Lent II - Brutal Honesty
1. God doesn’t love you because you are good. He will make you good because He loves you.
Today, Christ meets a Canaanite woman shouting on the road, “Have mercy on me, Lord. My daughter is tormented!” God is never predictable but His response this time is surprising. He’s silent. The disciples make the situation worse. “Send her away! That crazy heathen keeps shouting at us!” But the woman is determined and she keeps shouting, “Lord, help me!” Now, Christ says something more than surprising, it’s shocking and even jarring, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Who wouldn’t quit at that? But this woman stands her ground, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Now our Lord marvels, and declares for everyone to hear, “Great is your faith woman! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
What do we make of this?
You can hardly help but wince. This isn’t the kind and comfortable Jesus Christ that we like to imagine. It feels harsh, even brutal. But in reality, this passage is about God’s overpowering love.
2. God doesn’t love you because you are good. He will make you good because He loves you.
We usually get this mixed up.
We think 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 fact, 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 real world, we make mistakes. We know what we’re “supposed to do” but we don’t live up to it. We’ve associated Church with righteousness, and when we realize we’re not righteous, we think we should cut ourselves off. Maybe we have addictions or habits that simply won’t cut out. We wonder how we could possibly bring ourselves before God. “If He is all-holiness, and I’m clearly not, I’d better associate with different company, right?” Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to pray when you feel good about yourself? But the minute you sin you step back.
This is utterly backwards.
God isn’t waiting for us to become holy first, and only then to approach Him. God wants us to come to Him, just as we are, and He will 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.
3. This theme is woven throughout scriptures.
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. Most likely, the son arrived at his Father’s house in all his rags and stench. His Father’s love was undeterred and He embraced his son despite everything.
The same story occurred with David and Bathsheba. King David was the anointed of God. Of all men, he was selected to lead God’s chosen people in righteousness and virtue. Yet, in the heat of the moment, he committed adultery and murder. When Nathan revealed David’s sins, the king could have responded in every manner of ways. He could have despaired. He could have been enraged. Instead, he saw his sins for what they were and fell on his knees. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 50). This famous prayer, among everything else, is a prayer of honesty.
Why does God desire a broken heart? God wants to heal us, but it isn’t until we can see that we need healing that we’ll ever be open to it.
We mustn’t hold back from God because we feel impure. Just go to Him. He’s waiting.
This is precisely the lesson in our gospel reading.
4. Jesus Christ was silent at first.
God often answers our prayers this way. He tests us.
In this scenario, He was 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 wanted our Lord 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 a lesson for all of us. No person is ever beyond God’s mercy.
Moreover, our Lord tested the Canaanite. He gave her an opportunity to shine in humility.
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.”
5. The Canaanite woman represents all of us.
We are all broken. We are all unclean. When we meet God, face to face, everything will become clear. We will see His beauty and perfection and we will see our ugliness and imperfection – all the times we’ve used people, all of our selfishness, our egoism, our blemishes in and out – and at that moment, we won’t have any excuses or justifications. Everything in our life is to prepare us for that encounter. How will you respond?
Christ didn’t say anything untrue about the Canaanite woman. He said what is true about all of us. This doesn’t sit well in our self-esteem culture, does it? But that’s because we’ve missed the whole point.
The Canaanite woman is a hero, because despite herself, she insisted on God.
She didn’t have the kind of false self-esteem that the world talks about. She knew who she was and what she had done. But that didn’t stop her. She kept on keeping on. She fell on her knees and cried out, “Yes, Lord, I am broken. I deserve nothing, but take me as I am.”
God sees us for who we are.
He knows we are broken and He loves us nonetheless.
All He asks is that we give ourselves to Him.
6. So this is our challenge in Lent.
Can we stop making excuses? Can we stop justifying what we know isn’t right? Can we be brave enough, like the Canaanite woman, and stand before God in all our faults, and ask Him for mercy?
If we can, He will lift us up and bring us to the feast.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.