Text: Matthew 15:21-28
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God would lead us not into temptation. When we pray that, we know that God does not tempt us. Temptation comes from the devil. Temptation is intended to destroy the relationship that God has with us. That was its effect in the Garden of Eden. There the devil drove a wedge between God and man so that man trusted not in God and his Word, but in himself. Adam and Even believed the word of the serpent rather than the Word of God. The devil successfully twisted the Word of God so that they saw things his way, believing that they could be “like God.” When Satan tried the same thing with Jesus, it didn’t work of course. For Jesus clung to the Word of God in all of its truth and purity as he turned back the temptations of the evil one.
Temptation is one thing. Testing is another. Testing can and does come from God. God tests faith not to destroy it, but to strengthen it. Such is the goal of Jesus in his interaction with the Canaanite woman. Even with that in mind, though, it seems a bit strange to see Jesus treat this woman as he does. It’s one thing for us to read a Biblical account where Satan is clearly the bad guy, but it almost seems like Jesus is the bad guy here.
This woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is possessed by a demon. Her daughter is being attacked by one of the minions of the very one who tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
Notice how she addresses him. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” she says. She is not a Jew. She’s not even a Samaritan. At least the Samaritans had some knowledge of God and his promises. No, this woman has no blood-line claim to God’s chosen people at all, yet she addresses Jesus as the Messiah, the one sent from God who is a descendant of King David, the one foretold by the scriptures that she’s supposed to be utterly clueless about.
But this is Jesus, right? Jesus loves all people. That’s what he’s all about. Jesus’ love and concern for all people – regardless of their background and regardless of what sins they’ve committed – has been a hallmark of his ministry since the beginning. Surely Jesus will help this poor woman!
Imagine the disciples’ surprise when Jesus doesn’t respond at all! What is he, deaf? The woman keeps on crying out to Jesus and he seems to be flat out ignoring her. The disciples finally ask Jesus to do something. The disciples aren’t necessarily showing genuine concern for the woman and her daughter, but they at least think Jesus should do something so that the woman will quit bothering them.
So Jesus does finally respond, but he still says nothing to the woman. He simply tells the disciples that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. In other words, Jesus is saying that he didn’t come to help this woman because she wasn’t an Israelite. The disciples may not have had a problem with this, but to us this is just plain wrong. How could Jesus be so rude?
Well, it gets worse. The woman comes and kneels before him. Really it’s more than that. This woman was protesting herself, probably with her face to the ground in front of Jesus. She is desperately begging him to listen to her and come to her daughter’s aid. So Jesus finally does respond. But, again, not anywhere close to way in which we’d expect. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus shows no mercy. At least not yet. Instead, he calls her a dog. In today’s culture, Jesus would be labeled as a misogynist and racist for this in no time.
How will she respond? Well, how would you respond? Everybody has a limit as to how much they are willing to take. When you’ve been ignored and not received the answer that you want or are looking for in a reasonable amount of time, usually you give up. If the person to whom you’re making your request hurls insults at you, you’re even more likely to give up asking.
But not this woman. This woman takes the promises of God seriously. This woman knows that God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. The Introit for today begins with the word “Reminiscere,” a Latin word that means “remember.” As in, “Remember, your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” This is basically how the Canaanite woman responds to Jesus. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She doesn’t respond in anger. She doesn’t even say that Jesus is wrong to call her a “dog.” She, in fact, acknowledges that she is a dog! She knows she’s not one of the children of Israel. She knows that she’s not worthy to sit at the table with the children. She’s perfectly satisfied to simply eat from the crumbs that fall to her. Jesus tests her faith and she clings still more tightly to the promises of the Word of God. Remember, she cried out to him as “Son of David.” If she knew that Jesus was the Son of David, she certainly knew that Jesus was the offspring of Abraham, the one through whom all nations (including her) would be blessed. She is absolutely relentless in her asking for help from Jesus, and indeed Jesus at last heals her daughter.
After Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel, he tells them to “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” This is what we have in this Canaanite woman in our text this morning. She will not be deterred even by Jesus himself. She may be a Gentile dog, but she is going to get her crumb no matter what it takes.
There are times when we pray it seems like God gives us an answer before we can even finish asking. Sometimes it’s even the exact answer that we’re looking for. Then again, things don’t always go so smoothly. It’s then that Satan comes to you and tries to convince you that God isn’t really who he says he is. “He doesn’t really answer your prayers,” Satan says. “You aren’t worthy to be answered by him. You think that because you’ve been baptized that you can just expect that you can call on your Father in heaven as dear children ask their father on earth for things? You’re nothing but a dog who’s unworthy to sit at the table.” The temptation is to walk away when God seems to not care.
Indeed this is the danger of trying to determine how God feels about us based upon our circumstances in this life. When things are going well, we assume God is our friend who loves us. When things go poorly, we assume that God must hate us. Instead you must look to the cross. You must look at the cross and see that indeed God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. How do you know this? Because he who knew no sin became sin for you. While you were still a sinner, Jesus came to lay down his life for you. God’s love for you is not evident by what happens to you in your everyday life, but it is clear as day when you consider the death of Jesus, his son on the cross. It is clear as day when you remember that you have been baptized into his death and that if you have been united with him in his death you will also be united with him in his resurrection. Not only that, but Jesus, by whose death and resurrection you have been saved invites you to his table to eat of the crumbs that fall, that is, is body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Like the Canaanite woman, cling to the promises of God. His mercy and steadfast love have been from of old and will always be. When your faith is tested, drive yourself deeper into the Word of God that delivers these truths to you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.