God Remembers His Mercy
"Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. According to your steadfast love remember me." (Psalm 25:6, 7) We prayed this as our Introit this morning. "Remember, O LORD!" Remember. Does the Lord forget? It sure seems like it sometimes, doesn't it.
"Lord you promised! 'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.' (Matthew 7:7) You promised, 'If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.' (John 14:14) But I've asked. I've sought. I've knocked till my knuckles were raw. Why won't you answer? Have you forgotten what you promised? Have you forgotten me?"
And so is the pain of suffering and waiting for the Lord. "I need a job. My child is sick. I have cancer. My child is addicted to drugs and estranged from the church. I feel guilty for my sins and the feeling won't go away and I'm suffocating from anxiety. Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, help me."
Suffering is no fun. And suffering can be dangerous, not only to our bodies, but to our souls. In suffering we're tempted to look away from God and his promises and to find other sources of comfort. Not even just drugs and alcohol, although Satan certainly uses those, but lies. Comforts that boost your pride, that deny God's Law, his love, or his existence. But God does not permit us to suffer, because he hates us. He doesn't make us wait, because he's cruel. God permits us to suffer in order to direct us to his Word and to strengthen our faith. St. Paul writes, "We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put to shame..." (Romans 5:3-5)
The Canaanite woman in our text teaches us a lot about suffering, faith, and prayer. She hears about Jesus and she believes what she has heard about him. She has faith in Jesus, that is why she calls him, "Lord, Son of David." She believes Jesus is the Christ. She comes to Jesus begging him to help her daughter. Her daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. Surely Jesus, who drove Satan away with the Word of God would gladly drive this devil out of her daughter. "O Lord, have mercy!" But Jesus is silent.
Still the woman persists, so that even his disciples plead for her for nothing else than to stop hearing her annoying whining. And Jesus curtly replies, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The woman is not an Israelite. She's a foreigner. Yet she persists. "Lord, help me."
Is she deaf? Didn't Jesus just say he was sent only to the house of Israel? Is she an Israelite? Is she socially inept? Can't she see that Jesus doesn't want to help her? Well, if she hasn't figured it out yet, Jesus' next response surely will squash whatever faith she had in him. "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." My goodness. Does Jesus need to humiliate her? Does he have to call her a dog? Couldn't he just tell her, "no."? But Jesus doesn't say, "no." Does he?
The woman doesn't hear, "no" either. And she is listening. She's been listening to Jesus the entire time, listening for a "yes" to her prayers, and she finds it. In an insult, she finds it. "Yes, Lord, I'm a dog. So give me what is entitled to a dog. Even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. Give me the crumbs. Save my daughter."
And here our clever sister in Christ catches Jesus in his own words. And Jesus is glad to be caught. "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her little girl was relieved of the tormenting spirit. Surely the woman's faith was great. It had been tried like silver in fire. She has proven herself a true daughter of Israel. Jacob was named Israel, because he strove with God and man and won. This woman strove with the God-man, Jesus Christ, and she won by clinging to Christ's word.
And so this Syrophoenician woman teaches us about faith. Faith clings to God's word. It clings to his promise, even if it has to wait. Even if it seems to be rejected. Even if God himself seems to be rejecting it. Faith listens intently to God's Word and clings to God's promise. And so you too must be an Israel. You too must strive with God and cling to God's promise like Jacob clung to the Lord in the dust with a dislocated hip through the night until morning. Do not let go until you receive the blessing God has promised to you.
God may say, "But you're a sinner. You deserve to go to hell. Didn't I call you to holiness, not to impurity? Yet you covet what isn't yours. You cheat your neighbor. You lust after indecency. Why should I answer your prayer?" You could despair at this and conclude that God hates you. You could get offended and say, "How dare you call me a sinner and threaten me with hell." You could hold on to your pride for dear life.
Or, like the Canaanite woman you can listen to God's Word and find your promise there. "You call me a sinner? Why, yes I am a sinner. I cannot deny it no matter how much I wish I were a holy Israelite. So give me what you promise sinners. You said, 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.' (Matthew 9:13) Scripture says that Jesus Christ is 'the propitiation for our sins, and not our sins only but for the sins of the whole world.' (1 John 2:2) You caused the Psalmist to writes, 'I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity, I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.' (Psalm 32:5) So God, I accept every word you say. I am a sinner. So treat me like a sinner. Forgive me and answer my prayer."
This is how we must pray. In our suffering we will worry that God won't give us what we need, because we are so unworthy. Our sins will accuse us and so we think that God will let us go to ruin. But faith acknowledges that you don't deserve anything from God, but you receive it all by grace as a gift. Faith doesn't cling to your pride. It doesn't cling to what you deserve. It doesn't cling to your suffering. Faith clings to God's Word and promise. It searches God's Word for assurance.
This is why we pray that God would remember us and have mercy on us. Not because God might forget. Not because God doesn't intend to have mercy on us. But for the sake of our faith, we must always pray according to God's Word and promise. God does remember you. He will have mercy on you. And your sins will not be a hindrance to his mercy, because he washes them away in Jesus' blood.
A great mistake people make when praying, especially when they are suffering, is to pray without God's Word. Prayer without God's Word isn't prayer. It's brooding. It's complaining. It's self-pity. Prayer without God's Word leads to false belief and despair. So we must learn from this true sheep of the house of Israel, this Gentile, who sits at the Lord's table. She listened intently to God's Word and she prayed accordingly. So when you pray, first listen to God's Word. Read it. Ponder it. Pray it. Pray the Lord's Prayer, because you know God promises to answer it. Pray the Psalms. And listen in God's Word for the answer to your prayers. Through God's Word you will learn to accept the hardship God permits you to suffer and to realize when he is answering you with a big, "Yes."
God remembers you. He remembers the mercy and steadfast love he promised you. But your faith must remember it. It remembers it by listening to God's Word. And when you pray according to God's Word, Jesus will say to you, "Great is your faith. Let it be as you have desired." Amen.