This isn’t one of the warm fuzzy moment sort of Gospel readings – but then few of them are. We know that God loves us – after all, the bible tells us so. But God loves you isn’t the Gospel. “God loves you” as happy a thought as that may be, tells you nothing about who he is or what he does for you. “God loves you” is a nice thought, but it can be dangerous because it sounds like the Gospel. It makes us think happy thoughts. And it gives us that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. And then we come to church and hear a Gospel reading like this one.
Gospel readings like today’s – where Jesus is apparently mean to the Canaanite woman – are far too common. They leave us scratching our head and asking – what did he mean by that? This one doesn’t leave us feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
Yes, Jesus heals the woman, but he only does it after he tests her. And the test is rather cruel, really. Calling someone a dog is not the sort of thing we think of when we think of loving. Ultimately the reason we don’t like this Gospel reading is a selfish one – if Jesus can do this to her, he do something similar to us.
The problem here isn’t Jesus being unloving. The problem is our assumption that we have any idea what Jesus showing love should look like.
We don’t’ want a God who can heal with just a word from His lips. We want a God who can heal at just a word from our lips. We want a God who will do that. That’s where we run into trouble. We want a God who is so loving and caring and attentive to our every need, that when we say jump, he asks how high. We want a god that can and does heal, we don’t want a God that tests.
After all, doesn’t the small catechism say, “And lead us not into temptation… what does this mean? God tempts no one” So, what’s he think he’s doing here? But God tempts no one is different than God tests no one. To test is to give an opportunity to she faithfulness. To tempt is to deliberately attempt to lead a person into sin. From the beginning, God has tested his faithful people, with mixed results. Adam and Eve were told that they could eat of any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was a test, but not a temptation. It was Satan who tempted them by suggesting that God commanded them not to eat of the tree because he wanted something other than what was best for them.
God tested Job, who was afflicted with tragedy that most of us could not even imagine. But God did not tempt him. It was his wife and friends who suggested that he curse God and die, that he give up on being faithful to God, and repent of imaginary sins.
Jesus never tempts the woman. He tests her. And he is well within his rights to do so. We don’t like it because if he is allowed to test her, then he is allowed to test us. And when we look at Holy Scripture, we see that God’s tests are often hard. More than we could bear. Or at least more than we are willing to put up with. Which is why, when we see people tested in Holy Scripture and do so well, they are such a shining example to us of how far we have yet to go in shedding our sinful nature. We would not trust God as far as they do – therefore, there very faithfulness becomes an indictment of our shallow faithfulness. It becomes an indictment of our ability to follow the first commandment – that we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. Their faithful response to testing, and our hatred of testing shows just how sinful we are – and we don’t like that either. Woe be unto the God that dares to point out our sin.
It is easier for us to discount these episodes. We are amenable to simply dismissing them, passing over them, and moving on to the next chapter, so that they can not show us how imperfect our faith is. Or rather, so they can not show us how deep our sinful heart really reaches. We ignore them so that we can’t be shown how great our need for forgiveness really is.
We want the nice God. We want God to be nice to us all the time. To give us good and happy things – to reward those who work hard and do good, and to punish those who don’t work hard and are bad.
But nice is not necessarily good. And good is not necessarily nice. God is not nice, he is good. He is not safe, he is good. He makes no promises to make our lives easy, or to treat us as we think we should be treated. He promises to do what is best for you, and to work in your life for your eternal salvation. He has made no promise regarding your health and safety and comfort. He makes no promise regarding how you will be treated, or what he will allow to happen to you. Indeed scripture tells us that God disciplines those whom he loves. Not just as punishment for doing wrong, but to train us up in doing right – to train us to fear love and trust in HIM above all things. And that means getting anything out of the way that you fear more than him, love more than him, or trust more than him. One of the defining marks of the theologian is suffering. After all, if we are to follow the path of our Lord Jesus Christ, there will be suffering. He ended up on a cross, where are you? Aren’t you joined to his death in Baptism? Aren’t you joined to his death – the shedding of his body and blood – in the Lord’s supper. Do you really expect that, being joined to his death will not have consequences in this world? Indeed, we shouldn’t worry when things go poorly, after all, that means we are learning to trust him. We should worry when things go well. The Apostles rejoiced when they were counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus – it meant that they were able to join, in some small measure, in his being rejected in this world. Yet, too often we look at our church membership as a talisman to keep us from everything we would consider to be bad.
Churches that teach a prosperity Gospel have tens of thousands of people clamoring to get in – because they promise that if you do for God, he will do for you. You come and spend your hour, and a large number of coins on your offering, and he will give you all these blessings in this world. Your health will return, your bank account will grow, your friends will love you more, the oceans will lower, and butterflies will start flitting around your head to show how happy everything is.
But that’s not at all what Jesus says. Yes, he heals the woman’s daughter, but he tests her first. He uses her as an example to the disciples as to us. And we don’t like being used. Maybe we will be next. He tests this woman – cruelly we might think, and so we worry that he will test us in similar fashion.
And yet, he does heal the woman’s daughter. He rarely tests like this. Most of his miracles were simple affairs really – someone was sick, Jesus healed them. It happened so often that there was really no need to even record most of them.
This woman is included in Holy Scripture, specifically because he tested her. Because her faith stands as an example two thousand years later. If she had come and asked and he answered, she would be unremembered today – just another one of the thousands with sick and diseased bodies that Jesus healed. Almost all his miracles are unrecorded. Only a few are mentioned – those who persevered in the face of obstacles, those who showed a greater understanding of who Jesus was. This woman knows Jesus is not a safe God, he isn’t there for her comfort or to make her life easier – he is there to save. And she is desperate that her daughter be saved. She holds him to that salvation, against all odds, against all that she sees, against all that the disciples know to be true.
But Jesus knows her. He knows she will endure. He never calls her a dog, he never says she is unworthy of help. He uses a dog analogy, and she calls herself a dog. She says, fine, if I am a dog, at least give me what a dog deserves – crumbs. She knows crumbs from God’s table will be more than enough to heal her daughter.
The Canaanite woman has suffered too much for any faithless words to come to mind. She knows that there is but one hope for salvation. She knows that it is Jesus. And she will not let go of him, until he saves. That is faith in action. Grasping the promises of Jesus, and never letting go. No matter how much the world scoffs, no matter how much it looks like our faith is in vain. No matter how much is seems as if we are forgotten by God. Jesus has promised that he wants what is best for you. Not what is most comfortable, or easiest, or most pleasant, but what is best. That’s why he gave his best for us – that’s why his body was given into death and his blood was shed. That’s why we go through the season of Holy Lent each year, and end up at that good Friday – the day of greatest injustice, greatest suffering, greatest atrocity. That is the day we call good, because we see the hard love of God, the love that ends in blood and violence, as God takes the violence we deserve and endures it himself. That’s not a nice picture. But you will never find one filled with more kindness, more love for you. Because Jesus insists on saving you. He’s the only one who can do it. Amen.