By the Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
Silence. Complete and utter silence. That was Jesus’ response to her. Her daughter was terribly vexed with a demon, a horror we can only imagine. She was at her wits end. All the parenting skills in the world could not help her daughter. She was at the end of her rope. She went to the one Man who could help her. She went to Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. Surely He would help her! Surely He would look at her plight and would have mercy upon her by healing her daughter.
But God’s answer before her was silence.
Have you been there? Have you reached a point in your life where there is nowhere else to turn, nothing to do, and so you finally go to God? You reach out, you go to Him in prayer, and the answer is not what you want. Silence. More heartache and pain. Difficulties abound. Perhaps things even get worse. Where are you, God? Why don’t you answer me?
Our Lord’s ways are certainly not our ways. There are no quick and simple answers to why God does not make all the problems of life disappear as soon as we ask. But we can glean some answers from His Word on how He works and why things happen in this life the way they do.
First of all, we have to remember what God’s goal is for your life. God’s goal for your life is not that it be without troubles. That may be our goal for life. I think sometimes that all we really want is for there to be no problems or worries. That would make life pretty easy, wouldn’t it? No, God’s goal for your life is to bring you to heaven to be with Him forever. That is a very clear goal for him, but the problem is that because we are beset with sin, we cannot always see the path. What may be the most direct route for us may look like a terribly hard road. It’s kind of like looking over the top of a hill. You just can’t get too much of a sense of how much is left or even what’s on the other side as long as you are on the journey.
This goal of God’s, to bring you to heaven, is much more important than short-term fulfillment and happiness. He doesn’t want you to be without problems. He wants your life to be fulfilled and complete with Him. But in order to get there, sometimes God’s silence has to come before His voice of the Gospel.
That’s what St. Paul is talking about in our Epistle lesson for today:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 NKJV)
What this Canaanite woman understood was that when everything else is stripped away, when her trust in herself is gone, when her trust in her family and lineage is gone, when every ounce of self-worth and fulfillment lie in the dust, then, and only then, can God’s work of healing and life begins. In other words, she had hope in Christ and not in herself.
We call that repentance. It is a profoundly Lenten word, and it is a word that Christians often forget, neglect, or act as if it doesn’t exist. Repentance, though, is absolutely central to our lives and growth as Christians. You can’t be a Christian without repentance. In fact, there is no such thing as faith apart from repentance, because in order to have faith in Christ you need to lose your faith in yourself.
I think that’s why God’s silence before this Canaanite woman is so important for you and I to understand today. God speaks with two voices, Law and Gospel. He speaks His word of Law to you to crush you, to destroy your self-reliance, to make you uncomfortable in your sinful skin, and to bring all of your self-made gods come crashing down. That Word of Law may come in many ways. Death is certainly the most obvious, but every time your life falls apart, every time things don’t go as they ought, it is our Lord at work using these horrible things that happen in life for good. For good? Yes. For our God glories in using Satan’s work and using it for His glory and your eternal life.
Our Canaanite woman had nothing to cling to on her own. She had no family. She had no name. She had no resources. Doctors couldn’t help. Nothing could help her daughter. All she had was God’s promise of mercy. And she grabbed on to that like a dog to a bone. She would not let God’s promise for a blessing go, no matter what. Just like Jacob in our Old Testament reading, she was willing to wrestle with God Himself in order to receive the blessing that He had promised.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says to you this day, repent! Repent of your self-made worth and fantasies. Repent of your thoughts that you can make everything work out as long as you try hard enough. Repent. But His Word to you does not end there. He also says to you, believe. Believe my word of promise. Believe that when I come to bless you, it will be a blessing that will last for all eternity. Believe.
Our Lord gives you and I the food that falls from His Table. We are unworthy to receive even the crumbs, but He gives us more than crumbs. He gives us His very body and blood as a sure pledge and guarantee of His love and forgiveness. This is no dog’s meal; it is a rich feast, and a full supper of life and salvation for your eternal good. Come to His Table, eat of His body and drink of His blood. The problems and trials of this life are but passing. But the gift He gives you this day, it will last for a lifetime. Believe it for His sake. Amen.
The Rev. Todd Peperkorn is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He has contributed in many and various ways to Higher Things.
Created: February 21st, 2008