“You have great faith!” As the disciples remembered Jesus’ ministry, did it occur to them that, as far as Scripture tells us, Jesus said these words to only two people? Did it also occur to them the astoundingly unexpected yet strikingly similar settings in which the statements were made? They were never said to anyone with the blood of Abraham in their veins! A Roman centurion! A Canaanite woman!
Last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) occurs right after Jesus endured another attack of the Jewish religious elite. So focused on obedience to their outward traditions that made them look clean before men, they were utterly blind to the rebellion of their inward hearts that made them look unclean before God. Jesus even needed to say to his disciples: “Are you still so dull?” What was needed (again) was a refresher of a previously taught course: Mercy 101.
So Jesus withdrew to Tyre and Sidon with his so dear but still so dull disciples. There he used as his unwitting classroom helper a Canaanite woman. Jesus’ apparently harsh (non) responses to her, while allowing her faith to cling even more to the promises relating to him as the “Son of David,” also put on living display for his Jewish disciples a critical contrast. It was the difference between the besetting sin of their nation – proud arrogance that often needed to go and (re)learn the meaning of the word mercy – and the Spirit’s power to create a confident grasp of that word (“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”).
My brothers, is anyone in the visible church in greater danger of imitating the dullness of the first band of full-time gospel servants than his current band? The danger is that we become so focused on the needs of other more apparently needy hearts that we become dull to our own desperate need for mercy. We forget the reality of what Luther scribbled shortly before his death: We are beggars, this is true! (Wir sind Bettler! Hoc est verum!). Most despicably, becoming dull to that ongoing spiritual reality doesn’t just blind us to our need for mercy. It blinds us most to the certainty of God’s mercy!
And the problem doesn’t end with us. Remember why the devil loves to lead pastors into his own sin of pride (1 Timothy 3:6). The less our hearts delight in mercy the less our preaching delights in mercy.
So, my brothers, linger this week near Tyre and Sidon for a Mercy 101 refresher. While it is distastefully humbling to our flesh to claim the word “dog,” notice most the Canaanite woman’s shameless and unrelenting cry for mercy. The more our hope for God’s mercy takes its eyes off self and fixes them on the Son of David, the more confident we become that he must – and will – fulfill every promise he’s ever made! Such daily Mercy 101 refresher courses lead us to cry with renewed humility, but most of all, renewed confidence:
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”