The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Fr. Peter's Lent II Sermon:

And 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.

Yesterday in this church we prayed for a Julianne Courneya, a young woman who is not grievously vexed with a devil, but was grievously assaulted by a devil-like man and left for dead. We talked and prayed a lot for faith in her restoration by Almighty God, the source of all healing. Julianne’s mother prayed among us. And now, one day later, we read a Gospel passage which speaks to the faith of another woman seeking a cure for her daughter. Outside these walls, some may say that is a coincidence, but there are no coincidences with God. Such a concept denies His Divinity.

Faith. What a strange creature faith can sometimes turn out to be. Often when we think we have it, we act in ways which prove exactly the opposite. At other times, we take bold leaps in particular directions, surprising ourselves at how strong our faith actually can be.

Then, too, we are prone to judging others by our own yardsticks. We look at street people and cannot imagine faith, or any degree of spirituality, playing any part in their lives. I have spoken in previous sermons about the strength of faith I have encountered among Ottawa’s street people. That certainly came as a big surprise to me.

But in today’s verses from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us that true faith may indeed be found where it might have been least expected. The woman who cries out to Jesus for help is a Gentile, a Canaanite, of a people who were historical enemies of the Jews. Jesus was in Gentile territory for the first time, probably to take a break from the increasingly hostile attentions of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees, while he taught the Apostles some of the mightily important things he had to teach them.

Somehow, this woman had heard of Our Lord’s ministry; heard enough for her to believe that Jesus could cure her sick daughter. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David,” is her prayer and what surprising words they are, coming from a Gentile.

Which brings up an extremely important point; believing is a matter of grace, not place. Remember Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the prophet. Despite living in a prophet’s family, the references in 2 Kings to Gehazi make it clear that very little of the prophet’s piety rubbed off on the servant. Gehazi followed after and took money from Naaman and in 2 Kings 5.25, we read that he lied about it to Elisha. “And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, thy servant went no whither.” But Elisha knew the truth and had his lying servant afflicted with leprosy.

On the other hand, all over this world and through the reaches of time, we find the strong light of witnesses for Jesus Christ burning in the face of rampant opposition. History records the lives of many Christian martyrs, of thousands more persecuted for professing Jesus Christ.

We pray for house churches in China, which not only refuse to disappear, but proliferate, in the face of constant harassment, such as the arrest of their pastors. We pray for those Mohammedans in places like Pakistan, who become Christians in the sure and certain knowledge that they will be marked for imprisonment and death. We pray for Christians in Nigeria, Kazekhstan, Indonesia, India, Mexico, South Sudan and on and on, who gather to worship our God despite the fact that their congregations become a favourite target for cowardly bombers and knife wielding rioters.

Yet Jesus teaches that we are not to despair for anyone’s soul, just because of where he is or what his circumstances may be. Believers are made through grace, not place. And all of us have to accept the fundamental truth that Jesus died on the Cross for each and every human being that has since walked on the earth or will yet walk on the earth. After such a death, can we imagine that He would refuse the soul struggling towards the light.

So Jesus responds to the Canaanite woman’s entreaties, albeit in what may seem to be a curious way. He ignores her, a reaction of apparent contempt. But we know that Jesus does not ever treat people with contempt, for contempt is not a property of love and Jesus is Love.

On the contrary, out of his Love for her, Jesus is testing her faith in preparation for strengthening it. God does test our faith, not for His satisfaction or for some heavenly score sheet, but strictly for our benefit. He is also putting her faith in full view of the world as a lesson to all

When Jesus does speak to the woman, his words are hardly encouraging, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” You, you miserable Gentile, he might be saying, don’t count! Of course, Jesus would never treat any one like that. No, the test is still on, and her faith gives her perseverance. She falls to her knees in worship and pleads again, “Lord, help me.” Acknowledging the kingship of Jesus, her faith unwavering, she again submits her plea. And again she seems to be even more sternly rebuffed, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.

Yet again the woman petitions Him, this time displaying great humility along with her visibly growing faith. Truth, Lord, she replies. What an astonishing display of humility that is from anyone, let alone someone under such stress. How many of us would have so responded, rather than bridling at the suggestion we are dogs.

Jesus has shown us so much about prayer in this short episode. It must be persistent, it must contain worshipful acknowledgement of His majesty and it must spring from a well of humility.

Then look how Jesus strengthens this woman’s faith, with the simple statement, “O woman, great is thy faith.” Those six words of encouragement must have come in a voice vibrant with the tender love and compassion of the Almighty. The same Love would shine from his unique, penetrating eyes and radiate from every cell of his body.

By themselves, those few words would have been reward enough. But Our Lord’s Love knows no bounds, so he gives the woman more, “…be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
She has offered Jesus persistent intercessory prayer and He grants her wishes.

Such is the faith we need during the penitential season of Lent. May God grant us the grace of faith so that we can pray with consistency, persistence, humility and in thankful acknowledgement of His glorious majesty.

May we also remember that in Matthew 15.21-28, Jesus tells us in clear terms that we are to intercede for others. There is always someone who is in greater need than we ourselves are.

We may have a child, for example, whose conversion to Christ is our greatest wish. There may be a relative or friend who is desperately ill. There may be people we know and about whose salvation we are seriously concerned. We may have a relative or friend desperately ill with cancer or some other ailment. And if you cannot think of anyone, pray for Julianne and her family.

Follow the example of the Canaanite woman and take it to the Lord in prayer. Lay their names and conditions before Him, day in and day out, never giving up and always believing that God will hear and grant our requests.

And in this penitential season especially, as the shadow of Good Friday grows and when we may be inclined by our examination of ourselves to drive ourselves towards despair; let us keep a charitable eye on each other. But let us also remember that it is expected of us that we pray for ourselves.

“Lord have mercy on me,” was the Canaanite woman’s prayer. It should be our fervent and constant prayer as well, if for no other reason than that the temptation to give up on prayer comes from the devil and it needs to be resisted.

Let us pray then, that during Lent, God will grant us the courage to combat our besetting sins; to resist the false promises of the world; to turn aside from the subtle blandishments of the devil. Let us ask for the strength to obey our God; for the grace of forbearance in our trials; for the comfort of the Holy Spirit in times of trouble and for the persistence to pray without ceasing.

Lord have mercy upon us – and let our cry come unto thee.

Peter Jardine+
Lent II, 2007

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