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 often challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And I don’t mean to say that human wisdom or reason is destroyed, but rather man’s reason is stretched to the point of meeting and embracing God’s much higher and greater Wisdom.
In last week’s Gospel, we read of a real challenge and trial that Christ underwent to resist the reason 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 longs to offer us involves suffering, struggle, and sacrifice. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, caging us into the world of our own vain imaginations and concealing us from God’s way of liberation and healing. He longs to hide us 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)
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 in our hearts from above. 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 us. This is the character of desire. From our limited earthly passions and desires, we learn to fear the Lord. What we should desire is the Wisdom that His mercy gives birth to in our hearts and souls.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s Wisdom is to most men. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and from His own people who would not receive the Wisdom that He came down to impart. The ancient Old Testament prophesied of the Jews’ pride. 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 in the hearts of the religious Jews of Jesus’ day.
Even Jesus’ disciples seemed hard-hearted and dimwitted. Jesus said:
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 their hearts. Those who come to need it realize that their earthly reason and good works provide no lasting health and happiness. Today, because He did not find any need for what He offered from His own people, Jesus left religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel bordered the land of the heathen. Perhaps the Wisdom that He carried would find seekers and searchers amongst the Jews’ ancient enemies.
What Jesus finds confounds the reasonable expectations of both the Jewish Scribes and of His own Disciples. God’s Wisdom was first revealed to them. That a pagan woman’s understanding of it should have shown up the Jews’ blindness and resistance to it must have seemed wholly irrational to the Jews. So we read:
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.
From an alien and barren place, so it seems, Jesus hears the cry for God’s Wisdom and Mercy. At first, Jesus seems deaf and unmoved by 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 this desperate cry that moves Jesus to silent prayer. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Jesus is not ignoring the Samaritan woman. Rather, He will allow her to pursue Him with deepest passion and longing. He allows her to pursue her desire with persistence. He did, after all, come to this place for a reason, most Divine in His intention.
The Apostles were irritated. His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long selfishly to have Jesus for themselves. Jesus seems to rebuke her. I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus proclaims that the Jews first were called by God and were given the promises because they should have known themselves to be His lost sheep. She will insist that the Gentiles too were promised a share in it all! She establishes her claim by showing that she knows and feels deeply that she too is lost. 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 severe Mercy to this serious seeker. She bears the pain of her daughter’s demonic possession. She needs the God’s Great Physician. Her daughter’s disease has become her own. Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus feels her longing for what He has come into the world to give. Jesus is fueling her passion for God’s own cure and remedy. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) He seems to insult her. She takes it as a welcome provocation. Already filled with Divine Wisdom, she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27)
She is one tough Gentile woman! She cannot be stopped. Her poverty of her spirit is beautiful. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims neither right nor privilege to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself as a powerless creature in the presence of God’s own Word and Wisdom. She knows that she is one dead dog who can be healed by God’s Mercy alone. She turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is what she will have. Yes Lord, unlike your own lost sheep, I am a dead dog. But, surely, even such a dead dog as I can find in you that Mercy that is great enough to let me eat of the crumbs that fall from your table reserved for your lambs. 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 His disciples. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Take note of this heathen woman’s wisdom. I wound and I will heal. (Idem) This woman finds no help in this world’s medicines. She knows in herself that what she needs comes from Heaven alone. They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick. (St. Luke v. 31) This dead dog knows Heaven’s Cure and will have it from Jesus. Archbishop Trench reminds us that most people would have turned away in anger and despair from Jesus’ Wisdom. (Notes on the Parables…) But this woman is bereft of any human arrogant resentment. She is self-consciously powerless. 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 knows better. Here we find a truly liberated woman, full of wisdom, courage, and 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. She knows that she has no power of herself to help herself. Her faith knows that both outwardly in her body and inwardly in her soul Christ can defend her from all adversities that may happen to the body and all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul (Collect, Lent II). This alien woman, a dog, will humbly and thankfully receive the crumbs that fall from Christ’s table being called not unto uncleanness but unto holiness. (1 Thes. iv. 4)
Oftentimes, our Savior denies our initial petitions. He seems to say No to us. But Christ longs for us to seize the Wisdom of His Love and Mercy. This woman and we must respond My own strength, Lord, thou knowest…is weakness and…not to be trusted. (B. Jenks) 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) We too should persist with humility and faith to find Christ’s healing.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: