The Door She Could Not Shut

Behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon–possessed.”    Matthew 15:22

My dad’s sermon startled me.  I have been scanning files into the computer over the last years and so there are about 30 files which give background and ideas for sermons on the lessons today,.  There 10 in regard to the Gospel lesson alone.  But it was my Dad’s notes which drew me back.  All the other studies emphasized, quite rightly, the woman’s faith and the technique used by Jesus to reveal it.  But Dad asked the one question nobody else did: how did she and her daughter get into the predicament they were in?  So, although some ideas will be mine, the thought for this sermon began with my Dad.  I quote from him:

The Bible is a book that disturbs many of our common notions.  It is hard to believe that the Jews and the Arabs are relatives, both are participants in the Covenant of Abraham since Ishmael was circumcised into the Covenant also – and he is the father of the Arabs.  The SyroPhoenician woman in our Gospel was of the  people in Canaan who had once been in the Covenant, but had forsaken it and had turned to worshiping other gods.

She worshiped Astarte, the goddess of the earth.  Worship of this goddess occurred in temples dedicated to her, also at sacred mountains, rivers, groves of trees, and even rocks.  Besides the prayers, burning incense, offerings of animal sacrifices, and so forth, women prostituted themselves in her honor, and during times of distress, humans, mostly children, were sacrificed.

Both [Jew and Arab] point up something to which we pay little attention in our day – there is a line that separates those who are of God and those who are not.  It is the reason for the constant and heavy emphasis upon the distinction between the way of the Lord and the world-system.

The world-system consists of the political, cultural, and any other means that does not serve the Lord and His purpose. …

As we understand this distinction, we can go one step further – and recognize that there are two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and that of the devil, or the kingdom of darkness.  St Paul reminds us that we have been delivered from darkness into the Kingdom of His Son.  A great problem today is that men have created areas of grayness, whereas God has only either black or white.

Many people, even Christians, try to walk in the gray areas.  If it is not “of God,” but doesn’t have “Satan” written all over it, then many people act as if there is some sort of third, neutral, helpful, innocent power in the universe.  Therefore to them it is OK to “experiment” with “white witchcraft,” horoscopes, tarot reading, crystal ball gazing, Eastern meditation, Ouija Boards, séances and talking with the dead, along with all sorts of psychic phenomenon.

However, consider how Anton LeVey, founder of the Church of Satan, agrees with God’s Word as he wrote in his Satanic Bible: “There is no such thing as white witchcraft.  All witchcraft draws upon occultic power and that power does not come from God.”  Also consider J.  Gordon Melton’s comment: “The magical world consists of mighty cosmological forces that magicians must control and subdue, or to which they fall victim” [“Witchcraft: An Inside View,” Christianity Today (Oct 21 1983)].  Think of that; humans who can’t master their own lives and world are going to subdue “mighty cosmological forces”!  With that in mind, now consider Dell Publishing House’s “Everyday Witchcraft” (at that time, a 25¢ check-out-counter booklet!):

Various malign influences are always loose in the atmosphere.  No matter what you do or don’t do, one day these forces may decide to focus on you or your family.  However, when you start practicing witchcraft the chances of drawing the attention of these mischief-makers increases greatly.

When one does not walk in God’s ways and live with Him as King and Head, then there is no protection against demons, the messengers of the evil one, from gaining entrance.  Each dabbling in the power which is not of God has effect: clouding the mind, which is the spiritual battleground between God and Satan; increasing vulnerability to deception, stirring up rebellion through lust and greed, and even actually shutting down in regard to whatever is Godly.  There is no third, benign power – if it is not of God, then it is of Satan.

So many parents harm or introduce evil to their children by ignoring the influence of popular culture – such as music which despises God’s principles, ethics which has turned from a godly life to a high-sounding but self-serving way of life, schools which teach that we are basically purposeless animals, laws which condone the murder of innocents through abortion, and politics which pit social class against social class and people-group against people-group.

The woman in the Gospel had seen what her religion had brought her to.  Regardless of her pure intentions, she had innocently opened doors to the kingdom of darkness, to the invasion of demons, evil spirits – doors which SHE COULD NOT SHUT – and a demon had taken possession of her daughter.  Her eyes had been opened by the grace of God, she realized that her child was in deep trouble, and nothing that her religion offered could help or comfort her.  She desperately turned to the One Whom many people talked about in those days – Jesus.

Some have criticized Jesus’ standoffish behavior at the beginning of the episode.  Yet after seeing last week how God used harsh and challenging circumstances in order to reveal the tremendous depth and tenacity of Job’s faith, it is clear from His later praise of this Gentile – non-Jewish – woman’s faith that His task was to reveal that faith, not because of any sophisticated content but rather to demonstrate how of what she did know, she would not let go.
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One might compare her faith with that of the black slaves in the south US during the slavery years.  By and large they had no education, no extensively developed theology.  However, for example, as the negro Spiritual songs show, there is much evidence to the powerful yet simple faith and comfort in what they did know about Jesus.  So also with the SyroPhoenician woman of our lesson.

Remarkably, the woman, as much of an outsider as she was, still understood that she was coming to not only the “Lord” but also to the “Son of David.”  Sometimes we throw around these titles without understanding what their impact has, especially to this woman.

Remember that she was an Arab follower of Astarte, not a fallen Israelite who had the vestiges and history of the faith of the forefathers.  And now, vividly demonstrated, the trust she had throughout her life was proved to be empty.  Everything she believed in, everything she thought was superior as life’s guiding light had not only been shown false, but was actually deadly and destructive.  Some at this point might simply turn off toward religion, but she couldn’t with her daughter in very real danger.  She had to find an answer.

Somewhere, somehow along the way, she had heard about Jesus.  It could have been how Jesus cast out demons “with a word” [Matthew 8:16].  Perhaps it was the healing of the demoniacs of the Gadarene, one whose name was “Legion,” who couldn’t be bound even with chains [Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39].  Maybe it was in regard to the twelve who were authorized to cast out demons in His Name [Matthew 10].  There was no doubt about it, here was no fake god like Astarte, but rather He was indeed “the Master,” “the Lord,” “the Superior” – not in legend, but in such reality which demonstrated He was able to help her.

But also imagine the humility for a descendant of Ishmael to admit that God’s chosen prophesied Redeemer of this world was a Child of Isaac!  “Son of David” was a term packed with identifying the ultimate Ruler of all God’s People, the ultimate King over all creation, and the only Savior equipped to destroy Satan’s power and dominion.  Arrogance had been driven out in her desperation, and in humility she was prepared to let “the Lord” take over the controls of her and her daughter’s lives.

The challenge in this Gospel lesson is not easy: it requires us to come to that same humility and even desperation to be free from the control of Satan.  That’s no easy task when we are constantly bombarded by so many different ways in which Satan wants to dig his fingers into our lives and move us farther and farther from following “the Lord” – “the Lord,” the way the woman understood Him

She had come to the place where there just was no one else who had the credentials to be in charge of her life.  It is the same question we must also face.  If “the Truth” is to make us free – “free indeed” – as Jesus describes [John 8:32.36], then we also have to come to the place where there is no Lord like this Lord, Who deserves the title, not only in His power over demons, but also in His absolute authority over life and death, as well as over our individual lives.  It is to resolve whether He can truly make us be alive.

As we enter His presence here today, we face the One Who calls us to repentance and then deals with our rebellions and sins with such finality that we can walk away from them and never look back.  No longer can Satan blackmail us, once Jesus has dealt with our sin.  No longer can Satan put a ring in our noses to lead us whichever way he chooses.  Although it sometimes does include driving out Satan and his influences, we are also given different values, perspectives and a determination to turn our faces away from lingering fascinations with what Satan uses to trap us back under his control.

And here in this place we have something just as wonderful as that woman had, because we too have Jesus, “the Lord,” “the Son of David,” standing before us in His Sacrament, in His Body and Blood – something tangible to gather around and to together realize His strength to battle against Satan’s deceptions and power plays which can appear so overwhelming, but at the word of “the Word made flesh” must flee away.

And in the end, even though trials are not pleasant, even when “the Lord” seems to not respond as quickly as we would like, in the end may He bring us all to the place where He can with great pride say also to us, “O believer, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire!” in the battle to have victory over Satan.

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