The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 15: 21 “And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.’ 24 But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ 26 And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once. (NASB)
For more than 40 years now our school systems, mental health industry, media and entertainment industries, and the church itself has been indoctrinating two generations into a way of thinking that is simply contrary to every pious example we have in Holy Scripture. It is the language of “self-esteem” and a “me first” egoism. Self, self, self, me, me, me, and I deserve this or I deserve that have devastated at least three real virtues, namely faith, humility, and thankfulness. In this morning’s Gospel lesson we have an example of these three virtues, especially in regard to how a person ought to come into the presence of the Son of God.
A Canaanite woman approached Jesus with a request for help. It is a request any mother or father would have if they found their son or daughter in the same situation. The problem was is that the woman is a Canaanite and as such was not included in the Old Testament covenant by virtue of their bloodline. In the eyes of the average Hebrew Jew of Jesus’ day, Canaanites were unclean pagans, who in Old Testament times were the sworn enemies of the Hebrews and who went made war against the Hebrews on a pretty regular basis. So the Canaanite woman was about as far an outsider when it came to all things Jewish and Hebrew as she could be.
Being an outsider can be, and often is humiliating. You have to earn your way to the inside and sometimes there isn’t anything that can be done to work your way inside. The Canaanite woman was an outsider and an undesirable. Yet, she approaches the most famous rabbi and Jew of her day. See seeks Jesus out because her daughter is demon possessed. She pleads to Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
So far business as usual in the day and the life of Jesus. What sets this event apart from every other encounter is how Jesus handled her. At first He seemingly ignores here. 23 “He did not answer her a word.”
There was always a word. When spoken to, Jesus answered, even when confronted by self-righteous men who had no interest in the answer, Jesus spoke the Law. When dealing with the sick, He spoke words of healing. When confronted by the contrite He spoke words of absolution. In this case, there is only silence.
In one of Luther’s sermons he said, “If such a staggering blow had hit our hearts, we probably would have succumbed and given up on prayer. For it is no joke when conscience tells us, ‘You have no right to pray; you don’t belong to Christ. Let St. Paul and St. Peter pray, but our Lord God won’t listen to you; you have no faith, are probably not among the elect, and not worthy to be eligible for and deserving of stepping before God to ask for anything.’ With such thoughts and troubling doubts, the devil assaults and jabs at us.’”
Contrary to what would be normally done, the Canaanite kept after Jesus. She kept on pleading to the point that the disciples were getting annoyed. So the disciples enter their own plea. They went to Jesus and said, “Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.”
At first glance it appears that Jesus is sympathetic to the disciple’s position in the matter. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The disciples probably smiled and nodded in agreement, “Yea, that’s right.” I am sure if the Canaanite would didn’t hear Jesus Himself speak the line, the disciples certainly let her know.
But she wouldn’t take no for the answer. She forces her way to him and “bow[ed] down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!”
The first petition was met with silence. The second was met by a statement that seemed to exclude the Canaanites from any response from God. Now she bows down in an act of worship and pleads again. Jesus’s the third reply is the harshest of the three.
“It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” It is as if she has baited Jesus into a wrestling match. He seeks to get free. She seeks to keep Him engaged. We seen this type of thing before in the wrestling match between Jacob and God in the book of Genesis. Jacob won’t let God go until God blessed him.
Abraham has to come to grips with the fact that God demand that Abraham sacrifice of his only son Isaac. Job doesn’t understand why he is being put through such a horrible set of circumstances. “Why?” God’s reply is bone rattling. We read it a couple of Sundays ago. Job 38 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. . .Who set its measurements? Or who stretched the line on it? Who laid its cornerstone, 8 “Or who enclosed the sea with doors . . . I placed boundaries on it.”
The Canaanite woman won’t let go of Jesus until He blesses her daughter by driving out the demon. In this wrestling Jesus speaks a tough truth to her. “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She counters with another truth. “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
The Cannanite woman “wins.” She “pins” Jesus. She doesn’t say she is just as good as any Jew. She doesn’t say she is entitled to His attention. She doesn’t make an argument that she is a good mother and wife. She doesn’t even argue that her daughter is an innocent bystander and doesn’t deserve to be passed over.
She answers her Lord’s seeming rejection, by a acknowledging her standing, her unworthiness. Just as we ask those who enter these doors to do when we come to Holy Communion. We read in the Large Catechism, “If, therefore, you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, then go joyfully to this Sacrament and obtain refreshment, consolation, and strength. For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away.”
There is nothing in us, in ourselves that make us worthy to receive God’s grace and forgiveness, blessing, except faith in Jesus’s work and words. The Canaanite woman understood this, thus her reply.
She confesses. Again Luther, her faith “takes Christ captive in His Word. . . ‘You say,’ the woman responds, ‘that I am a dog. Let it be. I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog.’ Thus, she catches Christ with His own words, and He is happy to be caught. ‘Very well,’ she says, ‘if I am a dog, I ask no more than a dog’s rights. I am not a child, nor am I of Abraham’s seed, but you are a rich Lord and set a lavish table. Give Your children the bread and a place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or ever miss, the crumbs, and I will be content therewith. So she catches Christ, the Lord, in His own words and with that wins not only the right of a dog, but also that of the children. Now then, where will He go, our dear Jesus? He let Himself be made captive, and must comply. Be sure of this: that’s what He most deeply desires.”
The One who first greeted her with silence, then with seeming rejection, and with a rebuke, now says of her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.”
She believes Jesus to be the Lord and Savior. She wants what only He can give. Freedom to those who are oppressed, healing to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dying and dead. She desires only God’s favor upon her request and her household and she believes the Lord Jesus will give it to her. And so He does. They have wrestled and Jesus yields to her faith and as Luther said, He was happy to do so.
You have been born of the same faith as the Cannanite woman. By faith you have been made a child of God, not a dog. The same faith that originated in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ Himself was poured into you in the water and the Word. It is the same faith that took Him to the cross on your behalf. And it is the same faith, the faith that persists, the faith that preserves, that faith that can’t help but trust in Christ, the faith that prays, and it is the same faith that will take you to your everlasting home.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.