Pentecost 10 – August 17th, 2014Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, Proper 15: Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8; Romans 11; Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The disciples, who are supposed to assist Jesus in showing mercy to others, are embarrassed. Either they’re embarrassed for the woman because she is annoying and needs to be sent away, or embarrassed by Jesus because he isn’t living up to their messianic expectations.Jesus, an Israelite, is beyond the borders of Galilee. A Jewish rabbi is going out to spend time in Gentile territory, to seek out Gentiles and save them just as Isaiah prophesied while the Pharisees are still having a food fight about what defiles a person. The Pharisees blinded themselves to Jesus. And who is it that sees? In Matthew 15 it’s a woman.
She’s a Canaanite. Canaanites were Gentiles, idolaters, enemies of Israel and God. She knows all this. She knows a Canaanite woman has no business talking to a Jewish rabbi. But she has nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to. She’s desperate. Her daughter has a demon. And though she may not be able to articulate why or how, she knows Jesus can help. She’s heard the strange accounts of healing and miracles. So she comes with all boldness and confidence.“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David...”
These are strange words coming from the lips of a Canaanite. “Son of David” is Israelite talk. This is the language of the faithful expecting the promised Messiah. She has no right to address Jesus this way.
But isn’t that how it is for us? That we – who have no right to claim any favor from God; God gives us the right to be called sons of God. That’s the promise of Holy Baptism. We were gentiles, idolaters, and enemies of God by birth and deed. And God throws you into the water, cleanses, and gives you a new identity. We’re transformed and given the faith of Abraham. That is how we pray Our Father in all boldness and confidence as dear children ask their dear father.And though she has no right to do so, the Canaanite woman prays the same way.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”We’re not told how the demon came to oppress her daughter and torment her house. Could’ve been years of false worship to a false god. False teaching invites demons. But one way or another, her house had become a beachhead for demons.
It’s a word of caution. As Jesus warned the Pharisees and disciples earlier in chapter 15, we’re defiled by the evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander that come out of our sinful heart. Sin is more than a flesh wound; it’s deadly and specific: gossiping about our fellow members, coveting our neighbor, pornography, drunkenness, even those little grudges we all have. Repent: do not return like a dog to its vomit. Keep watch. And pray: Lord, have mercy.And what is Jesus’ reaction to this Canaanite woman’s petition? Silence. Perhaps that’s why the disciples ask him to do something. “Give her what she wants and send her away, Lord.” Problem is we’re not told why he’s silent. Just as we’re not told why our prayers seem to be met with silence at times. There’s no use in psychoanalyzing Jesus or trying to say more than the text says. Jesus is silent. But don’t take Jesus’ silence as his absence. Look what his silence reveals.
Jesus’ silence reveals his disciples’ embarrassment. Either they’re embarrassed for the woman’s sake and want her quickly dealt with and sent away. She’s a bother, a nuisance, and don’t forget, a Gentile. Or they’re embarrassed by Jesus himself; he’s not acting the way they think a good little Messiah should act.Jesus’ silence reveals something deeper in the woman. She is persistent. She does not leave. Even as Jesus breaks his silence saying:
I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She is a CanaaniteYet this woman will not give up. Like Jacob she wrestles with God and will not let Christ go without a blessing. She will not take Jesus’ silence for an answer. She comes closer to Jesus. She falls at his feet. She touches her face to the dirt. She is humble. She worships Jesus as a lowly beggar before the great king. Now she drops all pretenses, loses the “Son of David” Israelite accent, and speaks out of her brokenness.
Lord, help me.We pray the same way. O Lord, I am a sinner. I am a beggar. Apart from you I have no good thing. Lord, help me.
And Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”There’s no way to soften these words. Jesus’ words are plain and blunt. It was no nicer to call someone a dog in the first century than it is today. Maybe it’s dangerous to ask Jesus to speak because he might say what we don’t want to hear from him: the truth.
But even more shocking than the truth is that the woman agrees.Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.
Yes, Lord. I am a dog. Yes, Lord. I am a beggar. Yes, Lord; I am a sinner. You’re right about me. She sees her own unworthiness. And yet she sees in Jesus something which she can cling to.“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!” (Matthew 15:27). Yes, Lord, even Rahab, the Canaanite, Rahab the prostitute, that Gentile dog, turned to the Lord for mercy and found it. Isn’t that Canaanite, Rahab, your own great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother? Yes, Lord, dogs don’t deserve to sit at the table with Abraham’s sons. But wasn’t Naaman, the Syrian, cleansed with water and healed, so others would know that a prophet was living in Israel?
Yes, Lord. You’re right about me, Jesus. I am a poor miserable, mangy mutt of a sinner. And yet He cleanses you from all sin. Your Baptism is a divine flee bath, flooding all sin in you which you have inherited from Adam and which you have committed since.This Canaanite woman catches Christ with his own word, and he is happy to be caught (Luther). She holds onto his words knowing that God’s business is feeding his people. She does not want the children’s bread. She wants food straight from the source, the Master of the Table, Jesus himself.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of the wicked.Better to be a dog in the house of the Lord than to be a chew toy for demons.
The Canaanite woman was content to receive a crumb. One crumb of God’s grace is more than enough for us. One crumb of Jesus’ mercy is more than enough to end the starvation of our sin and send the demons running. But it is not enough for Jesus.Jesus gives more than a crumb, to this Canaanite woman and to you. He gives you himself. Jesus became the outsider and the dog for you. He became sin and death for you. He died for idolaters and blasphemers and sinners like you and me and that Canaanite woman. He died in humility in order to raise you up and seat you at his table, not as dogs under the table or even as children, but as his beloved bride.
Jesus feeds you with the best food, the bread of life, his very own body. And the choicest wine: his blood shed for you. Where we would settle for a crumb, Christ gives a feast.“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
By faith in Christ this woman is no longer a dog. She is not lost. She is a member of new Israel, Christ’s holy bride: spotless. Clean. Undefiled. Without blemish. Pure. Holy.Jesus makes the same promise to you. You are no longer dogs or Gentiles. The stain of your idolatry is wiped clean by his blood. The defilement of our lusting, coveting, gossiping, sinful hearts is cleansed. Jesus died for you. He became your sin so that you would be his bride. You are spotless. Holy. Clean. Undefiled. Without blemish. Pure. Holy.
Rejoice! The demons are on the run. Sin and death are defeated. Christ, your Master feeds you. You are at peace. Rejoice with the Canaanite woman in the gift of great faith that clings to Jesus’ greater salvation for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.