Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Passage: Matthew 15:21–15:28
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Date: August 20th, 2017; Pentecost 11; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
A Canaanite woman approached Jesus with a problem – her daughter had been possessed by a demon and she was suffering terribly.
It’s hard not to be sympathetic. When we see children suffering our hearts not only go out to the child, but also to the parents.
The Canaanite woman must have tried anything and everything to help her daughter - but nothing worked. The situation must have seemed hopeless to her.
She heard about a man who was visiting the region who had apparently performed many miracles.
So, in utter desperation, she approached him and cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22).
Calling Jesus “Son of David” was another way of identifying him as the promised Messiah.
In that day and age it was quite something for a Canaanite woman to approach Jesus like this.
At that time a woman would never approach a man in public - it was simply not culturally acceptable.
Even more, a Canaanite person would never approach a Jewish person without causing an incident.
I suppose the tension between the two groups was similar to the conflict between the Palestinian and Jewish people today - but even worse!
But this woman was far more concerned with helping her daughter than she was worried about cultural convention or etiquette.
So, she approached the Messiah and cried out “have mercy on me.”
And Jesus’ response to her is shocking. It’s certainly not what we expect.
Up to this point, Jesus had helped and healed many people who cried out to him for mercy.
But his response to this woman’s plea - was silence. He did not answer her.
Even worse, the disciples came over to the scene and begged Jesus to just give her what she wants and send her away. She was a nuisance!
Again, Jesus responds in a very surprising way. He said to his disciples, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
In other words, because this woman was not an Israelite, she (nor her daughter), were not part of the group that he had come to save. Sorry. Tough luck.
But, again, the woman persists! “Lord, help me!” she cried out (Matthew 15:25).
And Jesus’ response this time is even more shocking. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matthew 15:26).
By implication, Jesus called her a “dog” and essentially said to her, “You are not a child of Israel - I am not here to help your kind!”
He responds in such a harsh and brutal manner.
So, why does Jesus respond like this? Why does he speak such seemingly cold hearted words to her?
This doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know, does it?
Well, for starters, he said them because they are true!
This Canaanite woman was not one of the lost sheep of Israel.
It’s true that God’s original Gospel promise back in the book of Genesis pledged to provide salvation for all nations of the earth, that is, for all humanity - regardless of skin colour, culture, or race.
But it is also true that God’s plan of salvation would be accomplished by the Messiah descended from Israel and sent specifically to fulfill the history and calling of Israel.
The Canaanite woman wasn't part of the nation of Israel, so she had no claim to it.
She did not deserve any mercy or favour from Jesus.
And you know what? Neither do we.
The way that Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman was shocking, and not nice, and certainly not politically correct - but it was the truth.
And what I am about to say may also be a bit shocking, and not nice, or politically correct - but it is the truth.
We are all dogs. None of us deserve anything good from God. He owes us nothing.
In fact what we are owed, what we deserve, is death and eternal punishment.
Each Sunday, the Divine Service puts us in the doghouse when we confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner.”
We might think that we are nice and pious and holy people, but God’s Law demands perfection. God’s Law demands that we stumble not even once.
Because of our sinful nature, because of our sinful actions – each and every one of us deserves to spend eternity separated from God.
We don’t like to hear this, but it is the truth.
The truth is that we are no more entitled to, or deserving of, salvation than the Canaanite woman was.
Again, Jesus’ shocking sounding response to her plea was, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matthew 15:26).
Even these harsh sounding words wouldn’t stop her. She acknowledged that what Jesus said was true. She said, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their Master's table” (Matthew 15:27).
In other words, she said, "Yes, Lord, I am a dog. I am unworthy to stand before you. I am a sinner. But I come to you not on my own merits, but for your grace and mercy. I know that you are gracious and merciful, eager to forgive, and that you have entered this fallen world, taken on my nature, to save me and my daughter. I know that the “Son of David” - the Messiah - comes to seek and to save the lost – the lost of all nations.”
In faith, the Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus for grace and mercy. And that’s what she got. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire,’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28).
And so it is with us. Yes, we are sinners who are like the Canaanite woman because we are not by birthright God’s people.
But God changed this through our Baptism. He claimed us, adopted us, and made us his own.
We, who once had no right to sit at our Lord’s Table, are now invited to his Holy Supper.
And at this Holy Supper we don’t just receive the crumbs that fall from the master’s table – no, we receive our Lord’s true body and true blood. This is food that forgives us, nourishes us, and promises eternal life.
We, who were conceived and born in sin and death, have been embraced in the death and life of Jesus.
Scripture calls it “grace” – undeserved kindness from the heart of God to the least, the lost, the dirty dead “dog” of a sinner - all for Christ’s sake.
And in Jesus, baptized and believing in him, we are no longer dirty dogs.
Now you are children of Abraham, sons and daughters of God, with a place at the Master’s table for eternity. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.