More Than You Can Ask or Imagine

St. Mark 7:24-37

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse

Trinity Season 2007

St. Paul ends his discussion of the greatness of God’s grace in the Gospel with this ascription of praise: “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20). In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican we learned that we are not sufficient of ourselves. Today we learn that God is more than sufficient to give us more than we could ask or imagine. The Epistle declares: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God.” The Gospel tells us that the crumbs he gave to the Gentile woman were better than the steak we provide for ourselves. “He has done all things well, He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

As we hear the holy Gospel we stand in spirit at the baptismal font—we, the Gentiles, the dogs under the table, we are in that Gospel. We, the dumb and deaf, we are the ones who have been invited to come and be cleansed at the baptismal font. The Bread of the world falls from the table and fills our longing souls. So at the conclusion of this worship service, we shall come to Christ's table and receive not the crumbs but, lo and behold, Christ himself in the bread and the wine. The Physician of souls puts His fingers into our ears and upon our tongues to heal us. We become banqueters, hearers, speakers, enlightened for heaven. All the blessings of the Gospel are showered are upon us. But in order to appreciate those great blessings of the Gospel, we need first of all to think about our great poverty.

I. Our Great Poverty

We don't look as though we are particularly in poverty here this morning, even though we don't have a grand cathedral to worship in. But that is not the point that Jesus is making. It is not our external wealth that Jesus is talking about. It is our spiritual poverty that we all suffer from. The outward need is sad—the need of money, the need of clothes and what are called the necessities of life—but the real necessities of life are our inward needs, and to lack those is the deepest poverty of all. We can, you see, have plenty to eat, plenty to wear, a wonderful place to live, and then as it has been said in former days, simply be fattened up for the fires of Hell. The Lord Jesus Christ desires us to be fat in our souls that we would partake of his Gospel and be truly wealthy.

The Gentile woman knew and accepted her own poverty. She did not try to act like she was really wealthy, but she came to Jesus begging like the beggar she knew she was. Jesus was correct in saying to her she had no right to ask him for anything, and she was reduced to the impolite whining of a dog at the dinner table. Now, if you invited guests over to your house for dinner and you had a wonderful spread, candles on the table, decorations and all the rest, you would think it highly offensive to have your dinner-table conversation with your special guest interrupted by your dog whining over at the side or maybe even coming up to the guest and putting his paw up in the guest's lap and begging for what is on the table. Not only would you find it highly offensive, but I'm sure that you would take the dog into the back room and close the door. You would make the dog stay in the outer darkness while you have your wonderful banquet with your friends. You see, that was the condition this Gentile woman was in. As a Gentile, this woman had no more claim on Jesus than a pet dog has on your dinner guests. You would be quick to ban that dog from your dinner guests. The depth of her poverty was such that she would not have been surprised to be ordered from the table and put outside. She comes to Jesus and says, “Give me the crumbs that fall from the table,” and she would not have been surprised or offended, I daresay, if Jesus had said, “No, you go to the other room, and I'm going to close the door on you. Quit begging at the table.” She accepts her position, and Jesus says, “I've not seen such great faith, even in Israel.”

The second person in this Gospel, the deaf and dumb man could not even ask for help. At least the Gentile woman could ask for help, but the deaf and dumb man could not ask for help, he was so poor physically and spiritually. And he could not even hear and make the appropriate response if Jesus had happened to ask him if he wanted any help. He was entirely dependent on his friends, and had no ability to help himself. That man is like all of the spiritually poor who are deaf to the voice of conscience, to the call of God’s Spirit, God’s Gospel, and God’s Son. By nature, left to ourselves, in our sins, we all are deaf. By nature we all are also mute, that is, unable and even unwilling to cry out to God and ask for help. We are also, by nature, in our sins, opposed to prayer, confession, and praise. Far from coming and confessing our sins openly and honestly, we justify ourselves. We say, “I'm not any worse than anybody else. I don't need to confess anything. I don't need to humble myself and come before God and ask for his pleasure, his forgiveness.” No, we are silent to God, we are silent for God and about God. We have no desire or ability to communicate with God. By nature we are closed and shut in, with nothing open in all our spiritual nature, and living in dreary isolation towards God and man. Communion and fellowship are cut off by sin and must be restored by Jesus.

If we were to stop with that and go home, you'd say, “Well, that was a terrible way to spend the morning, being told how poor and spiritually unable I am. I don't think I'll go back to that church again.” So I want to turn now to Christ's great wealth. You see, the Lord Jesus doesn't leave us there. He doesn't come to beat us up to make us feel bad as if there was something virtuous about going away with your tail between your legs. No, the Lord Jesus comes and gives us His great wealth.

II. Christ’s Great Wealth

St. Paul says, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Phi1 4:19). That is the point of the Gospel, to lead us always and in everything to give glory to God. None of the glory belongs to us. If we look only at ourselves, we only see our great poverty. We only see that we are the poor dogs under the table who should be thrown out. But all the glory be to God, he has invited us to the rich feast of the Gospel banquet.

When the Gentile woman declared her satisfaction with the crumbs from the table, Jesus gave her far more than she could have ever expected or imagined. Had he refused her completely, she would have had no reason to complain. She could only say, “Well, I didn't really expect anything. He didn't owe me anything. I go away with the same thing I came with.” But you see, Jesus gives her more than she could imagine or ask. Had he given her less than she asked for, she would have had no reason to object. But Jesus treated her not as a child sitting at the table—for that would have been better than she could expect; she might have hoped that he would let her be the child sitting at the table and not the dog under the table—but Jesus makes her the honored guest.

For the deaf man Christ removes all the impediments to the enjoyment of life and of God. He takes the man aside to direct his attention completely and solely to himself. Then he touches the place of need, the deaf ear and the silent tongue. This man had no request, at least none that he could express. He couldn't ask for anything. He couldn't even hear that it was Jesus who was there. He wasn't even sure who this was who was manipulating his ears and his tongue. Christ shows the greatness of his grace by acting upon one who does not ask, who cannot ask.

We learn from these two miracles that Christ’s grace is proportionate to our needs, and not merely to our prayers. His grace seeks us even when we do not seek him. Christ's grace gives where it was not asked; it knocks where no door has been opened. How much more, then, will grace give when we ask, when we seek, and when we knock! As the multitude said, “He has done all things well.”

In Ephesians 3 and Philippians 4, after St. Paul has described the wealth of God’s grace in salvation, he breaks out in praise to God: “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” And then he says, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” So, what are you supposed to do with that?

The only proper response for us to make when we know the wealth of God’s grace to us is to ascribe glory to him in his church. We, who were heathen dogs by birth, are invited—no, not invite; the Lord Jesus Christ commands us to come in and partake of the Lord's Supper. We are commanded to come to Christ’s table to receive not crumbs, but the very Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God our Father, who has not withheld from us his own dear Son, will with him freely give us all things.

So, what is your need today? What are your desires today? Have you been taught in the Gospel to bring your needs and desires to God? Jesus shows us here in the way he treats these two people in the Gospel and by the way he instructs his apostle, Paul, to tell us in the epistle. We learn that Christ desires to give us what we need and what we want. And so the Lord Jesus Christ fills all our needs in his holy Gospel. Let us then respond in gratitude by coming to this Holy Eucharist and partaking of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.