me.” She’s acknowledging that the pain and the suffering caused to her daughter is not just her daughter’s pain, but is also a dagger through her own heart as well, as the mother, and probably causes pain for other family members and friends in the community as well. She’s praying for deliverance, not just for one person, but for many.
And she cries out again, and she asks Jesus, “Please, please have mercy on me. Will you not heal my daughter from this demon possession?” His response is no longer to ignore her. His response is no longer silence. After this second request, Jesus says, “I wasn’t sent to do this. This isn’t really my job.” He says, “I wasn’t sent, except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And obviously you’re a Canaanite woman, you’re not one of those sheep.”
And this is true. It says in Romans that the gospel is for the Jew first, and also for the Gentile. At this time in Jesus’ ministry, his focus was Israel. He spoke the truth. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now at this, many people would respond with anger. “Oh, you’ll help them. Thousands of them touch the hem of your garment and get healing, but this isn’t your job. I’m not one of the ‘in’ crowd.” She did not respond this way. She did not become angry. She did not attack Him. She did not become furious, she did not become despondent. Her persistence and her tenacity stuck with her.
She asks yet again. It was hard enough just to get out of the house and to get here. She asks once and receives a stonewall, a blank stare, silence. She asks again and He says, “I wasn’t sent to take care of your people.” She asks again, and the insults get worse! He says, “It is not fitting to take the bread from the children and to give it to the dogs.”
Now, honestly, if you had gotten to asking the third time, and He compared you to a dog, how many of us would have stuck around to ask again? How many of us would not have said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m outta here. I’m gonna seek help somewhere else. Maybe the Moabite gods can help me. The gods of Israel obviously are no help. I give up.” But this was not her response. She did not even defend herself. She did not defend her rights. She did not stand up and say, “I’m not a dog, I’m a person. You owe me some respect, Jesus.” He called her a dog, and her response was to say, “Truth.”
You see, Jesus never lied. His words may seem unkind, but they were accurate. She was not among the people of God. She was not among the religion that God had set up. She had been raised among the Canaanites, among the people who turned their backs on God, among the people who worshiped idols. She no doubt had sin and uncleanness in her own past, and when He dared to compare her to a dog, she said, “Truth. But even the dogs eat of the scraps. They eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Even when he gave this unflattering comparison of her to a dog, instead of self-defense, instead of pride, she responds with great humility, accepting the analogy that Jesus has made, accepting that she is nothing but a dog.
It’s almost like a song that some of us sing today, “Nothing in my hands I bring, but only to Thy cross I cling.” As long as you think you’re bringing something in your hands, you’re going to have them closed up. As long as your hands are closed around these fantasies that you think you bring to the table, you think you contribute to the Kingdom of God, you will not be able to hold on to the feet of Christ. You will not be able to hold onto the cross of Christ, not until you let go of those fantasies, realize that “I’m no better than the dog,” realize that “I have nothing to give You but my submission and my obedience. I come empty handed.” Only then are your hands free to grasp the cross of Christ and to let the blood flow down from His wounds and cleanse your soul.
“Truth, master, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” In His analogy, He compares her to a dog, and in her analogy, she calls Him the master. That is a response of true humility. She still recognizes Him for the Master that He is. She still recognizes Him as the Lord, and she accepts even what He has called her. And her faith is still so great that she believes that even if she can’t get the loaf, even if she can’t get a slice of that bread, she believes that He is so powerful–he is the Son of God–“if I can get just one crumb, just one crumb is enough to heal my daughter.” That’s faith.
“I’m not asking God for the world, I’m not asking God to have it all, just give me one crumb. One crumb from you is better than a whole loaf from the world. The doctors gave me loaves, but they were worm infested. The other pagan religions, they gave me loaves, but they were rotten and moldy. I don’t need the loaves of the world, and the experts, and the doctors and the other religions. Lord Jesus, I am a dog. You are the Master. Just give me one crumb.” That’s enough. That will work. That will heal her.
And that is when the persistence of this lady broke through the doors of heaven and Jesus said, “Great is your faith.”–“Great is your faith. May it be unto you even as you will.” And her daughter was healed that selfsame hour.
And so may it be with us. Let us be like this woman, who, when she was tried by fire, was purified like silver, until it was so pure–the dross was so far gone–that the silversmith could look down into the molten silver and see his own reflection. Let us not be like the rich young ruler who likewise was tried, and found wanting. He was not raised a Canaanite; he was raised a Jew, one of God’s own people. He was not raised worshiping pagan idosl; he was raised worshiping the God of Israel, observing the law, carefully. Outwardly, he was far more righteous than this “dog” of a Gentile, but when Jesus tested him, He told him, “Sell everything that you have and come and follow me”, the rich young ruler turned away, sorrowful. He turned his back on Christ, for he had great wealth. He had many riches, and he loved those riches more than he loved Jesus.
You see, when you dig for gold, when you dig for silver, not every rock that you hit is treasure. The trials that we are given test us, and we are proven to be either silver or just a dirty old rock. The dirty old rock might have a shiny surface to it like fool’s gold. The silver might be encrusted with dirt and mud, so that you don’t even know it’s there. But the trials that God gives us prove us and show what we really are.
So how will you respond to your trials? Will you turn your back on Christ like the rich young ruler, or will you be like this Canaanite woman? Even through the silence, even through what seem like insults, you persist and you stick with it, and you keep going, for as long as it takes, until you get through to heaven, not believing that you bring any righteousness of your own, not believing that you bring anything to the table that can improve what God is already doing, but simply coming humbly before Him, trusting that He is the Master, and that no matter how lowly you are, that He can and will heal you, and your family and your situation, that He has not only the ability to do it, but the desire to do it, and that He doesn’t have to give you any special ability, or any special position on earth. He doesn’t have to give you the whole loaf of bread at all. But have faith that just one crumb from the Master’s table is better than any loaf that the world can give you, and is sufficient to heal you and your family.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.
This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, March 31, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.