Matthew 15:21-28Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
The early days of
were such as to try men’s souls… and.. The year 1863 was a frightful one. The desperadoes were leagued together in a secret band for the purposed of robbery and murder. How thoroughly and efficiently they were organized was not known till afterwards, when it was disclosed that Plummer, the lawfully elected sheriff and the civil officer sworn to preserve order, was the actual leader of the band. He was a man of attractive address and polished manners; in the language of the mountains “a perfect gentleman,” and so won his way to the post of honor in the shrievalty. But his heart was black with the indulgence of all criminal passions, and when roused to anger or revenge he was a demon. He was accounted the best and quickest pistol-shot in the mountains. A secret band of highwaymen, led by such a man, was a most formidable agent of violence and murder. Montana
Something had to be done.. so a few brave men in
Virginia City and in Bannack got together and said, “This must be stopped.” The met and planned and counseled and the “Vigilance Committee” was formed… On December 18th the first of the desperados was arrested – George Ives.. a robber and murder. His trial lasted three days and on December 21st the verdict was given by a 24 member jury – “Guilty.” Trouble was.. there was a large number of desperados and everyone was aware that they would attempt to bust Ives out, so Col. Wilbur F. Sanders made a motion – “I move that George Ives be forthwith hung by the neck until he is dead.”… the motion passed.. and.. as Bishop Daniel Tuttle further reports… Within fifty-eight minutes from the close of Sanders’ speech the ghastly body of Ives was dangling lifeless in the moonlight.
The Vigilantes went on to capture and execute 29 of the desperados. Bishop Tuttle reports, “I do not see how the wholesome work could have been done any other way.”
I’ve probably told you before, Bishop Tuttle is a bit of a hero of mine… I kind of like the way he thinks. It seems to me that the type of justice that was served was a lot different back then. Where as today we try and protect the rights of the criminals.. it seems that back then we protected the rights of the innocent. It seems that we had the right idea about what justice actually was supposed to be. Now a commentary on the ills of the justice system is not a road I’m prepared to go down today, but this idea of justice is.
In the Old Testament.. especially when you get into the parts about the Law.. God is very exact and swift in what He considers justice. For example, “if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.”.. or .. “anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death.”.. and on and on the list goes. The penalty for a crime is not always death, but there really seems to be know gray area on what the penalty might be… but there is another word that appears in Holy Scripture that balances out this exacting Law of God.. and that word is “mercy.”… time and time again the Psalmist cries for mercy, “Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.”.. or.. “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.”
How do justice and mercy work together.. David committed adultery with Bathsheba.. and Leviticus 20:10 declares, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”.. very simple.. Yet, neither David nor Bathsheba were put to death.. and we find out partly why in Psalm 51, David cried to God for mercy, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” God’s justice condemned David to death.. God’s mercy saved him.
This summer we once again brought Shakespeare in the Park to Anaconda and the play performed was the
Merchant of Venice. In the play, Antonio the merchant makes a deal for a loan of money with Shylock… In the event that he is unable to repay on time Antonio agrees to put up a pound of his flesh for collateral.. Well it is Shakespeare and Antonio is unable to pay on time. Shylock calls for justice.. he calls for his pound of flesh.. and even though other arrangements can be made – up to three times the amount borrowed being returned to Shylock – he still refuses.. he demands justice.. his pound of flesh. It is then that we have one of the most famous speeches on justice and mercy given by the young woman Portia who is posing as a lawyer…
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest:
it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice …
That, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy.
We have no means to live in the face of God’s righteous and perfect justice… none of us would have salvation if His justice were meted out as the Law requires.. but as the Apostle James declares, “
Mercy triumphs over judgment.”… to that verse St. Chrysostom responded by saying, Mercy “breaks chains, dispels darkness, extinguishes fire, kills the worm and takes away the gnashing of teeth. By it the gates of heaven open with the greatest of ease.. In short.. mercy is a queen…”.. and mercy has a name – Jesus.
The question then is not whether God’s judgment is just.. or whether or not he extends His great mercy to us… the answer is “yes” to both… the question is how do we go from one to the other? How do we go from being the rightful recipients of his exact and swift judgments.. to those who are blessed by his great mercy?
Our Gospel today provides the answer… A Canaanite – a gentile woman came to Jesus and began.. not speaking.. but shouting at him, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”.. when that didn’t work, she ran forward and knelt before him saying, “Lord, help me.”… she even willingly accepted the label “dog” from Jesus – he was not trying to be cruel in calling her that, but only making a point to those around him by playing to their preconceived ideas about who this woman was… He called her a dog just as they would have expected him to call her a dog.. but then he did the UNexpected… He showed mercy.
To go from being under God’s righteous judgment to receiving his limitless mercy is such a simple thing.. all it takes is kneeling before Jesus.. and saying.. “Have mercy on me… Help me”.. and in that one simple act you will turn away God’s wrath and receive His mercy…
Consider this parable of Jesus… “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The tax collector bowed before God and called for mercy.. and Jesus says that he went away justified – made right, before God. Such a simple thing… and perhaps the most difficult thing you will ever do…. “I’m no dog! I’m no tax collector! I may not be a saint, but God will be lucky to have me in Heaven.. and if not.. well that’s fine too.. I’ll give my pound of flesh and go on about my way.”… Thing is.. your pound of flesh is not enough to make you justified before God… It is Jesus’ flesh – his and his alone – that makes you justified.. that imparts God’s mercy on us… If there were another way, I would be happy to share it with you, but there is not… If you are not convince of that.. then I would encourage you pray before a crucifix and ask yourself the question, “If there had been another way, would Jesus have had to endure this.”
Let us pray… Saviour, Majestic Redeemer of mankind, through Your kindness and forgiveness, You secured what was rightfully Yours. Having sinned against Your greatness, lured away by the prince of darkness, Your mercy released us from bondage. Grant us the insight of this great mercy, that we may understand the sinful nature and be as merciful as Your Holy Grace.
Merciful Lord, anchor our souls to Heaven, never letting them out of Your sight, ensuring our eternal presence with You! Amen.