Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated the 22nd anniversary of our marriage. 22 years of graduate school and moves across the nation, of children and creating our idea of what a home ought to be. 22 years of pets and home repairs and broken-down cars. 22 years of ups and downs, of joys and disappointments, of boring, aimless moments and times of great adventure and wonder. As I was pondering all this, I thought back to the day we got married. I can still see her clear as day. How beautiful she was in that gown. I remember taking her hand and looking into her eyes before all our guests. There is something powerful about marriage. No matter how crass, how careless people can be in our day about love and sex and the very idea of marriage there remains a certain significance and honor about moments like that. The power of it does not rest in the traditions or rituals of the day, the white gown and ring bearers and all that. The power rests in the words, words that are not coerced and forced but spoken freely and deliberately. The power of a wedding day is in a promise made between a man and woman.
“Will you have this man to be your wedded husband? Will you love, honor and keep him in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to him alone so long as you both shall live?” And to that question the bride makes a promise, she says, “I will.” Of course, the groom says the same thing. I will do that. I will keep her. I will honor her as long as we both shall live. You strip it all away and all a wedding consists of is a promise, a statement of intent: Yes, I will do this. Trusting in that promise is the act of faith a marriage is built on. Words like these create a husband and a wife, but powerful words do so much more. They can give identity when they are used to name us. They shape our hopes and dreams when they speak about what we cannot yet see. They form entire worlds in which we live and move and breathe.
We were married on August 15th which happens to be the day the Church calendar sets aside to honor Mary the Mother of our Lord. Now, we did not do that intentionally. We did not really care too much about such things but looking back I sort of like the alignment See, I have always thought that one of the greatest confessions of faith recorded in Scripture was the confession of Mary. You remember how it goes, we read it every year as we get close to Christmas. The story of the angel Gabriel who told Mary she would conceive and bear a son and He will be called holy – the Son of God. During that strange moment Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” It may be confusing. It may be scary. It will certainly cause her great confusion and distrust in her life, but she says, “Yes,” to it. She steps up to the Word of the Lord and accepts it as governing of who she is and what she will do. By faith, she trusts in the promises of God.
Mary’s faith is exceptional and ought to inspire us all as we grapple with our own experience of the faith through the struggles of our lives. Yet, she is not the only picture we have of holding firm to the Word of God. There is another woman who is equally as powerful, equally as shocking. In some ways perhaps even more so, for she is not a faithful Israelite. She has not necessarily found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The words spoken to her are far harsher than those Mary endured. Yet, her faith is equally as unshakable. We know her only as the Canaanite woman. She is not even given a name in the text. All we really know about her is she has a daughter who is severely oppressed by a demon. We do not even know what that means exactly but it certainly is beyond her ability to care for. She knows this Jesus has a pretty good track record with these things. She knows if she is going to bring relief to her daughter, she must go to Him and so she does.
How often have any of you wished you could bring your need directly to Jesus like this? To be able to walk right up to Him and ask for exactly what you want. Would that not be awesome? Well, you might think twice when you hear the response Jesus gives. We tend to sugar coat it, make it sound better than it really is, but if we are honest, Jesus is downright brutal in His response. He starts out by simply ignoring her. He heals others, drives demons out of others but just skips right over her, like she is not even there. After a while, His disciples are feeling the heat. They say, “Send her away.” She is getting on their nerves. When Jesus finally says something, it is not all that wonderful. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered,
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24-26).
That is right. Jesus calls her a dog. She is not one of the lost from the house of Israel. She is an unclean, Gentile dog, as Jesus declares her to be. But she has nowhere else to go, nowhere else to turn. She came to Him in the same way all of you have come to our Lord, with empty hands. You have nothing to barter with, nothing to sweeten the deal with, nothing to force His hand. So, when He calls you a dog, what recourse do you have? It is precisely at this point that this unnamed Canaanite woman becomes a great hero of the faith. Instead of running away, instead of getting angry or bitter, she receives His Word as describing her and holds on to it for all it is worth.
She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (15:27). If she is a dog, fine, but the dogs do not go without. The dogs may not get the best stuff, but they get something. They get the crumbs. All she wants is a crumb. All she needs is a crumb. Just one little crumb from Jesus is enough to heal her daughter, to make her whole again, to set her free. She would do anything for that crumb. We ought to marvel at such faith, such desire to receive the Word of the Lord, to be what He has described her to be. Even Jesus is moved by this faith, for it is utterly amazing. He says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (15:28). In that moment, at His speaking her daughter was healed.
A crumb, a simple little crumb from the Almighty is enough, more than enough. We may want more. We may want a seat at the table, a place of honor to recline, but do we have the faith to trust the promise of the crumb? They are often simple and lowly things. They are the words which are bound to water and declare, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit.” No big show, no grand testimony, just a simple promise of a simple crumb. It can be a man standing before you saying, “I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Again, it does not look all that grand or even seem all that special. It is just a crumb, a promise of forgiveness for you. Or how about when you gather around the altar, when you eat the bread and drink the wine? Just enough to wet your lips. Just a few crumbs. But here is the promise of life and salvation completely outside of you, resting completely in the works of Christ; works He then promises are yours today.
Saying, “Yes,” to a promise from one you love can change your life forever. Saying, “Yes,” to one who wants to love you and care for you in sickness and in health changes everything. But saying, “Yes,” to the one creates the heavens and the earth is something different altogether. He says, “You are a sinner deserving wrath, yes. You are unable to rise above and fix yourself, yes. I will do what you cannot, yes. I will call you by name and wash you and feed you, yes. I will declare this day, you are my children, heirs of eternal life and forgiven all your sins, and I will do it with mere crumbs.” And together we all say, “YES.”