21 - The Canaanite Woman's Faith, Jan 26, 2020

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1 Timothy 1:15-17

Matthew 15:21-28

This morning, we are with the Savior way up north in the Syro-Phoenician coastal towns of Tyre and Sidon. In the Bible, geography spells theology. And so it is with Tyre and Sidon. Directed by the same LORD who is in Tyre this morning in the flesh, the prophet Ezekiel raises a lament against the King of Tyre and the city of Sidon. (Eze 28) Through Ezekiel, the LORD portrays Tyre and Sidon as the Garden of Eden, and the King of Tyre as Adam “who was in the Garden of Eden” (28:13). But, the LORD says to the King of Tyre, “Your heart was puffed up because of your beauty. Therefore, I will cast you to the ground” (v. 17). Here may be the nub of the spiritual lessons our holy Mother, the Church, is setting before us in these pre-Lenten Sundays as we draw near the fearsome and terrible mystery of the LORD’s Tomb and the beginning of Great Lent.

Our Gospel this morning, then, in the underlying meaning of Tyre and Sidon revealed in the prophet, Ezekiel, brings us into the mystery of Eden. Following the holy fathers, this is the mystery of our own secret heart, now despoiled by the sin of Adam.

Let’s take a quick look back to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden (Gen 3:22). A strict reading shows that they are not expelled because they ate the forbidden fruit, but because, as it says: “they have become as though they were one of us!” In essence, this means the same thing as Ezekiel’s lament against the King of Tyre, “your heart was puffed up because of your beauty.” Adam and Eve comported themselves as though they were gods alongside God. That is, they were expelled because of self-righteousness.

We are not called to become as though we were gods alongside God, but to become one with God in love, to become like God in union with God. Self-righteousness makes this utterly impossible.

A Canaanite woman, it says. We are not given to know her name? Oh, but we are! It is given to us in Ezekiel’s prophetic imagery of Tyre and Sidon. On the level of this Gospel’s theological meaning, she is the woman Adam knew at once as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (Gn 2:23). So, we may call her, Eve. She is an image of all mankind. Or, as we are given to understand from the Canon of St Andrew (that we pray the first week of Great Lent), she is my soul. Eve was the mother of all living; the soul is life; but, the woman has become the mother of a daughter possessed by a demon; our soul, our life, has become enslaved to the one who holds us in the power of death (Heb 2:14).

She has come down, it says, from the hills. These would be opposite Tyre and Sidon. Her coming down from the hills opposite Tyre and Sidon, on the level of biblical theology, shows Eve coming down from where she and Adam had settled after their expulsion, opposite the Garden of Eden (Gn 3:25 LXX).

And, who is she coming to find? She is looking for the LORD Jesus; she is looking for the New Adam, the Image of God in whom she was made! Where does she find Him? Following the theological imagery of Tyre and Sidon given by Our LORD Himself in Ezekiel, she finds Him at the entrance of Eden. But, Jesus, the New Adam, is also the Tree of Life who was in the Garden! Behold how He is no longer guarded by the flaming sword. (Gn 3:25 LXX) He is accessible! We can draw near the Tree of Life in Eden, in our soul!

With the prophet Ezekiel as our guide, we have descended now beneath the veil and into the theology of the scene before us. We have descended to the bottom of the Jordan and into the deeps of our soul. Now we can enter into the holy drama of this morning’s Gospel. It is the divine drama unfolding in our own soul. As the Canaanite woman, we may come into the presence of the New Adam, the LORD Jesus, Son of David; and, for the first time, to the feet of the Tree of Life!

Let us attend very closely now to the dialogue that transpires. I believe it may give the ‘key’ that unlocks the door, if you will, to the tomb of our heart where we come into the LORD’s Tomb and into the entrance of our cleansing, our healing, our restoration and rebirth as children of God!

“Lord, Son of David,” she cries. She knows Him intuitively as her true Adam. But, Adam is the King of creation. If she is Eve, she is the Queen of creation. This may be important; for, we will see that she makes no claim to such a dignity!

But, it says, the LORD answered her not a word! Let’s look ahead to the parable of the Prodigal Son, which has so many parallels with this morning’s Gospel. You remember, the Father does not come to His son—He is silent toward him—while the son is in the pig-pen feeling sorry for himself. It is not until the prodigal comes to himself and sees that he has made himself altogether unworthy to lay any claim to his dignity as his Father’s son, that it would be a grace if the Father were just to receive him back as a hired servant—i.e., he comes to himself only as he lays down every trace of entitlement and self-righteousness—only then does the Father come rushing out to meet him to embrace him as His son who was lost but now is found; that is, the son does not come to himself until he gets beneath every mask, every conceit, to his true self. This is when the Father finds him and comes out to meet him.

So, following the parable of the Prodigal, when the LORD answers her not a word, He is not ignoring her at all. He is looking for her, as He did in the Garden when He cried: “Adam, where are you?” His silence draws her down to the stillness at the bottom of her soul as into the depths of the Jordan, down, beneath all her masks, beneath every self-righteousness and entitlement that may remain, down to her true self where the LORD can see her and not a mask, and draw her to Himself!

But, there is more! He is “bearing” her down to the depths where He is, the better and changeless Path, in His extreme humility! For, is He not the Son of God who, though He was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet emptied Himself, and took on the form of a servant and was obedient all the way down to the point of an unclean death on the Cross! He who had every reason to be as though He were God (Gn 3:22) because He is God, became as though He were not God! If He could just bring this woman, the human soul down to where He is in the tomb of her heart! Then, He could make her one with Himself! And so, He answers her not a word; or rather, He answers her as He did Elijah, in stillness! Do the disciples here not look like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal!?

Now we have come to the critical moment! When the Savior finally does speak to her (might this be when He has found her?) does He not say to her, in effect, going back to that moment Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden: You are not as though you were one of us! You are not entitled to eat at our table, the altar of the Holy Trinity!

I see the LORD’s rebuke as the antidote that would heal her expulsion from the Garden, if she would receive it! What is her answer? Is it not, in effect: “Yes, LORD! I am not as though I were one of you. You made me as the Queen of creation, but I have made myself as though I were a dog. I am not entitled to eat at your table. I ask only for a scrap. Can you hear the Prodigal’s, I am no longer worthy to be called your son? Receive me as one of your hired servants!

The Church is calling us to the LORD’s Table; but it is in His Tomb! This is the way to His Tomb! To walk the Path of the LORD’s humility to the bottom of our soul, to our true self beneath all self-pity, entitlement, self-righteousness. For, here is where we can become one with God. And so, the command to deny ourselves, to take up our cross is given to make us able to become one with Him in His humility and love.

The humility of her contrition, then, is the character of the Canaanite woman’s “great faith” that so attracted the LORD to her. The contrition of humility is the Lenten cross we are getting ready to take up. Through the contrition of humility, we are made able to enter the LORD’s Tomb and to receive God and to become not as though we were god, but one with God. Amen!