Matthew 15:21-28 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“From Scraps to Feast”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 16, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for today recorded in Matthew 15:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Who are you? In any good story, movie, or book, one that you really get into, one in which you’re caught up in the drama, you see yourself as one of the characters in that story. Who are you in this account between Jesus and the Canaanite woman? A woman’s child is demon possessed. She’s suffering terribly. Her mother is desperate. The mother hears Jesus is passing nearby, and she goes to him. She cries for help. It’s the cry of a mother who will do anything to save her child. But Jesus doesn’t even answer her. His disciples treat her poorly: “Send her away!” The mother is making so much noise it’s embarrassing, and she’s getting on the disciples’ nerves. When Jesus does say something, He tells her He will only help the people of Israel, not some foreigner like her.
Silence, rejection, exclusion, yet the woman doesn’t give up. Now she kneels before Jesus and begs. It’s a heartbreaking scene. Surely Jesus will do something now. But no, He tells the woman it’s not right to help her instead of the people of Israel. He even calls her a dog. But the woman presses on, asking for one of the crumbs that come from the table of a dog’s master. Now Jesus does what we expect Him to do. He heals the child and commends the woman for her faith.
Who are you in this incident? I doubt many of you would say you’re the disciples. They just want to get rid of the woman. Nor do we resonate with Jesus. He seems to be out of character. He seems uncaring, prejudiced, even mean. The demon-possessed daughter? No, we don’t know her well enough. But the woman, the mother, the parent—yes, that’s who’d I see myself to be in this situation. I would think the same is true for most of you.
But wait, are you sure you want to see yourself in that way? I mean, what the woman does is so foreign to us as Americans, so different from the way we live as proud and independent people. Look closely.
She comes to Jesus begging for help She has to cry out, yell at Jesus, just to get His attention. Over and over she’s calling to Him for mercy. That’s not for us. If we don’t get served right away, we take our business elsewhere. We have no patience for someone who won’t answer us. We’ll walk away and look somewhere else for answers. And we certainly wouldn’t embarrass ourselves in front of others by asking for help.
What’s more, even after Jesus gives her the silent treatment, even after Jesus says He shouldn’t help her because He’s been sent to the people of Israel, she still comes and kneels before Him. And she doesn’t ague with Jesus. That’s not us. We like to think of ourselves as special people. We see ourselves as insiders, who deserve the best. It’s like a bumper sticker said, “Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite.” That’s more our attitude.
Yet, it gets worse. The woman is called a dog. Back then, a dog was not seen as favorable as today. Dogs could be house pets, but they were seen as inferior, lowly creatures, and even treated with some contempt. The woman accepts that position! She sees herself as a lowly, miserable creature, unworthy to be asking Jesus anything. That’s not us. We have our self-esteem. We are proud. No way would we see ourselves as dogs. No way would we see ourselves as people who don’t deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Don’t call us dogs!
And one more thing. The woman is content with crumbs. She’d be happy if Jesus just agave her a scrap. It didn’t have to be much or the best, just this one favor. “Just help my daughter.” That’s all she was looking for. And that’s not us. We’d never settle for crumbs. No, we want everything super-sized. We’re not happy with just food; we want a supermarket, a super-center to buy whatever groceries we desire. Not just a place to live, but a dream home, made over to be the envy of the neighbors. Then there was the church that put in cup holders in the pews so that those who come to church have a place to put their coffee. No, we wouldn’t be satisfied with crumbs, table scraps in life.
Who are you? Do you still see yourself as the woman in this scene? It’s not quite as easy to do that anymore, is it? I find it hard to be so humble, so needy, so unworthy, so contemptible. Do you and I see ourselves as dogs who have to beg for table scraps?
We should! Why? Because look what happened when the woman accepted the reality that she was unworthy of anything Jesus would do for her. She knew her only hope was to beg for mercy from Jesus, humbly, and as no more than a dog looking for table scraps. And Jesus commends her. He is pleased with her humble faith. He praises her for holding onto Him even when it seemed hopeless.
Who are you? We need to be the woman who holds on to Jesus in humble faith. Why? Because did you notice who the enemy was in this story? It was Satan. It was a demonic possession: “O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” No way the woman could do battle with that enemy. And neither can we. Only Jesus can defeat Satan. And that’s precisely the super-sized help Jesus wants to give us in our lives. No mere crumbs, but a super-sized victory over the demonic realm.
Near Effingham, Illinois, just off the intersection of Interstates 57 and 70, stands a silver cross. You can’t help but see it. It towers over the road 198 feet high. It’s been placed there witness silently to all drivers what Jesus did for His disciples, for the Canaanite woman, for the lost sheep of Israel, for everyone, even those of us who are unworthy of even a table scrap from Jesus. Only, the cross for Jesus was smaller, wooden, and at a place where He was treated with utter contempt. In that battle with Satan, it appears Jesus was the loser. He dies. He is buried. But Jesus will not go down in defeat to satanic forces. No, He will rise again on Easter Sunday. When Jesus gets rid of the demon in this woman’s daughter, it was just a preview of our Lord getting rid of the enemy’s power over our lives. When He rose from the dead, Jesus defeated all those forces of evil, and He super-sized all sorts of blessings for us. Forget about crumbs, leftovers, and table scraps. Instead, these blessings come from Jesus’ table: Forgiveness—huge! Heaven—enormous! Salvation—tremendous! All are super-sized for us.
The woman called Jesus “Lord” and humbly knelt before Him. She knew who she was, and she knew what He could do for her. She asked for a table scrap as a dog, but she received a place at the table with super-sized blessings for her and her daughter. And the same is true for us too. We humbly ask for Jesus’ blessings, even though we do not deserve them. Nevertheless, the wafer is received into our mouths. A sip of wine touches the tongue. Jesus’ very Body and Blood are present, and those are not leftover scraps. “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Take and drink. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” Super-sized blessings indeed! Amen.