Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ:
Have you ever tried to get a burr off a piece of cloth or a sock or a shoe lace? Not so easy is it? Martin Luther’s wife Katie once described her faith by saying: “I cling to my Lord like a burr on cloth.” What Katie meant, of course, was that Christ was her tower and fortress. She relied on him and trusted in him above all things. That’s what faith does: it clings. It holds on to. It does not let go.
Even when it seems like letting go is the only right thing to do, faith holds on. It “clings to the Lord like a burr on cloth.” Too often Christians make the mistake of thinking that faith is merely an exercise of the mind. Faith is seen merely as an acceptance of a set of formulated doctrines, rather than as a wholehearted trust in a Person.
This leads people to think that they can believe in Jesus and still act however they want. People will say that they believe in Jesus, but they never come to church, and their lives are completely unaffected by this so-called “faith.” This is not genuine faith. This is not the faith “that moves mountains.” This kind of “faith” does not save a person from hell and death.
James tells us that “Faith without works is dead.” To believe in Christ is not merely to believe that He exists. It is to put one’s wholehearted trust in Him to deliver us from sin and to help us in our daily need. And this kind of faith cannot remain inactive.
This was the kind of faith that was shown by the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. Like Katie Luther, this woman truly “clung to the Lord like a burr on cloth.” In faith she refused to let go of Him. She refused to take “no” for an answer. By faith this woman ignored the apparent indifference of the Lord and held on to the promise.
So the Lord praises her faith and calls it “great.” Christ is impressed. He is pleased. He is overjoyed that this woman gets it when so many did not. How often do the Gospels record Jesus saying to his disciples: “O you of little faith.”? Elsewhere Jesus commends a centurion for having greater faith than all of Israel.
It was a Samaritan who returned to Jesus when he cleansed him of his leprosy. It was a Roman soldier who proclaimed at the cross: “Truly this was the Son of God.” Over and over again we see examples of people coming to Christ and taking refuge in him like this woman today.
And these were people who weren’t supposed to have faith. They were not children of the covenant, at least, not of the Sinai Covenant. They were not descendents of Jacob. They were outsiders. Gentiles. Dogs.
Jesus calls the woman’s faith “great” because she clung to Christ even when it seemed like it would have been best to let go. She was convinced that He would help her, though he said that he was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She was convinced that He would help her, though he said: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.”
“Yes, Lord. But even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” There is so much contained in that answer: “Yes, Lord.” Yes-you are right. I have no right to this bread for I am not a child of the King. Yes-you are right Lord. I am a sinner. I am unworthy even to be in your presence.
Yes, Lord. How willing would we be to agree with such a demeaning statement? Aren’t we more inclined to make excuses for ourselves, to disagree with the Word? Don’t we try to make ourselves look as clean as a whistle so that no one can accuse us? Aren’t we more accustomed to covering up our sins and misdeeds, rather than admit that we are unworthy to stand in the presence of the Lord?
There was no hesitation in her answer. “Yes, Lord.” But even the little dogs get something. Even the little dogs, the scavengers, get the leftovers. Yes, Lord. I am happy with leftovers. I am happy to receive even a few morsels of what you have, for you are the true bread. Come to think of it, Lord, the little dogs have it pretty good. They may not be allowed to sit at the table, but they are at least allowed inside the house. That’s good enough for me.
Isn’t there a Psalm that says roughly the same thing? “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Better to be a doorkeeper, better to be even a dog in the Lord’s house, than to be outside of the house and dwelling among the wicked.
The woman is not afraid to admit her unworthiness to the Lord. She is not afraid to be numbered with Gentile sinners, if only she can have the help of Jesus. And so Jesus says: “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you desire.”
By faith this woman clung to her Lord, “like a burr on cloth” one might say, and her faith was rewarded. She knocked and it was opened for her; she sought and found; she asked and it was given to her. She believed the Lord, like Abraham, and it was credited to her as righteousness. Like Jacob who wrestled with the Lord and prevailed, this woman wrestled by faith with Christ Jesus, and prevailed.
What then can we learn today from this Gospel about our relationship with Christ? Does it not teach us that the Lord rewards a strong and sturdy faith? Does it not teach us that those who cling to Christ and His promises will receive the blessing of the Lord? Surely this was what Christ wanted to demonstrate to His disciples and to us when he at first seemed cold and unresponsive to her requests.
Faith is more than just knowledge. It is more than just believing that Jesus exists. It is wholehearted trust in the Lord Jesus. It is patience. It is waiting on the Lord and expecting good things to come from him, not because of any worthiness in us, but because of His kindness.
We live in a world today where patience is a thing of the past. Let’s face it. We get irritated when we have to wait more than five minutes for our food at restaurants. I’ll be the first to admit that I am the most impatient person when it comes to food. I want it now, and I want it hot. Not cold, not lukewarm, but hot.
And I want my internet connection to be lightning fast. I hate waiting for the pages to load. I hate getting behind people on the road that are going just under the speed limit. Our culture tells us: “You don’t need to wait. You don’t need to be patient. You can have everything now and pay for it later.”
There was a time, and many of you probably remember it, when nationally people refused to buy on credit. They didn’t like to borrow, and they most certainly did not like to receive checks from the government. All of that of course has changed. The point is: we Christians should have a different outlook.
When we make requests of our Lord, and we should make requests of our Lord, we should do it fully expecting him to answer us. We should not doubt that He wants to bless us with all good things. We are more than dogs. We are sons. We are children of the heavenly Father. We are baptized. We eat at the heavenly Table. We have more than scraps and leftovers.
But we may have to wait. We may have to be patient, which is to say, we may have to hold on to God’s promises even when it seems like the only right thing to do is to let go. “I cling to the Lord like a burr on cloth.” This may sound like a silly analogy, but it’s true.
We cling to the Lord like this Canaanite woman by trusting in His Word. We cling to him and hold on to him in the Blessed Sacrament. We cling to His grace and mercy in the word of Absolution. We hold on to his promises and in so doing we hold on to him in faith, for we know that He has promised to redeem us and to help us in our need.
This is the faith that saves. This is the faith that moves mountains, the faith that Jesus calls “Great.” It is faith that expects good things from our Lord, that clings to him like a burr on cloth. It is faith that takes refuge in the Lord and His Name when afflicted with doubt, or disease, or illness, or temptation.
The great faith of the Canaanite woman is the faith that holds the promises of God before his eyes and says: “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” So also by faith we call on the Lord to remember his former loving kindnesses, and most importantly, to remember the cross, and the grace he poured out on us in baptism. “Remember, O Lord, that your Son endured the agony of the cross for me. Save me, for I am your child.”
When we are faced with illness and bodily affliction, we pray: “Remember, O Great Physician, the healing that you brought to the nations by Your cross and Passion.” When we are afflicted with guilt on account of our sins, we pray: “Remember, O Lord, that we are dust. Have pity on our weakness, and do not reward us according to them but according to your mercy.”
We say “Amen” to the Lord’s word of condemnation. “Amen. Yes, Lord. I am unworthy of your gifts and blessings. I am unworthy even to be called your Son.” And we say “Amen” to the Lord’s Word of forgiveness. “I forgive you your sins.” “Amen. Yes Lord, it is true. I believe it.”
And as we beg the Lord to remember his promises and his acts of mercy, we remember them too. “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is what the Lord’s Supper is for as well. When we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, we do so remembering the sacrifice which He made for us on the cross for our salvation.
As you come to the Holy Supper, where our heavenly Bridegroom meets His Bride in loving embrace, we remember the love that God showed towards us when He sent His Son as a ransom for our sins. And we praise the Lord of the New Covenant who has promised to “remember their [our] sins no more.”
On account of this faith the world will call you a fool. It will not be your friend. Those who put their trust in the Lord ought to expect to suffer for it in this life. Not all suffering is bad. Not all pain is bad. Such things drive us more quickly to our Lord for refuge.
But suffer you will. The world and your Old Adam will tell you: “Give it up already. Your God is not coming to the rescue. He is not real. He is a fake. Stop clinging to His promises so tenaciously.” They will laugh at you. They will make fun of you because you do not join them in their unbelief.
Do not listen to them. Do not listen to your Old Adam. God is faithful. He keeps his promises. It is men who lie. It is men who say one thing and do another. Not God. When you cry out to Him He will hear you. When you pray to Him He will answer you. When you trust in Him, He will deliver you.
He is true to His Word and His promises. He created you, He redeemed your soul from death as He promised, and He will bring you to your heavenly home, where He dwells with Angels and Archangels, and the whole host of heaven.
You needn’t worry. He blessed the Canaanite woman and granted her request. Will he not also help you, who cling to Him “like a burr on cloth”? Amen.