Sunday sermon on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting 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.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food 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, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly
When we read the Bible we see that Jesus does not mince His words. He always said what He thought, and did what had to be done. He did not waste His words, and He did not waste His actions.
We also know that Christ is compassionate, caring, loving God. When we turn to Him and ask for something, we always believe that He will answer with mercy.
But it’s always surprising, shocking even, to hear Him use harsh language when talking with someone. For example, He calls the Pharisees and the scribes, His main opponents, people who went around, following Him, only to find some fault in Him, to condemn Him.
Jesus calls them blind guides, blind fools, hypocrites, snakes, brood of vipers! But here’s the catch, He still did it in love. Jesus did not call them names in order to humiliate them. He pointed out their faults, He wanted to save them as much as anyone else, but they needed to change, they needed to repent.
And then we have today’s Gospel lesson. As the Lord was walking down the road, a woman approached Him. She pushed her way through the crowd, came before Him and begged Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”
In response to this what does He do? How does He comfort this woman, a mother, who is in pain because her daughter is tormented by demons…
He calls her a dog. There is no doubt that had Christ come today, He would be labeled hater, bigot, and misógynist. People would not even be interested in what He was preaching. And to be honest, we do act, from time to time, like we do not care what He has to say to us.
We need to put the situation from today’s Gospel into a proper context in order to understand it a little better. Jesus traveled into a Gentile region. Gentile meaning pagan, as in, there were no Jews there.
A woman approached Him, a man. This, in itself, was a very courageous act because Jews and pagans avoided contact with each other. And because women, according to the culture of those times, did not dare to approach men, especially so pagan women approaching Jewish men.
Imagine how many barriers she broke in order to ask for help from Christ? Again, she was a pagan, so up until that moment she did not even believe in the One True God. Maybe she had heard about the Messiah, but until that day He was not her Messiah. Or at least she thought so.
At first, when the woman came begging for help, Christ avoided her, He did not answer. But then she came and knelt in front of Him. And Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
This is a very puzzling response because it seems to be uncalled for. It seems Jesus was testing her faith. However, He did not need her to prove anything to Him. Christ, as God, knew her, He knew what’s on her heart. God knows our inner feelings, He knows our faith. But, we don’t always know it.
So, Christ is provoking the woman to confess her faith aloud, in the presence of His disciples and other Jews. This was also a message to the disciples, whose job it will be to preach the Gospel to all the nations, that pagans are also part of this new Church that Christ is instituting.
In response to calling her a dog, the woman offers one of the most amazing answers, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She does not call Jesus a racist, a hater, or a bigot. She does not storm off in anger, rather she says, “Call us dogs if You want, but at least offer my daughter a crumb of the healing You give to Your children.”
The Canaanite woman teaches us two very important lessons today. First, faith, true faith, comes from a humble heart. In humility we come to know Christ, because He Himself is humble. Humility means lowering our self-centric ego as low as possible. It’s better to look up and strive to get higher, rather than look down and fall.
Second, she teaches us to stand up to God if we have to, refuse to be ignored. Elsewhere the Lord does teach us to ask, and it will be given, to search, and we will find, to knock, and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7).
Always approach Jesus humbly, recognize in Him the authority and power that can and will help, and beg, ask, demand that He hear our needs. And believe that He will respond because our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed a caring and loving God.
Every time we ask Christ for mercy, may we also get the same response, as the woman got at the end, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
To our Lord, Who is the answer to all our questions, and the help to all our needs, be glory forever and ever.