Vol II No. 5
From the Quarterly

Lent II 2016

by William J. Martin


As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness. Proverbs 26:11

The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, more often than not, challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And it is not that human wisdom is entirely destroyed, but rather that its true nature is revealed, for good or evil, and then offered an opportunity for redemption and perfection. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Cor. i. 18)

In last week’s Gospel we read of a real challenge to human wisdom, and not the least a trial of Christian human wisdom. For Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both God and Man, and so many wonder how, if Christ is God, God could be tempted. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted. And from what we read, we learned that Christ resisted the temptations and, that in the end, the devil’s intention was undermined and overturned. The wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that somehow this Jesus Christ, both God and man, faces evil, resists it, and in the end overcomes it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He struggles to reveal depends wholly upon it. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, establishing and centering us in our muddled confusions and delusions, concealing from us the true way of lasting liberation. He longs to shield us even from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)

But Jesus comes to reveal God’s wisdom in human nature for our benefit. He comes to bring us back to the fear of the Lord, and to the birth of Divine Wisdom in our hearts and souls. What becomes clear to us, however –if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, is that God’s wisdom cannot have its way in our lives without our desire for it. In other words, it must become the need we hunger and hanker after. It must become the object of our deepest longing and our most earnest passion. And this can happen only when we come to see that we are powerless to secure it on our own.

In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s wisdom is to men in most ages. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and a people who would not receive the wisdom that He endeavored to disclose and reveal. The ancient Old Testament prognosis of God’s people was finding its fulfillment in Jesus’ hearing: This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s wisdom has found no place to plant and grow itself in the hearts of the religious Pharisees. Even Jesus’ disciples did not understand how to interpret and apply what He said to their lives. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20) God’s wisdom cannot reach and touch those who do not need it from within. Those who come to realize that they need it within are those also who discover that they shall perish forever without it. So we read in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus leaves religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel bordered the land of the heathen. Perhaps the wisdom that He carries will not be so dyspeptic and disagreeable to those who live at the furthest remove from Judaism’s heart.

What He finds will confound the customs and habits not only of the Jewish scribes but even of His own disciples. God’s Wisdom was, after all, aimed and directed first and foremost at them. That their blindness and ignorance should be overcome only by the discernment of its nature and desire for its power in the heart of a pagan woman is all the more astounding. 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. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness. From this place we hear a cry for the Divine Wisdom and Mercy –that is with and in Jesus. Jesus remains silent to the cry. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds his remedies. He ponders what will emerge from this encounter. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Divine Wisdom will elicit from its seeker a sincere and determined desire for its love and power.

Next we read that, His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long to have Jesus for themselves selfishly and in one way. The woman will have Him selflessly for her daughter and in another that is far better. But not before she has overcome a Jesus who will test her faith in Him to the utmost. He responds, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus reminds her that the Jews alone should receive what He brings. She will insist that the Gentiles should have their share of it also. Jesus demands that she prove why. His trying of her is rooted in the tough love of the Old Testament: I will wound and I will heal. St. Augustine describes Jesus’ method this way: He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii) Knowing that she is in the presence of God’s Good Physician, she cries all the more urgently, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus sees into her heart and intends to draw out the faith that informs the passion that will secure her desire. It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) To which she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) Wisdom has elicited from her heart the confession of poverty of spirit. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims no rights to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself a powerless creature in the presence of the Creator. She knows that no man can assist her. She cannot help herself. So she turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is met by her own. Yes Lord, in comparison with thee, I am a dog. But I have come to know this in the light of thy Wisdom. And surely Lord, all of this has come about that thou mightiest not merely enlighten me to the knowledge of my lowly sickness, but open me to the power of thine all sufficient healing. God’s Wisdom desires to touch and to heal all men. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) God’s Wisdom desires to draw out from us the knowledge of our need and then desire for its power. Jesus honors what He could not find in His Apostles. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew xv. 28)

Today let us take note of the alien woman’s meekness and humility. Let us embrace her determined passion for Christ alone and what He brings. She claims not only that she is a dog, but that as a dog she can hope only for fragments and morsels that fall from Christ’s table. She knows that because they are His, they are more than enough to heal both her and her daughter. Luther tells us that, Like her, thou must give God right in all He says against thee, and yet must not stand off from praying, till thou overcomest as she overcame, till thou hast turned the very charges made against thee into arguments and proofs of thy need, till thou, too, hast taken Christ in His own words.’ We might think it foolish to have to become as dogs in order to overcome all barriers between us and the Divine Wisdom that Christ offers. But it is foolish only if human wisdom is the mark and measure of truth. Where is the wise person?…Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21) The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. The Apostles crumble their meat away. But the broken meat of their spiritual privileges is a feast to the hungry soul of this faithful woman. This foreign woman, a dog, gladly and thankfully receives supernaturally charged crumbs that drop from Christ’s table. This is foolishness to respectable people who are too proud to admit their brokenness and thus their need for Jesus. But they are the real fools. Today’s faithful woman teaches us about a wisdom that alone elicits from Christ the power of His love. Amen.