St Matthew xv. 22-28. "And, 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. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
If you want a proof from Scripture that there are two sides to our blessed Lord's character--that He is a Judge and an Avenger as well as a Saviour and a Pardoner--that He is infinitely severe as well as infinitely merciful--that, while we may come boldly to His throne of grace to find help and mercy in time of need, we must, at the same time, tremble before His throne of justice--if you want a proof of all this, I say, then look at the Epistle and the Gospel for this day. Put them side by side, and compare them, and you will see how perfectly they shew, one after the other, the two sides.
The Epistle for the day tells men and women that they must lead moral, pure, and modest lives. It does not advise them to do so. It does not say, It will be better to do so, more proper and conducive to the good of society, more likely to bring you to heaven at last. It says, You must, for it is the commandment of the Lord Jesus, and the will of God. Let no man encroach on or defraud his brother in the matter, says St Paul; by which he means, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife. And why? "Because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified."
My friends, people talk loosely of the Thunder of Sinai and the rigour of Moses' law, and set them against what they call the gentle voice of the Gospel, and the mild religion of Christ. Why, here are the Thunders of Sinai uttered as loud as ever, from the very foot of the Cross of Christ; and the terrible, "Thou shalt not," of Moses' law, with the curse of God for a penalty on the sinner, uttered by the Apostle of Faith, and Freedom, in the name of Christ and of God. St Paul is not afraid to call Christ an Avenger. How could he be? He believed that it was Christ who spoke to Moses on Sinai--the very same Christ who prayed for His murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he knew that Christ was the eternal Son of God, the same yesterday, to- day, and for ever; that He had not changed since Moses' time, and could never change; that what He forbade in Moses' time, hated in Moses' time, and avenged in Moses' time, He would forbid, and hate, and avenge for ever. And that, therefore, he who despises the warnings of the Law despises not man merely, but God, who has also given to us His Holy Spirit to know what is unchangeable, the everlastingly right, from what is everlastingly wrong. So much for that side of our Lord's character; so much for sinners who, after their hardness and impenitent hearts, treasure up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to St Paul's Gospel.
But, when we turn to the Gospel for the day, we see the other side of our Lord's character, boundless condescension and boundless charity. We see Him there still a Judge, as He always is and always will be, judging the secrets of a poor woman's heart, and that woman a heathen. He judges her openly, in public, before His disciples. But He is a Judge who judges righteous judgment, and not according to appearances; who is no respecter of persons; who is perfectly fair, even though the woman be a heathen: and, instead of condemning her and driving her away, He acquits her, He grants her prayer, He heals her daughter, even though that daughter was also a heathen, and one who knew Him not. I say our Lord judged the woman after He had tried her, as gold is tried in the fire. Why He did so, we cannot tell. Perhaps He wanted, by the trial, to make her a better woman, to bring out something noble which lay in her heart unknown to her, though not to Him who knew what was in man. Perhaps He wished to shew his disciples, who looked down on her as a heathen dog, that a heathen, too, could have faith, humility, nobleness, and grace of heart. Be that as it may, when the poor woman came crying to Him, He answered her not a word. His disciples besought Him to send her away--and I am inclined to think that they wished Him to grant her what she asked, simply to be rid of her. "Send her away," they said, "for she crieth after us." Our Lord, we learn from St Mark, did not wish to be known in that place just then. The poor woman, with her crying, was drawing attention to them, and, perhaps, gathering a crowd. Somewhat noisy and troublesome, perhaps she was, in her motherly eagerness. But our Lord was still seemingly stern. He would not listen, it seemed, to His disciples any more than to the heathen woman. "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." So our Lord said, and (what is worth remembering) if He said so, what He said was true. He was the King of the people of Israel, the Royal Prince of David's line; and, as a man, His duty was only to His own people. And this woman was a Greek, a Syro- phenician by nation--of a mixed race of people, notoriously low and profligate, and old enemies of the Jews.
Then, it seems, He went into a house, and would have no man know it. But, says St Mark, "He could not be hid." The mother's wit found our Lord out, and the mother's heart urged her on, and, in spite of all His rebuffs, she seems to have got into the house and worshipped Him. She "fell at His feet," says St Mark--doubtless bowing her forehead to the ground, in the fashion of those lands--an honour which was paid, I believe, only to persons who were royal or divine. So she confessed that He was a king--perhaps a God come down on earth--and again she cried to Him. "Lord, help me." And what was our Lord's answer--seemingly more stern than ever? "Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it unto the dogs." Hard words. Yes: but all depends on how they were spoken. All depends on our Lord's look as He spoke them, and, even more, on the tone of His voice. We all know that two men may use the very same words to us;--and the one shall speak sneeringly, brutally, and raise in us indignation or despair; another shall use the same words, but solemnly, tenderly, and raise in us confidence and hope. And so it may have been--so, I fancy, it must have been--with the tone of our Lord's voice, with the expression of His face. Did He speak with a frown, or with something like a smile? There must have been some tenderness, meaningness, pity in His voice which the quick woman's wit caught instantly, and the quick mother's heart interpreted as a sign of hope.
Let Him call her a dog if He would. What matter to a mother to be called a dog, if she could thereby save her child from a devil? Perhaps she was little better than a dog. They were a bad people these Syrians, quick- witted, highly civilised, but vicious, and teaching vice to other nations, till some of the wisest Romans cursed the day when the Syrians first spread into Rome, and debauched the sturdy Romans with their new- fangled, foreign sins. They were a bad people, and, perhaps, she had been as bad as the rest. But if she were a dog, at least she felt that the dog had found its Master, and must fawn on Him, if it were but for the hope of getting something from Him.
And so, in the poor heathen mother's heart, there rose up a whole heaven of perfect humility, faith, adoration. If she were base and mean, yet our Lord was great, and wise, and good; and that was all the more reason why He should be magnanimous, generous, condescending, like a true King, to the basest and meanest of His subjects. She asked not for money, or honour, or this world's fine things: but simply for her child's health, her child's deliverance from some mysterious and degrading illness. Surely there was no harm in asking for that. It was simply a mother's prayer, a simply human prayer, which our Lord must grant, if He were indeed a man of woman born, if He had a mother, and could feel for a mother, if He had human tenderness, human pity in Him. And so, with her quick Syrian wit, she answers our Lord with those wonderful words-- perhaps the most pathetic words in the whole Bible--so full of humility, of reverence, and yet with a certain archness, almost playfulness, in them, as it were, turning our Lord's words against Him; and, by that very thing, shewing how utterly she trusted Him,--"Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
Those were the beautiful words--more beautiful to me than whole volumes of poetry--which our Lord had as it were crushed out of the woman's heart. Doubtless, He knew all the while that they were in her heart, though not as yet shaped into words. Doubtless, He was trying her, to shew His disciples--and all Christians who should ever read the Bible-- what was in her heart, what she was capable of saying when it came to the point. So He tried her, and judged her, and acquitted her. Out of the abundance of her heart her mouth had spoken. By her words she was justified. By those few words she proved her utter faith in our Lord's power and goodness--perhaps her faith in His godhead. By those words she proved the gentleness and humility, the graciousness and gracefulness of her own character. By those words she proved, too,--and oh, you that are mothers, is that nothing?--the perfect disinterestedness of her mother's love. And so she conquered--as the blessed Lord loves to be conquered-- as all noble souls who are like their blessed Lord, love to be conquered- -by the prayer of faith, of humility, of confidence, of earnestness, and she had her reward. "O woman," said He, the Maker of all heaven and earth, "great is thy faith. For this saying go thy way. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. The devil is gone out of thy daughter." She went, full of faith; and when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
One word more, and I have done. I do not think that any one who really took in the full meaning of this beautiful story, would ever care to pray to Saints, or to the Blessed Virgin, for help; fancying that they, and specially the Blessed Virgin, being a woman, are more humane than our Lord, and can feel more quickly, if not more keenly, for poor creatures in distress. We are not here to judge these people, or any people. To their own master they stand or fall. But for the honour of our Lord, we may say, Does not this story shew that the Lord is humane enough, tender enough, to satisfy all mankind? Does not this story shew that even if He seem silent at first, and does not grant our prayers, yet still He may be keeping us waiting, as He kept this heathen woman, only that He may be gracious to us at last? Does not this story shew us especially that our Lord can feel for mothers and with mothers; that He actually allowed Himself to be won over--if I may use such a word in all reverence--by the wit and grace of a mother pleading for her child? Was it not so? "O woman, great is thy faith. For this saying go thy way. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Ah! are not those gracious words a comfort to every mother, bidding her, in the Lord's own name, to come boldly where mothers--of all human beings--have oftenest need to come, to the throne of Christ's grace, to find mercy, and grace to help in time of need?
Yes, my friends, such is our Lord, and such is our God. Infinite in severity to the scornful, the proud, the disobedient: infinite in tenderness to the earnest, the humble, the obedient. Let us come to Him, earnest, humble, obedient, and we shall find Him, indeed, a refuge of the soul and body in spirit and in truth.
Thou, O Lord, art all I want. All and more in thee I find. Amen.