In our Holy Gospel, we encounter something troubling that also occurs in other passages. Christ calls people names. This disturbs our sensibilities. We would rather He were nice to people, all the time.
Christ calls a woman a dog. In other places, He calls people “brood of vipers” and “sons of satan”. He even called one of His own disciples “satan”. These are not nice names.
We know that Christ meant these things for good. He had the Canaanite woman’s welfare in mind. So why did He turn an unfriendly face to her for a time? Perhaps He wanted to test her faith, or wanted to display her faith for others. We cannot be exactly sure, because we do not know the thoughts of our Lord unless He reveals them.
This is important, for a couple of reasons. We cannot know for certain the thoughts of God when He is dealing with us. But we know that He is always loving toward us, whatever our eyes or experience tell us. He sometimes shows us an unfriendly face when He sends hardships and pain. We must not take that as an occasion to reject the love of God. We must not slander God.
In the same way, we must not slander our neighbor, especially a brother in Christ. When someone says words that sound unloving, we must be cautious about drawing conclusions. Otherwise, we rush into slander, forbidden in the Eighth Commandment. Instead, give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt, if you possibly can.
We know for certain from our text that calling someone a name that is not nice is not in itself a sin. Otherwise, Christ would be a sinner, and that cannot be.
So be ready to put the best construction on your brother or sister’s words. If you cannot think of a best construction, and the matter troubles you, speak to him privately and hear his side of it. But do not spread an evil opinion of someone because of how you heard something said. Do not slander him, particularly in your heart, where negative feelings fester and create all kinds of evil.
When we do these things, may we be swift to repent. During Lent, I would be remiss if I did not mention Private Confession. If you have any sins, including slander, then Private Confession is good for you.
Even in other cases with the Jews, when Christ used not-so-nice names for them, we know that He could not be speaking out of hate. There it is harder to see a good motive. To call people “a brood of vipers” out of love would be very difficult for us. Yet it is possible, perhaps in order to wake them up to the depth of their sin, or to highlight their wickedness so that others are warned.
We have trouble with these concepts because we have been taught by our culture that nice is the same as good. But Christ was not always nice. He was not nice when He overturned tables and drove people out of the Temple with a whip. He was not nice when He ignored a woman in great need, in our Gospel. If we saw this Jesus, we might conclude that He is not a nice guy, and that is true. He is not always nice, but He is always good.
Similarly, the teaching of Closed Communion is not nice, but it is good and loving. Sometimes we must be “not nice” in order to follow the ways of Christ.
May the Spirit lead us to set aside our culture’s ideas of right and wrong, and instead follow Christ. May He alone teach us what is good, so that we do not become lost in a legalism of man-made rules.
We all do this sometimes. From time to time we follow what we feel instead of what is revealed in Scripture. For such times, may our knees bend in repentance, figuratively if not literally. May we quickly seek out the Lord’s Absolution.
Next, I must address the words of Christ when He said that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”
What does this mean? In the context, it shows that Christ was not chiefly sent by His Father to minister to all peoples of the earth, but to His own people, the Jews. This rubs us a little in the wrong way. Surely Christ loves all people, and helped anyone in need. But that is only sort of true. He could have journeyed to Rome and Egypt and India and China. There were so many people He could have helped in different ways. Yet He did not. That was not what He was sent to do.
Yet there is room for mercy. The Canaanite woman, who was born into a race cursed by God and slated for destruction, nevertheless finds mercy in His eyes. Her daughter is healed by Christ, even though the main thrust of His ministry was to the Jews. The crumbs, as she humbly said, fell from the table to her.
But there is also an emphasis in the text on the word “lost”. Christ is primarily sent to the lost sheep, not to everyone. To those who are crushed down by their sins and who feel the harsh afflictions of satan in their lives but are helpless to save themselves, to these people Christ came, and still comes today. But to the strong and the wise, to those who have their lives together and need no help, to those who feel that they are righteous and need no Savior, Christ does not come for them. What would He give them? He wants to bestow forgiveness in His Blood and death, but they want no forgiveness. He wants to free them from satan’s power, but they feel no desire for that.
Understanding this is vitally important. Are you one of the lost sheep? Or are you in good shape? Do you have things under control? Or are you constantly at the mercy of demonic forces?
Christ only helps the lost sheep. If you are not one of the lost ones, then His gifts are not for you.
For the lost and weak and helpless and afflicted, Christ was sent. He came to be lost and weak, helpless and afflicted. Although He was always fully God as well as Man, He became weak for you. He was abandoned on the Cross, to suffer the pangs of hell, the ultimate place of the lost. Here He did not die only for some, but for all. At the Cross, the pinnacle of His ministry, He was sent for Jew and Gentile alike. He was afflicted by the thorns and arrows of the serpent, who crushed His heel most painfully. Yet Christ crushed the head of the serpent in turn, so that the power of evil is broken. Although satan and his demons can afflict you, theirs is only a brief season of tribulation before the end.
For the lost sheep, Christ accomplished all, by suffering and dying in your place. But if you do not like being called lost because you think that Christ should be nicer to you and more respectful of how good you are, then what is there in this house for you? For the unrepentant who will not heed the harsh words of Christ, there is no forgiveness and no salvation and no life.
So I tell you, Realize and confess that you are lost, because Christ was sent for the lost.
In His Name alone, Amen.
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