14th August 2005 - Year A : Sunday 20/Proper 15/Trinity 12 : Matthew 15:21-28
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." 25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." 27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
We are in the holiday season now. People are visiting places in this country and abroad. But are there any areas where you would not go on holiday? I guess few people would go to Iraq at the moment because of the violence there. Some people may be wary about visiting London or Egypt after the bomb blasts there. In today's gospel we see Jesus going to a Gentile area that was unpopular with many Jews. A religious Jew would not normally go to a Gentile, or non-Jewish area. Where they had contact with Gentiles, for example in the market place, Jews would wash themselves ceremonially.
Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He tries to get away from things in Gentile territory and is interrupted. He gets a different welcome to that offered by his own people.
Three headings :
In the first twenty verses of this Chapter Jesus had called the Pharisees and teachers of the law 'hypocrites' because they were more concerned with the spoken laws than God's written laws. Part of the dispute arose over the issue of ceremonial uncleanness. Jesus said what came out from someone was more important than what went in. Jesus was rejected by own people who he had come to save. We see the climax of this on the Cross.
24 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
This suggests the disciples asked Jesus to deliver the daughter & get rid of her. Jesus is saying that he has been sent to minister to the Jews who need saving, not to those outside God's people.
25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. begged, on knees. She calls Jesus Lord or master.
26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
Jesus illustrates that his mission from God the Father is first of all to God's chosen people, the Jews by using a parable of giving children's bread to dogs. The term 'dog' was used by Jews as an insult for Gentiles so perhaps Jesus said this 'tongue in cheek'.
The Pharisees were comfortable in their faith. They were part of God's people, descendants of Abraham, possessors of the law, religious people living their life according to a strict code including regular synagogue attendance and giving a percentage of their income.
They expected the Messiah to come and re-establish a successful, earthly kingdom by military might like that of his ancestor, King David. Then the whole earth, the gentiles, would look to the Messiah.
Jesus was not that type of Messiah. He conquered sin and death and bring in an everlasting, heavenly kingdom.
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."
Meets foreigner. A Canaanite, they were former enemies of the Jews. They had occupied the land that God promised to the Israelites in the Old Testament. This illustrates the distance of the woman from God's people.
"Son of David" is a term for the Messiah. Unlike the Pharisees she recognised Jesus as the one sent by God to deliver His people. But it is not enough to just say it, there is a need to trust, to affect one's life. She certainly did this. Her request was short, humble, full of faith, fervent, modest, respectful and persevering.
It is a pointer to how we should pray and approach God. Throwing ourselves totally at his mercy. Of course we do this in the Holy Communion service when we say the prayer:
"We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord,trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his bodyand our souls washed through his most precious blood,and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen."
Another prayer used by some Christians is known as the "Jesus prayer": "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner".
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." Jesus ignored her. Appears rude. Why was this ?
Jesus did not see his mission solely as that of a healer or miracle worker. One of the ways we see this is in his efforts to elicit faith from the people that he healed. He challenged this woman and draws faith from her.
Like the woman, we should not expect our faith to be easy. There will be times when we have to persevere and trust. When we do our faith can grow and be strengthened. Like an athlete training himself for the World Championship to greater feats of strength and endurance.
27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Woman points out that just as the dog receive crumbs of mercy that are given to them by their owners eating at the table, so can God spare a small mercy to a Gentile. Shows great spiritual perception, humility, and sharpness of mind as well as trust in Jesus.
28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour She believed that Jesus could drive the demon out of her daughter. She showed humility in begging Jesus for help, relying upon his mercy and suggesting that she would be happy with leftovers.
Her faith and humility are in stark contrast to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who questioned Jesus in verse 5. We need to really trust in him for our salvation and for our whole lives.
A boy who had an evil spirit in Mark's gospel is described as having convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and trying to throw the child into fire or water to kill it. So we can imagine how distressing it was for the mother, and how powerless she would feel.
Demon-possession - exists - expand from personal experience. Need to be wary, yet we are in a spiritual battle.
The faith of the woman is rewarded when Jesus exorcises her daughter from a distance. This is the second time a Gentile approached Jesus on behalf of someone else and was commended by him for their faith ( 8:10 ). She returned home to find that her faith had been rewarded.
This passage tells us that access to God is now open to everyone. It is not about an accident of birth or living life according to a code. It is about radical trust in the mercy of God. The woman's faith in Jesus and eventual acceptance by him shows this. Whatever race, colour, sex, intelligence, class, job, background.
This passage challenges those of us who have been following Jesus fro some time. Are we like the Pharisees, comfortable in our religion? Not willing to be challenged and moved on? We need to throw ourselves upon the mercy of Jesus once again.
Perhaps there are some people here today who have never taken the step of following Jesus. Perhaps you feel you are not good enough or religious enough. Today's passage reminds us that all we need is to trust in Jesus, and to persevere in that dependence upon him
Jesus has power over evil, delivering the daughter at a distance. He has power over sin and death that is available to everyone today. He can deliver us from anything that enslaves us and keeps us from being the people that God wants us to be. We only have to throw ourselves upon His mercy