Lent 2 Sermon 2016
References to dogs are ubiquitous in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament alone, for example, the enemies of the People of Israel are often called “dogs”; if one is foolish (as in the Book of Proverbs) he is compared to a dog; and twice in Psalm 22 the Messiah, we are told, is encircled by dogs or delivered into their power: “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” Dogs are a threat in the Christian oracles; to be called a dog is a term of derision; to be humiliated is to become like a dog.
All of these images (and many more) hover around this morning’s Gospel lesson. For contemporary Christians, this lesson is one of the most difficult to assimilate. We can discern easily enough the loving Christ with whom we are familiar in the miraculous deliverance of the Canaanite woman’s daughter at the end of the lesson: O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. But the silent Christ, who does not respond to her first impassioned plea for mercy; the Christ who rebuffs the cry; who calls the Canaanite woman a dog – this Jesus is less comfortable for many of us, less easy on the heart and the mind. And yet despite our discomfort, I wish to suggest this morning that the Gospel appointed for the second Sunday in Lent is in fact a kind of catechesis or teaching about the spiritual life in general and the life of prayer in particular.