"Wrestling with God"
Either way, today our Lord shows us that He is pleased when we wrestle with Him in faith for His mercy.
On this Second Sunday in Lent we call upon God to remember us in His tender mercies. We beg God not to remember the sins of our youth. We have prayed that He will keep and defend us in both body and soul. We have heard the story of the wrestling match between Jacob and a mysterious Man identified as God. We have heard St. Paul’s call to walk in faith as we rejoice in our sufferings.
Yet we still wrestle—just like the Canaanite woman. As Jesus traveled through “paganland,” the land of unbelieving Gentiles, a foreign woman came to beg from Him. By all human standards she was outside the Church. But she cried out for Jesus, the Lord, the Son of David, to have mercy. Some might say that she was only pretending to be a good Jew. But actually, she gave a great cry of faith. It was no generic cry for some general mercy. No, she specifically cried for mercy to heal her demon-possessed daughter.
In the same way, our cries for God’s mercy are to be more than general, generic pleas for the Lord’s help. The Canaanite woman teaches us to plead for mercy in the specific, nitty-gritty details of life—for healing from the cancer, for strength in the family struggle, for money to pay the bills, for wisdom to manage the money that God does give, for forgiveness for those specific sins. It’s like going to the doctor. You can’t just go to the doctor and say, “I’m sick.” The doctor needs to know specifics. And the doctor will address the specific illness. After all, the healing will come only when the proper disease is addressed.
“But He did not answer her a word.” Silence. Divine silence. Would He answer her cry? Would He heal her daughter or not? Who knows? What do you do when God remains silent…when He seems not to answer your prayers…when He seems to ignore your cries?
The disciples dove head first into the silence. Nobody likes a pregnant pause. Silence is so uncomfortable, especially when it comes from God. So the disciples in their zeal want to fix the problem: “Lord, please just grant her request so that she’ll go away. Her crying out is making a scene and distracting us from our business.” They probably thought they had more important things to do than to help this beggarly woman. They probably thought that Jesus was too busy to be distracted by faith crying out to Him. I’m sure they thought that they were doing important work for the Lord, but they were ignoring the need of the woman who so needed Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke. But to whom? “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Huh? What does that have to do with the woman’s prayer?
What would you do with such a response from God? First, He is silent to you. Next His followers are rude and obnoxious to you. And then He gives you a confusing answer. What’s going on? The woman is wrestling with God. Our Lord encourages such wrestling! The woman is not an Israelite; she is a Canaanite, and ancient foe of the Israelites, an archenemy to God’s purposes in the Promised Land. But Jesus was not dismissing her. He was egging her on. He also eggs you on, not to walk by sight, not to live by your feelings or experiences, but to wrestle with Him by faith in Him.
So the woman worshiped. Yes, even in the midst of her struggle, she worshiped. Even in the midst of your struggles, the best thing you can do is come to worship. Don’t stay away from God and His Word made flesh. And as the woman worshiped, she said, “Lord, help me.” Such simple words. Such simple faith! She thinks highly of Jesus; so she calls Him “Lord.” She has a problem that only He can fix; so she cries out, “Help me!” Even without answers, the woman continues to pray. And in her praying she displays great faith. We can learn much from her.
You see, faith believes that Jesus is good when reason is not so sure. Faith trusts Jesus no matter what our experiences may be. To our reason, to our sense of fairness, Jesus may seem to be cold and insensitive to the woman. We may even think at times that He is being insensitive to us, even ignoring us. We want the quick fix to our dilemmas and problems. We want the easy answers to our questions about God and life. Want a life with no troubles, no injuries, no traumas, and no insecurities. Too often Jesus seems to fail in delivering such things. But in reality, He eggs us on to wrestle with Him in faith.
He certainly egged Jacob on. When Jacob was all alone, “a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” Jacob had the upper hand; had the Man in a “full-nelson.” Then the Man touched Jacob’s hip and it went out of joint. But Jacob still would not let go. “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” he told the Man. And the Man blessed Jacob with a new name: “Israel.” It means “he wrestles with God.” Even in the midst of the wrestling Jacob held on for God’s blessing. Even with an injured hip and a life-long limp Jacob lived in the merciful blessing of God.
Not only did God egg Jacob on, but He also egged on the Canaanite woman. And in the spirit of faithful “Israel” (Jacob), the woman pins God to the mat for His blessing and mercy. Jesus told the woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the [little] dogs.” Did you hear that? What an insult! Jesus called the woman a little-house dog. Perhaps He had a twinkle in His eye and a sly grin forming on His face, but still, it sounds like an insult.
How would you react if your Lord and Savior called you a little house-dog or half-breed? How would you act if your God seemed to ignore your prayers and insult your integrity? Would you turn and run off in a huff? Or would you “hang in there”? Would you do a quick reversal and pin Jesus to the mat? Would you question the kind of Savior you have, or would you trust Him all the more?
The Canaanite woman pinned the Lord to the mat for His blessing and mercy. “Yes, Lord, yet even the [little] dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Luther has some great comments on this verse. First, he expresses the woman’s response: “You say…that I am a dog. Let it be, I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog.” Then Luther drives home the point: “She catches Christ with his own words, and he is happy to be caught…. She catches Christ, the Lord, in his own words and with that wins not only the right of a dog, but also that of the children” (HP I:325).
You see, little house-dogs are more than happy to get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. So they faithfully and patiently wait. They wait for whatever crumbs still come from the master. So it is for you, you little canines of Christ’s Church. Just like the Canaanite woman, you wrestle with God. Does He hear my prayers? Does He know my needs? Does He know our congregation’s needs? Does He forgive my particular sins? Does He accept me despite my past and my failures? And the answer to all of these questions is: “Yes!”
As the Canaanite woman wrestled with Jesus, she heard only, “No.” But she did not give up. She was persistent in faith. And in the end, when she pinned Jesus to the mat for His mercy, He said, “Yes, you have My mercy.” After all, this same Lord Jesus would be pinned to the cross, nailed there to die. And as He hung there, He pleaded for God’s mercy—not for Himself, but for you! “Father, forgive them!” And Jesus, the Man of God, the Man who is God, shows you that the Father does forgive you. In Him you are blessed. In Him you have mercy. In Him you are healed.
So, go ahead, wrestle with God. That’s called faith, clinging to Him and holding Him to His mercy. If you walk away with a limp, if you get called a little house-dog, so what? You have His cross-won mercy. In fact, you are about to dine on the “little crumbs” of His Body and Blood under the bread and wine. These crumbs that come from the Master’s eternal table give you a rich feast of Jesus’ mercy. Amen.