02 March 2015

Homily for Lent 2 - Reminiscere

"Eyes Fixed on Jesus"
Matthew 15:21-28

Listen here.

It’s a hard thing when God turns against you—when He ignores your prayer with the silent treatment; when He does not come to your aid right away; when He seems to work against you and for the good of others; when He seems to lash out at you; when He afflicts your spirit and troubles your mind; when He causes you sleepless nights; when He allows you to endure various physical and bodily afflictions.

It’s a hard thing when God turns against you. If God turns against you, who else is there to help you? Really, there’s no where else you can turn.

Scripture says our God is compassionate and gracious. It says He does not willingly grieve His beloved children. It even says that He promises to hear and respond to our prayers. So if all of that is true, then why does He turn against us? Why does He test us? Why does He let evil happen to us? Why does He say to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him”? Why does He touch Jacob’s hip and dislocate it so that Jacob must limp through the rest of his life? And why does He give the devil permission to destroy Job’s family, and afflict Job with horrible sores and sickness? And why does He treat the woman in today’s Gospel with such disdain and harshness?

The Catechism gives the answer: “God’s will is done when he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” God’s will is also done “when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

So our Lord turns against us, or is slow to help us, or allows evil to happen to us for two reasons. First, so that He might break our stubborn, unbelieving will. And second, so that He might lead us to rely solely and completely on Him and His Word. You see, our Lord’s desire is not to torment us. No, He wants us to confess our inability to help ourselves and trust His ready and constant help. Our Lord’s will is not to give us the fleeting happiness we so often look for, but to give us the true joy of salvation, firmly rooted in the Gospel that the Spirit delivers to us. Our Lord sees the big picture. He has the long view of our salvation. And so He does whatever He must in order to turn our eyes, our hearts, and our hopes away from ourselves and toward Him and His unwavering mercy—toward His dedicated, persistent and resolute compassion.

The woman in today’s Gospel is our role model. Jesus tells her, “Woman, great is your faith.” Her faith is not great in and of itself. No, her faith is great only because of Jesus. She believes that Jesus will help her in spite of His harsh treatment. Her faith is great only because she believes God’s promises over against God’s threat. Her faith is great only because she relies and depends so persistently on our Lord’s mercy. She believes that His mercy is so great that even He will not be able to turn her away from her hope and her heart’s desire.

So let’s always keep in mind what this woman does not do. She does not point to her faith. She does not say, “Lord, you must help me because I believe in you.” Also, she does not point to her rights. She does not say, “But Lord, I have a right to your help because I have lived a good life.” Instead, the woman fixes her eyes solely on Jesus as the embodiment of the Father’s compassion, as mercy in the flesh. That’s why she says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” That’s why she cries out with persistence, “Lord, help me!” And then the most daring and marvelous statement of all: “Yes, Lord, I believe what you say about me. I am exactly what you say—a dog not worthy of your goodness. But even little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. And so, I will be satisfied with even the smallest amount of Your kindness, even the tiniest portion of Your forgiveness, even the faintest hint of Your smile, even the most grudgingly spoken forgiveness. I know that will be more than enough.”

Do you see where the woman fixes her hope? In nothing but the Lord Jesus. You see, she knows that the only thing that stands between her and the death of her little girl, the only thing that stands between her and God’s fullest anger, is our Lord Jesus and the mercy that only He can give. In fact, her eyes are so fixed on God’s compassion in Christ that she will let nothing—not even Jesus Himself—dissuade or discourage her. She is like a pit bull—her teeth are clenched for dear life to the promised help that our Lord gives in His body—the body that would later be nailed to a cross. And nothing will make her let go.

So, if you’re looking for an example of faith, then look no farther. But if you’re looking for faith itself and the help and compassion that this woman received, don’t look at her. After all, she’s ignoring you. She doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about her beggarly persistence. She is intent on hearing and receiving the help that only the Lord can give. Instead, let your heart and mind turn to the same Lord who helps this woman. Fix your eyes on the same Lord to whom the Holy Spirit even now directs you. Fix your eyes on the same Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Remember, He also received the Father’s “silent treatment” and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). Remember the physical and bodily afflictions He endured to heal you and bring you back to God. Focus your gaze on the same Lord who speaks and gives you His mercy and compassion and help even now in His Word, in His Baptism, and in His Supper.

When your eyes are fixed on the Lord Jesus, when your ears are tuned to His cross-won forgiveness, and when your teeth are clenched to His Body and Blood, then you don’t have to worry about what others think or say; you’re not ashamed of your tears or your kneeling or your humility. And above all, when you fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith, then you let nothing—not your pride, not your sinful desires, not your fear, not the enticements of the world, not all those daily chores—you let none of those things stand between you and the comfort your Father gives by His Spirit in His Son’s Absolution and Supper.

You see, the will of God is not only that He makes you His holy child—just like His only-begotten Son in His sight. The will of God is also that you remain holy, that you continually have the heart and mind of Jesus, that you constantly live the holy life that He has given you right here and now. Our Lord does whatever it takes to keep the eyes of your faith fixed on Him—even things like the silent treatment when you pray, or the responses that make you wonder if He really does hear you or love you. Just remember: our God is compassionate and loving. And He continually presents, offers and gives to you that mercy located nowhere else but in the flesh and blood of His own beloved Son. Amen.

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