• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Take Me As I Am

God doesn’t love you because you are good, He will make you good because He loves you.

Sometimes we get this mixed up.

We think at times that God will love us more the better we become, as though we could earn God’s love. But that’s all wrong.

How often in our lives do we step away from God out of a sense of shame?

We grow up hearing the lists of do’s and don’ts in Sunday School. Then, once we go out into the world on our own, we make mistakes…mistakes of all kinds, shapes and sizes. We know what we’re “supposed to do” but we don’t live up to it, and we’ve associated Church with righteousness, and so feel obligated to cut ourselves off.

“If Church is for the upright, then I must belong somewhere else...” “If God wants His people to be good, then I certainly don’t belong with His people…”

Or perhaps, we see in our own lives, at whatever stage we’re in, that we’re making decisions we know we shouldn’t. Maybe we have addictions or habits that simply won’t cut out, and we wonder how we could possibly bring ourselves before God.

“If He is all-holiness, and I’m clearly not, maybe I’d better associate with different company.” “If God is the Judge, and I’m guilty, then how can I spend time with Him?”

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to pray when you feel good about your self? But the minute you sin you step back. “I’m dirty now. Clearly, God can’t want to spend time with me…”

But all of this is backwards.

God isn’t waiting for us to become holy first, and only then to approach Him.

He waits us for us to simply come to Him, just as we are, and He’ll take care of the rest.

Holiness isn’t required in the presence of God. Holiness is a by-product of being in God’s presence.

Look at the Prodigal Son. He was in the pigsty, wallowing in mud, when he came to his senses and returned to the Father. The scripture doesn’t say anything about him cleaning up first. It doesn’t say that the prodigal son first changed his lifestyle, got a haircut, cleaned up his act, and then went to the Father. All it tells us is that when he realized his mistake, he ran home. Have you ever smelled the stench of a pig farm? That smell doesn’t go away easily, it lingers in one’s clothes and under one’s fingernails (as a Virginian I should know). Most likely, the son arrived at his Father’s house in all his rags and stench, and the Father embraced Him regardless. So, in the same way, we can’t hold back from God because we feel impure. Just go to Him. He’s waiting.

God loves you the minutes you’re conceived, and that love never changes, but burns steady at every high or low moment of your life. His love for you is like a furnace, and His only desire is that you might enter into that furnace. Ask a baker how it works. Who’d ever expect a biscuit to be cooked before entering the oven? It’s the raw dough that goes into the oven. The baking comes afterwards.

This is the lesson from our gospel reading this Sunday.

Jesus had gone into the district of Tyre and Sidon, and was met by a Canaanite woman, shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But Jesus doesn’t respond. He’s silent. Then the disciples urged him to get rid of her. “Send her away! That crazy heathen keeps shouting at us!” (Fr. Peter’s translation).

Christ says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman persists, “Lord, help me!”

And Christ answers again, with a very heavy word, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Now who wouldn’t quit at that? But even here, she doesn’t give up. “Yes, Lord,” she says on her knees, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

And Jesus marvels saying, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And he healed the Canaanite’s daughter instantly.

On first impression, this can be one of the most jarring passages in the bible. You can hardly help but wince when you read it. But giving it a more thorough look, all you can see is our Lord’s love and compassion.

God often tests us before answering a prayer.

In this case, we see Him testing a number of people. The disciples were disgusted with the woman. She was base. She was a pagan, worse than a pagan, for in the Jewish world she would have been considered a half-breed – a traitor to God’s people. They told our savior to send her away because she was unworthy to receive His help. So you can be sure that Christ saw what was in their heart, and took this opportunity to teach them a lesson. Moreover, our Lord tested the Canaanite here and gave her an opportunity to shine before all the saints and angels.

Any normal person would have been insulted by Christ’s words. “What do you mean ‘I’m a dog’?” “I should be respected, it’s my right!” But this woman simply bowed down lower. “Yes, Lord, I am a dog…but even if it means eating the crumbs at your table, I will to be there with you.” “I am unfit of your presence, but regardless, I want you.”

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor… take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests” (Luke 14:8-11).

The Canaanite settled for the lowest seat, and so our Lord raised her to the highest.

“God resists the proud,” St. James writes, “but gives grace unto the humble” (4:6).

Who among us, in this American culture, where we’re taught to demand our rights, would have done what this poor woman does. Face to face with God, perhaps we’d say, “I am here. I claim my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But the truth is, we don’t have any such rights, neither to life, nor liberty, nor happiness. It’s all a gift.

Our ticket to heaven is the ability to bend down low and say God, I am nothing and deserve nothing, but you are Good, True, and Beautiful, and I want to be with you. And He will lift us up from the ground and place us on a throne.

What does God ask of you?

He doesn’t love you because you are good. He will make you good because He loves you.

Give yourself to Him, just as you are, and let Him do the rest.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” our Lord said to the Canaanite. When we do feel like a dog, we’re tempted to reason, “I’m a mess now. I’ll stay away from God for a little and try to pull myself together first.” If you live this way, you’ll be sure to never make it. Instead, simply throw yourself before God, in poverty and ashes. Beg Him for His crumbs, and He’ll give you a feast.

Christ knocks at the door. Don’t wait to comb your hair. Run to that door and open it as wide as you can.

God loves you and waits for you.

What does God ask of you?

In his second epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul mentions a thorn in his flesh, which he begged God to remove. But God spoke to Him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

The blessed Canaanite woman teaches us a lesson about God’s strange ways. He doesn’t wait for you to become strong. He waits for you to submit to Him, and He will be your strength.

This is the whole point of Lent.

God isn’t sitting upstairs with a pad of paper checking off all the times we fasted: “Oh, very good, he got the fish patty instead of the burger…very well, that counts as a collation I suppose…yes, yes…Oh my! Is that a steak he’s eating during Holy Week??” When we stand before the judgment no angels or saints are going to read off a list of days we missed the fast…

You can’t earn God’s love.

We have to fast so that we can realize that we’re weak.

Fasting, prayer, almsgiving…all of this is to help us to escape the dungeon of the self. To stop being self-dependent and to begin being God-dependent. In this light, giving up a burger for a fish patty can work miracles – for even that, and all our tiny works, are efforts to stop being Me-people and begin being Thou-people.

In the end, C. S. Lewis says, there are two kinds of people: “Those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'”

This is the time, here on earth, for us to start preparing. Which kind of person will we be? Will we rest assured in our own self-righteousness, too proud and too indifferent to desire God’s gift of grace? Or will we be able to fall on our knees, like the Canaanite woman, and say, “I am not worthy, my God, but you only do I want. Take me as I am.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309