Desperation and deliverance.

Homily 345 – 36th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 3, 2019
Epistle: (280-ctr) – 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Gospel: (62) – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The woman of Canaan was desperate. You can hear that desperation in the reading.

The disciples grew tired of this woman. “Send her away” they asked.

This woman was, frankly, irritating them. Disturbing their prayer. Disturbing their study and learning. Keeping them from their holiness.

Or so they thought.

Instead, this woman would be the means – the vehicle – of their prayer, their study, their holiness. She would provide them with an example of real, vital, faith.

Here was a woman who understood exactly the depths of her situation. She understood – at the very core of her being – that she was helpless. That her life was out of control, and there was not a single thing she could do about it. Nothing.

I can imagine that her daughter’s affliction at the hands of a demon was but one symptom of her trouble. I can imagine that she had perhaps been abandoned by the girl’s father.

That no one in her village would or could help her. And that most had likely given up even trying. I can imagine her neighbors dismissing her, even laughing at her misfortune.

In her heart, this woman had nothing. Had no one.

She heard about this man, this miracle worker who could control demons. So, she went to him. What she couldn’t control, this man Jesus could.

So, she went, and fell down before him – prostrating herself – begging for mercy for her daughter.

Even that didn’t go so well.

The disciples wanted her to go away. Christ Himself seemed to reject this woman at first – telling her that He was sent to the Jews, not the Gentiles. Not to her.

As a side note here, Matthew was writing his Gospel account to other Jews, in order to communicate that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of Israel. He uses this account to validate that Jesus was sent to the Jews, but was also the Lord of all creation.

So Jesus first rejects this woman.

But then. The woman comes back with a pretty compelling statement. Even the dogs, Lord, the most worthless creatures in ancient Mideast culture, even these dogs eat the scraps from their master’s table.

She recognizes herself as a dog – as unworthy. And she asks not for special treatment, but for a scrap. A scrap of mercy. A crumb of compassion.

We may not like to admit it, but we are all like this woman. We spend our lives trying to get control, only to discover at some point that control is never within our grasp. Creatures can never control the creation. Only the Creator can control creation.

Thanks be to God, Jesus united the eternal Son and humanity within His incarnation. Humanity, which we share, is now joined with the divine. As we pursue our own union with God, our own theosis, we can gain control again of our lives – with a key difference.

That control comes through not through our own will, but through our cooperation and union with the perfect will, the will of God. So, the Creator is the one in control of creation. We are provided with that same control, to the extent we are in union with God.

This control is never ours alone, however. This control is always because we are participating with the Creator. It is His control.

The saints have learned that in order to be in control of one’s life, one needs to be in union with God.

And in order to be in union with God, we have to relinquish our control.

Like a lot of things we read in the Scripture, it doesn’t seem possible. It is a paradox.

In St. Luke, Chapter 9: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Or in St. Matthew, Chapter 20: Among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

So, whoever wishes to have control over their life, must first surrender all control to the Creator and God, and find union with Him.

Our lives may not be as out of control as this woman of Canaan. But they are out of our control. The Christian life, in part, is coming to grips with that and allowing the Creator – God the Son through whom all things were made – to assume His rightful place in control of creation.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.