Instruction by Wrestling
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way (Ps. 25:8).” This is a part of our Introit today and I want to ask this question, “How is it that our Lord instructs sinners, that is us, in his way?” And our Old Testament reading (Genesis 32:22-32) and our Gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28) answer that question this way: sometimes he wrestles with us.
Wrestling vs. Fighting
Maybe some of you who grew up with older brothers and sisters or were the older brother or sister recognize that there might be a difference between wrestling and fighting. You might get kind of rough with your sibling or your friend but your intention is not usually to really hurt them, not in the same way as you would fight against an enemy. You might even be wrestling with them for fun. Parents certainly do this with their children.
So the Christian life is not only a fighting against sin, the flesh, our lack of self-control, uncleanness, and Satan’s temptation (that is those evils that assault the soul that we prayed for in our collect) but it is at times also a wrestling with God. That is in fact one of the ways in which he instructs us. But like a father wrestling with his children, the goal of his wrestling with us is not so that He wins, but rather the opposite. He wants up our faith to win. He wants to be conquered by us clinging to his Words and promises. Now when this wrestling is happening, our God could simply crush us. When he is wrestling with Jacob up all night, there comes a point when he just barely touches Jacobs hips and breaks it (Genesis 32:24). But God does not want to crush us when we wrestle with Him, he in fact wants us to pin him down with his very own promises so that he might bless us (Genesis 32:29).
Wrestling with God Looks Like Rejection From God
What does this wrestling look like? It certainly doesn’t look like Jacob who literally wrestled with God and man. It looks more like our Gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28). It looks more like us perceiving that God is angry at us, God doesn’t like us, God is rejecting or God is ignoring us. She comes with a problem, Jesus seems to ignore her (vs. 23), then rejects her (vs. 24), then insults her (vs. 26) – all so that she could persistently pray and believe and trap Him and His own words so that He could answer her prayer.
Watching Children Suffer
This problem that she comes to Jesus with is a problem that drives many people to their knees who are not inclined to pray. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” There is nothing more heartbreaking and difficult than for a parent to see their children suffer. This true when they are suffering in their body, but for the Christian, it is especially true for when their children suffer in their soul. When they think that it’s okay to believe in God as long as you don’t actually have to believe what God anything about Him or anything He says, when they live in openly unrepentant sexual sin, and when they ignore God’s word and will. What can the parent do? So often, their words of warning or consolation are ignored and the parents are powerless to do anything but watch. They watch as an evil power possesses those that they love.
For our Repentance – We are God’s Children, too
Because our Lord’s word isn’t only to sympathize with parents, but written for our instruction and repentance, it’s important for us to hear even if our parents rejected God’s Word, there is our Father who has great pain when He sees you, His dear child, believing lies and not His truth. His will is for our sanctification and self control, not giving into passions, lusts, or harming one another (1 Thess. 4:1-7).
Faith Relies to God’s Promises
“God is rejecting me and God is rejecting my prayer.” That’s how it appeared, that is how it seemed, and that is how it must have felt when this heard those words of Jesus. But faith does not rely on appearances, or feelings, or things that seem a certain way. Faith relies on God’s promises in His word. So if Jesus calls her a dog, what is her response? Good. Then I am your dog. She finds in his word the claim that she belongs to Him, that her daughter belongs to Jesus and not to the demon that possesses her. She belongs to the Good Shepherd and not to the evils of the wolves, for she is part of the lost sheep. He never intended to deny her prayer. He never intended to ignore her. He never was going to reject her. He was exercising our faith, not frustrate it, but to purify it, to drive it to cling more firmly to his very promises and word.
Pride vs. Faith
Pride would say “I won’t be a dog” but faith says “I will be a dog as long as that dog belongs to Jesus.” Pride says “I won’t be wrong,” but faith says “I am willing to be wrong so that Jesus is right.” Pride says “I won’t be a sinner begging for mercy,” but faith says “I will confess my sins because I know I am baptized. I am washed in the blood of Jesus. I am clean. I am a child of God and not a child of my flesh.” God won’t reject you. You belong to Him. You are baptized.
This woman was willing to be called a dog, and our Jesus, so that you could be His brother and be baptized and belong to God’s family was willing to be surrounded by the dogs and His hands were pierced (Ps. 22:16). He was willing not to be called a dog but a worm (Ps. 22:6).
He died to take away our sins invites us to regard ourselves as little dogs, eagerly licking the crumbs from the floor. He who called himself a worm and no man is exalted up on the right hand of God the father Almighty. He seats his Christians alongside him in glory, even as they must suffer pain, disrespect, and failure here below. He tests faith. He perfects faith. He answers prayers as he draws you to himself and to his mercy in a union that no evil can break. He instructs you, by wrestling with you. Amen.