As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people…for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, more often than not, challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And I don’t mean to say that human wisdom or reason is destroyed, but rather that its limitations cry out for perfection and redemption at the hands of Jesus.
In last week’s Gospel, we read of a real challenge and trial that Christ underwent in order to resist the wisdom of this world and to embrace God’s Wisdom. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And there we learned that Christ resisted Satan’s temptations and banished him. The wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that Jesus Christ, God as Man, faced evil, resisted it, and in the end, overcame it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He struggles to establish as a pattern depends wholly upon it. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, establishing and centering us in our muddled confusions and delusions, concealing from us the true way of liberation and healing. He longs to hide us even from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)
But Jesus came down from Heaven to reveal God’s wisdom through His human nature for our benefit. He came down to bring us back to the fear of the Lord so that the Divine Wisdom might be born our hearts. But if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, we learn that there is another dimension still that must be added to our fear of the Lord if God’s Wisdom is to come alive in our lives. This is the element of desire. From our limited earthly passions and desires, we learn to fear the Lord. Then we must desire to secure the power that His Wisdom affords.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s Wisdom is to most men in most ages. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and from a people who would not receive the Wisdom that He endeavored to disclose and reveal. The ancient Old Testament prognosis of God’s people was finding fulfillment in Jesus’ hearing: This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s Wisdom had found no place to germinate and grow itself in the hearts of the religious Jews of Jesus’ day.
Even Jesus’ disciples seemed hard-hearted and dimwitted. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20) God’s Wisdom cannot touch and transform those who do not desire Him from within. Those who come to need it realize that their earthly efforts provide no lasting health and happiness. Today, because He did not find any need for what He offered from His own people, in this morning’s Gospel Jesus left religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel bordered the land of the heathen. Perhaps the Wisdom that He carried would find takers with the Gentiles.
What He found confounded the customs and habits of both the Jewish scribes and also of His own disciples. God’s Wisdom was, after all, revealed and shared, first and foremost, with them. That a pagan woman’s understanding of it should have shown up the Jews’ blindness and resistance of it must have been all the more confounding and even irritating. Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness. So, from this lowly and servileplace, Jesus hears the cry for God’s Wisdom and Mercy. At first, he seems immune and impervious to the plea. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word [seems to have] no word; the fountain [seems] sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. Perhaps there is something in the nature of the cry that arrests Jesus’ attention and draws Him into prayer. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Jesus does not ignore her. Rather, He will hear more from her. He allows her to pursue her desire with passion and persistence. He did, after all, have good reason to come to this place.
Next, we read that, His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long selfishly to take this time in the Gentile wilderness to their advantage. Jesus responds I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus reminds her that the Jews alone were called by God and were first given the promises because they should have known themselves to be lost sheep. She will imply that the Gentiles too are promised a share in it all! And, besides, she establishes her claim by showing that she knows and feels deeply that she too is a lost sheep. Jesus tries and tests her faith. I will wound and I will heal, saith the Lord. (Deut. xxxii. 39) St. Augustine describes His method in these words: He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii) Jesus applies God’s Wisdom and tough love to this serious seeker. She bears the pain of her daughter’s demonic possession. Her broken heart nevertheless pursues Jesus in faith with a persistence that will secure the Physician’s cure. She knows who Jesus is and she will have His mercy. Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus will draw out the Divine Wisdom that He finds in her heart. This alone can fuel the passion that will secure her desire. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) To which she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27)
Wisdom has elicited from her heart the confession of pain and the poverty of her spirit. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims no rights to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself as a powerless creature in the presence of her mighty Creator. She knows that she is as good as a nearly dead dog in need of a kind man’s care and love. So, she turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is met by her own. Yes Lord, in comparison to your own people who are your lost sheep, I am a lost dog. But, surely, this lost dog can find in you a Master whose mercy is great enough to let me eat of the crumbs that fall from your table. And, unlike your lost sheep, this lost dog has found its Master! God’s Wisdom is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Jesus honors in this Gentile woman what He could not find in His own people or even in His disciples. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Today let us take note of the alien woman’s pain. I wound and I will heal. (Idem) This woman is self-consciously broken and wounded. She knows herself and she knows that what she needs can come from Jesus alone. They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick. (St. Luke v. 31) She is content to admit that she is a sick dog. Archbishop Trench reminds us that most people would have turned away in anger and despair. (Notes on the Parables…) This woman is not arrogant with insecurity. She knows the powerlessness of fallen man. She knows the power of Almighty God in Jesus Christ. Many would count this woman a fool in the face of what seems cruel mockery from Jesus. But this woman was no Snowflake! Here we find a truly liberated woman full of wisdom, strong courage, and determined persistence! Where is the wise person?...Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21) The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. This alien woman, a dog, will humbly and thankfully receive supernaturally charged crumbs that drop from Christ’s table.
Oftentimes, our Savior seems to deny our initial petitions. He seems to say No to us. But Christ knows that He can do us no good until he has established a conversation and relationship with us. He will try and test and even tease out not only what we want but how we must want it. This woman knows that she is not worthy to gather up the crumbs that fall from Christ’s table. Christ will have her not only say it but show it for her benefit and for ours. To this woman’s great humility and faith, Jesus says Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Idem, 28) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: