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August 20, 2017

 

  
8.20.17                               Pentecost 11                 - Matthew 15:21-28 ESV
 
21And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And 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.” 23But 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.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
 
THANKFUL FOR TABLE SCRAPS
 
“Finish your dinner!  Don’t you know people are starving in Africa?”  Do you remember that line from childhood?  I always wondered how filling myself with food I didn’t like was going to help feed hungry children in Africa.  Of course, the point our parents were trying to make was that we should appreciate the food we have and not waste it since many others in the world were not as well off as we were, right? 
 
We see a parallel in our text for today.  A foreign woman implores the Lord Jesus for help, some crumbs.  She has to take what she can get and she’s grateful for that.  We can learn from her to be THANKFUL FOR TABLE SCRAPS.  Not just food, obviously, we’re talking about the Bread of Life who was sent first to the Israelites but also was meant for Gentiles like us as well.  So let’s dig in and learn more.
 
Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon, two cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of Galilee where much of His ministry took place.  Today the country is known as Lebanon which borders the state of Israel.  It’s not surprising then that a non-Jewish person would be there; this was foreign soil.  Matthew calls her a “Canaanite,” referring to her ancestry as a descendant of the race of people who lived in the land of Canaan before Israel conquered it in Old Testament times.  You may recall the Canaanites were gross idolaters, whom God ordered the Israelites to eradicate from the Promised Land so they wouldn’t be a bad influence on them.  Recently scientists compared DNA from ancient Canaanite skeletal remains with modern Lebanese DNA and found striking similarities.  Of course, some headlines scoffed at the biblical history assuming it to be false because the Israelites did not eliminate the Canaanites, but they failed to read in Scripture that not all the Canaanites were destroyed.  Obviously this Canaanite woman was still around at the time of Christ, over a thousand years after the Israelites had settled in the land. 
 
What is surprising is that she recognized Jesus as the “Lord, Son of David,” and she came to Him for a blessing.  Apparently she was familiar with the Messiah concept of the Jews, perhaps from contacts she had with them in this border town.  From what she heard about Jesus, it seems she believed He was the Divine-King promised to come.  So she went out to meet Him and prayed earnestly for His mercy.  It sounds like what the traditional liturgy calls the kyrie eleison in Greek – “Lord, have mercy.”  We just sang a musical version of it in this service.  But she was not merely mouthing some words in worship; she was pleading for help for her daughter who was “severely oppressed by a demon,” we read.  The New Testament often describes demon possession, sometimes referring to the self-mutilating cuts and bruises inflicted by an evil spirit.  Jesus had the power, she believed, to drive out this devilish torment we can only imagine how terrible it must have been to watch helplessly.
 
To our astonishment, Jesus ignored her.  At least, so it appeared.  He had His reasons.  Even in silence God may be speaking to strengthen our resolve.  The disciples, however, were getting tired of her incessant crying.  They were deaf to her pleas.  Was it because they considered her an inferior  race?  Yet all Jesus said was: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  That sounds rather condescending, doesn’t it, almost like He was trying to get rid of her.  Can this really be our compassionate Savior speaking?
 
Wait – there is an element of truth in His statement.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies given to the children of Israel.  God chose a people to preserve His promise of deliverance from all evil.  “Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  This was God’s plan.  Jesus must carry it out precisely.  Even though He was beyond the traditional borders of Israel, Jesus was there not so much to do mission work.  More likely to buy time while His adversaries were plotting His demise in Jerusalem.  Despite their opposition, Christ Jesus still wanted to reach the Jewish people to whom He had been sent as a Shepherd even though they had gone so far astray over the years.
 
During this brief exchange with the disciples, it seems the woman caught up to Jesus and “knelt before Him,” begging His help.  “Knee-mail” we could call it.  What a lesson in persistent prayer we can learn from her.  If at first you don’t succeed, pray, pray again!  This time the Lord replied still more cryptically, we might say.  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Do you have a dog?  In some homes dogs are almost like part of the family.  They sort of hover around the table expecting someone to feed them.  But to be referred to as a “dog” back then could be a real insult.  Jews regarded Gentiles as dogs, wild dogs that roamed the streets in packs, scavenging for garbage.  In their lofty opinion, Jews thought of pagans as mongrels, untamed and untrained by God’s laws – dirty mutts.
 
But look again – we’re missing something.  Jesus didn’t say wild dogs.  He chose the word for little dog, like a house pet, a cute puppy.  The children of the house were the Israelites, adopted by the heavenly Father from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on down.  So now that the bread from heaven, the Messiah, had come to them, it wouldn’t be right to take Him away and give Him to outsiders before the children had a chance to receive Him.
 
Well, the woman seems to have caught His drift and she understood the implications.  It was not either/or, it was both/and.  Undaunted she answered quickly: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  Notice the humility.  She knew her place.  She was willing to wait her turn.  But if she was permitted in His house, then she could have some of the Lord’s blessings that might fall off the table.  So super-abundant is His grace. 
 
Now, don’t get the wrong idea.  No one has to sit pretty like a lab dog to gain favor with the Lord.  Never was His loving-kindness intended solely for the people of Israel.  He created the world and He loves all people in the world.  But due to the stubborn sinful nature of mankind, God had to select one ethnic group, one family tree to work with in order to produce the Savior of the world.  Israel through Judah was His choice, not because they were better than anyone else (as their history shows), but because in His infinite wisdom the Almighty knew that’s how the plan of salvation would work.
 
You see, an omniscience God saw what would happen.  Many of the Jews would let the Bread of Life slip through their fingers, some actually throwing Him away.  Consequently, the Savior’s soul food would become available to everyone.  The apostle Paul realized this on his mission trips.  He started at the synagogue, but when the Jews refused to listen, he went to the Gentiles.  He made the same point in the epistle lesson from Romans 11 today where he says that the rejection of the Jews resulted in the reconciliation of the Gentiles.  Since we all are disobedient sinners, in this way the Lord could have mercy on us all. 
 
Jesus demonstrated that several times in His ministry, reaching out to non-Jews as well.  But especially after His crucifixion finished the sacrifice for sin and His resurrection proved its sufficiency once and for all, before He ascended into heaven He commanded: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”   “Preach the gospel to all creation.”  “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”  His mission is global and local.   
 
Already here at this point we see what can happen.  Jesus marveled at the woman’s “great faith” – it wasn’t because she was a good mother who cared for her child, or because she decided to come to Jesus – it’s always by grace through faith we are saved.  She believed in Jesus when so many others didn’t, when even His disciples had such “little faith” at times.  Thus Jesus healed her daughter that very instant to assure her that He was indeed the loving Lord for all people.  And don’t you think the disciples remembered this incident when they encountered different nationalities on their mission journeys later on? 
 
Siblings, I hope you appreciate this lesson as well.  We should be thankful for table scraps as much as anyone today.  Coming from those countries that were second, third, fourth in line to receive the living bread from heaven, we should be amazed at how richly blessed we are.  We don’t have crumbs – we’ve got the whole loaf!  When you think about it, we’re fortunate even to know about Jesus Christ.  So many attempts have been made to stop this knowledge from spreading – persecution in the world, corruption in the church, now ridicule from a secular society.  And yet, not only have we heard about Jesus, we’ve got the Book on the subject to broaden our understanding and deepen our trust in Him.  We’ve got a church to support our beliefs and strengthen our convictions with fellow believers.  Talk about table scraps – we get sirloin steaks with mashed potatoes and gravy (and room for ice cream)!
 
Now the question is, will we give what we have been given to others who may not be like us?  Who are the Canaanite women we meet as we move about these days?  What will we do for them?  Just tell them to stop crying?  Or bring them to meet Jesus?  Let’s not merely toss a few crumbs their way; let’s invite them to the table so that together we can feast on what Jesus has set before us – healing for the ills of today and hope for the fears of tomorrow. 
 
Lord Jesus, thank You for the spiritual nourishment You’ve given to us in such gracious bounty.  Motivate us to share it with others as freely and generously as we have received it.  Amen.