Matthew 15:21-28 (Pentecost 11A)

Rev. Alan Taylor / General

Sunday, August 16, 2020

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from

our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

This morning’s message is based on the Gospel reading

from Matthew 15. It’s the story of a Canaanite woman

who found herself in desperate straights. Her daughter

was severely oppressed by a demon. No mention is

made in the passage of a husband, so, perhaps she was

also widowed as well, which would have made her even

more destitute and desperate. At any rate, she comes to

Jesus asking Him for mercy. She doesn’t want Him to

give her wealth, or health or happiness. No, she simply

wants mercy. And so, she cries out, “have mercy on me,

O Lord, Son of David.” The humility in her cry is

evident. She doesn’t even consider herself worthy of

Jesus’ goodness. She cries out with all of the pain of a

mother who has to watch her daughter suffer day in

and day out in uncontrollable and unbearable agony.

 

To better understand what’s going on in this encounter

between this woman and Jesus, a brief review of the

history of the Canaanite people is helpful. The

Canaanites were a cursed people because of the deeds

of Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. After Ham

uncovered the nakedness of his father Noah, Moses

writes in the Book of Genesis, “Cursed be Canaan, a

servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” Much

of the Old Testament is about the tensions that existed

between the Israelites and the Canaanites.

 

So, the Canaanites were a cursed people. In the course

of time, the children of Israel were supposed to have

dispersed the Canaanites, that they, that is, Israel,

might inhabit their land. In fact, we are told in the

Book of Deuteronomy that, the Israelites were to have

exterminated the Canaanites. But, they didn’t. The sons

of Isaac, namely Jacob and Esau, were forbidden to

take wives from among Canaanite women, and yet,

Esau, did in fact, marry a Canaanite woman. Of Esau,

St. Paul quotes an Old Testament passage, saying, “The

older (namely, Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob).”

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 

All of this is to say that the Canaanites were most

definitely outside of the covenant and promises that

God had made early on to the house of Israel. In fact,

that entire region of the Mediterranean was inhabited

by pagans, those who were, as the apostle says

elsewhere, “separated from Christ, alienated from the

commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the

covenants of promise, having no hope and without

God in the world.”

 

And yet, here in Matthew 15, with this Canaanite

woman, we have an amazing story of faith and hope.

She came to Jesus believing that He is the Christ, the

Messiah of God. Again, her cries are not to some

itinerant faith healer. No, she cries out to her Lord, the

very Son of David. And so, what many people in Israel

failed to believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the

Living God, she believed and confessed with every fiber

of her being. She knew that, in the person of Jesus, God

had fulfilled His promise to enter the world in human

flesh and to carry in His body the sins of the world that

He might draw all people, including the people of

Canaan, unto Himself. Make no mistake, this woman

knew what she believed and she was firm in it. Jesus is

the Son of David, the long awaited Messiah, the One

God sent to crush the head of the serpent. She knew

who Jesus was and she came to Him for help. Still, she

was a Canaanite.

 

She cried out to Him, but she was met with a rather

harsh reply, both by Jesus and by His disciples. First,

Jesus ignored her. Did you catch that in v. 23? She

cried out, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of

David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a

demon.” Matthew then tells us that, “(Jesus) didn’t

answer her a word.” Stop for minute and put

yourself in her shoes. I’m gonna go out on a limb here

for a minute and assume that none of us likes to be

ignored. It’s kind of thing with us, isn’t it? In fact, we

consider it rude when someone ignores us. Imagine

this woman’s situation then. She was being ignored,

not by just anyone, but by God Himself, who came into

the world to save all people from sin and death! How

was she to be excluded from such a promise? Why

wouldn’t Jesus acknowledge her?

 

Of course, this woman isn’t the only one who has ever

felt like they were ignored by God. The Psalms are filled

with laments of people who felt the same way. They

prayed and prayed and called out to God, but heaven

seemed to be silent. “How long, O Lord (asks the

psalmist)? Will you forget me forever? How long will

you hide your face from me? How long must I take

counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all

the day?” “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor

discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O

Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my

bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled.

But you, O Lord—how long?”

 

We’ve all offered up similar prayers to God,

only to be met by what appears, by all rights, to be

silence from heaven. What are we to think and do then?

Here, Jesus ignored the cry of the woman of Canaan.

But, she persisted. Why? Because she believed Jesus

was the Son of David, and, as such, He was the very

embodiment of the mercy and grace of God! Thus, even

though He ignored her cry for help, she would not be

deterred. That particular aspect of the story reminds

me of a verse in a hymn we’ve often sung, “Jesus, I will

ponder now.”

 

“If my sins give me alarm

And my conscience grieve me,

Let Your cross my fear disarm;

Peace of conscience give me.

Help me see forgiveness won

By Your holy Passion.

If for me He slays His Son,

God MUST HAVE COMPASSION!”

 

If for me He slays His Son, God MUST HAVE

COMPASSION. After Jesus ignored the woman’s cry

for help, the disciples asked Him to send her away.

Why do you suppose they wanted Jesus to send her

away? Well, it’s really quite simple. She was bothering

them. Apparently they subscribed to the old adage that

ministry would be a great profession if it weren’t for all

the people. She was bothering them and so they wanted

Jesus to send her away! As much as their rejection of

her must have hurt her deeply, Jesus’ response, no

doubt, stung even more. “I was sent (He said) only to

the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 

 

How much more

rejection could this woman take. You see,

unfortunately, as a Canaanite, she didn’t qualify as one

of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In fact, her

people were supposed to have been exterminated,

aborted, wiped off the face of the earth!

Still, she wouldn’t be denied Jesus’ mercy, for God’s

Messiah is the God of all mercy. He is the very

embodiment of the compassion of God. “Lord, help me

(she said).” Come to my aid. Rescue me! She doesn’t

look to bargain with Jesus, to assert her worthiness, or,

her value. Rather, she simply cries out to Him for help.

It’s the proper posture of the believer in Christ toward

God, isn’t it? Lord, help me. Lord, have mercy. Lord,

save me. Lord, deliver me. Lord, forgive me. We bring

nothing to the table with God. And yet, He gives us

everything, forgiveness, life and salvation.

 

But, yet again, Jesus rejects this woman’s cry for help.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it

to the dogs (He says).” Really? Did Jesus just call this

woman a dog? As a matter of fact, He did. Oh, some

would say, but it’s not a junkyard dog. No, it’s more of

domestic pet, a cute little dog. OK, but He still called

her a dog. “It is not right to take the children’s bread

(the manna from heaven, the bread of life, the bread

and wine of the sacrament) and throw it to the dogs.”

It’s not right for the unbeliever to partake of the

heavenly manna, of the eternal gifts of God! Why, it

would be like throwing pearls, the Gospel, before

swine. They will neither recognize it nor will they

cherish it, and thus, they’ll trample it underfoot.

 

Perhaps this woman’s plight really was hopeless.

Perhaps God had nothing for her, no grace, no

forgiveness, no healing touch, no life giving bread. By

faith she wouldn’t fathom the thought. “Yes, Lord (she

said), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from

their masters’ table.” A crumb, a mere scrap of the

bread of heaven is enough. Lord, she says, grant that I

might have the crumbs that fall from the table of your

grace. Grant that I might be fed as one who is least in

the Kingdom of Heaven, that the manna from above

might fill my heart and soul.

 

“O woman (Jesus said), great is your faith! Be it done

for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed

instantly. Faith doesn’t effect miracles in our lives, it

simply holds on to the promises of God in Christ Jesus.

When life seems to conspire against us, when we cry

out to God and He seems to ignore us, when heaven

itself seems void and bare, we look to the cross and we

crave the bread of heaven, even if it falls as a crumb

from the table. For “If for me He slays His Son, God

MUST HAVE COMPASSION!” In the name of the

Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep

your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life

everlasting. Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +