Matthew 15:21-28 (10th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 15)
“Give It to the Dogs”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 17, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in Matthew 15:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
She was a woman and not only a Gentile, but also a Canaanite. She was a member of the ancient and idolatrous enemies of God’s people in the Promised Land. A female Canaanite should be one of the least likely people to prompt mercy from Jesus and the most unlikely to acknowledge Jesus’ true identity. And yet, she does both. This morning I’d like us to consider how you and I are like this unnamed Canaanite woman who came to Jesus asking for mercy from the Lord, the Son of David.
Let’s begin with her identification by Matthew. “Look,” he writes, “a Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon came out and began to cry, ‘Have mercy on me.’” Again, Canaanite identifies her as a Gentile, not Jewish. She is a part of the nations, the ethnicities of the world. She is not a member of the house of Israel. She is not a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are like this woman in that we, too, are Gentiles. We are part of the nations, the ethnicities of the world, and not members of the house of Israel. According to the flesh, you and I are not descendants of the Patriarchs. We are not part of the children of Israel.
Right here we find ourselves on the same footing as this woman. She was from the region of Tyre and Sidon, north of Galilee. We are from the region of Enfield in the State of Connecticut. She lived in the First Century; we live in the 21st. Yet, we share this in common. We are Gentiles. That’s not such a big deal, is it? Actually it is. It was to the children of Israel (Jacob’s other name), that God promised to be their God and that they would be His people. It was to the children of Israel that the promise of the Messiah was given. The Messiah, the Christ, would be, according to the flesh, a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He would be the Son of David, who would rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom forever.
There’s no Gentile Messiah here. There was no Messiah promised to the Canaanites. In fact, the Canaanites were supposed to be wiped out entirely by the armies of Israel when Joshua led them into the Promised Land. For my devotions I’m currently reading through the Book of Joshua. It says in summary, “Joshua conquered the whole region … with all their kings, leaving no survivors. He completely destroyed every living being, as Yahweh, the God of Israel, had commanded.” (Joshua 10:41) Yet we also read that there were instances where God’s people failed to destroy everyone. As history would show, the Israelites themselves forsook God and went after the false gods of the Canaanites, like Baal, leading ultimately to Israel’s unbelief, disobedience, and exile. Those Canaanites who were spared became the descendants of this Canaanite woman, a reminder to Israel that they had failed to obey the Lord and to wipe out this idolatrous people from the land.
Thus we have a Gentile Canaanite woman coming to Jesus, the Jewish Teacher and Messiah. She, like us, has no claim to rights to do this. He’s not her Messiah. And Jesus confirms this to the disciples who ask Him to do what she wants and then send her away because she’s annoying them to death with her constant crying after Jesus. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He had come to give bread to feed the children, to feed Israel, and it is not good, not in accordance with God’s plan, to give what, by divine right, belongs to Israel. In Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and miracles, Israel’s God was again, this time in the flesh, feeding His ungrateful, uncomprehending people. Jesus had said to the disciples in John 4 this very thing, “I have food to eat that you do not know about … My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:32, 34 ESV) Later, Jesus would tell the crowd after the feeding of the 5000, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh … For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:48-55 ESV) But it was first for the children of Israel. Gentiles like the Canaanite women, indeed, you and I, were not given to eat the Children’s bread.
Our response might be, “Humph! Well, that’s not fair!” Why isn’t it fair? God’s playing according to the rules. The promise was for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants. The Messiah was to be Israel’s Messiah. The Canaanite woman, who might be expected to act in huff, doesn’t. She wasn’t offended. She wasn’t discouraged. She didn’t go away mad, saying, “What a jerk that Jesus is!” She speaks and shows her faith in Israel’s Messiah and agrees with Him. “Yes, Lord! You are absolutely right! It would be bad indeed to try to deny or contradict God’s plan to save His ancient people Israel. You are Israel’s Messiah, and the bread you give belongs to the children. I agree and believe, and don’t want the children’s bread, because when the children eat, the dogs also get to eat, don’t they? The bread of the Messiah is so abundant and overflowing that parts of it fall from the table onto the floor. Everyone should know that—I know that. And the crumbs are enough for me and my daughter. We need nothing more than the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”
Great was her faith, indeed! Oh that you and I would be people of such a faith as this Canaanite woman. She didn’t complain about God’s fairness. She accepted it. And more, she trusted it. For somehow this woman also knew that there would be crumbs for her and every other Gentile sinner the world over! In the original Gospel promise that we read in both Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Savior, being the Seed of the Woman, and in Genesis 12:1-3, the promise that through the Seed of Abraham, all the families of the earth would be blessed, God pledged salvation for all the children of Eve and all the nations of earth, for all humanity. Yet, that salvation would be accomplished by the Messiah descended from Israel, according to the flesh, Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, and sent specifically to fulfill the history and calling of Israel. And there are crumbs!
There are crumbs of forgiveness, crumbs of life and salvation that Jesus Christ, the true Bread of Heaven, drops from His banqueting table just for you and me. “Take, eat. This is My Body given for you.” “Take, drink. This is My Blood shed for you.” “Eat My flesh and drink My blood by faith as you read and hear the Good News of forgiveness and life proclaimed to you in the Gospel.” “My death on the cross, the giving up of My flesh into death and the shedding of My blood to pay for your sins, is for the life of the whole world. There is bread for the children, yes. But there are crumbs in abundance for the rest. More than the 12 basketfuls of broken pieces are surely yours in the crumbs of salvation that I give to you.”
And in those crumbs we find Jesus’ gifts. He bestows on us God the Holy Spirit who created faith and trust in our hearts to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and so receive from Him by grace through faith forgiveness and everlasting life. We receive faith in Jesus so that we can boldly approach Him with all of our requests, just like the Canaanite woman. As we present our prayers and supplications, our wants and needs before His gracious throne, we know that even a crumb of mercy is more than enough. We don’t need the whole loaf of bread because crumbs of the Lord’s grace are more than sufficient. In fact, even crumbs of faith are enough for us Gentiles to trust and to receive the saving and redeeming gifts of Christ.
A female Canaanite should have been one of the least likely people to prompt mercy from Jesus and the most unlikely to acknowledge His true identity. But she did both. By grace through faith, so do we. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I approach Jesus in faith, confessing Him to be Lord and Savior. And we ask Him in that same faith even for simple crumbs of mercy, for help in our times of need. And by His grace alone, He gives us crumbs and more, His gracious love in the forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life. He gives us mercy that is completely sufficient for us. In Christ, we don’t lack anything, especially because He has now invited us to come up off of the floor with the dogs and join Him at His banquet table of grace and mercy, forgiveness and life. Come, let us eat together this day the Bread of Life and drink from His hand the Cup of life at His Table. Amen.