Matthew 15:21-28 Rev. Kenneth Frey
Pentecost 13 9/3/17
Matthew 15:21-28 21Jesus left that place and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22There a Canaanite woman from that territory came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! A demon is severely tormenting my daughter!” 23But he did not answer her a word. His disciples came and pleaded, “Send her away, because she keeps crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt in front of him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet the dogs also eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at that very hour.
What is Great Faith?
1. Great faith trusts in God’s mercy
2. Great faith clings to Christ persistently
Did you hear about the New York Times article a few weeks ago? In the article they claimed that they proved the Bible wrong. The article stated that DNA proved that there are descendants of the ancient Canaanites around today, mostly in the Middle East. The article claimed that since God told Israel to wipe out the Canaanites and since there are still Canaanites around, the Bible must be wrong. Many other papers picked up this story and ran with it.
Of course, all they did was show their ignorance. Yes, God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites when they conquered the land. But the Bible clearly records that Israel didn’t completely wipe them out – which became a problem later in their history.
Obviously, there were still Canaanites around at Jesus’ time. We encounter one in our text today. Mark used the term that was more contemporary to his day. He said she was from Syrian Phoenicia. Today, we would probably call her Lebanese. But what’s important is what Jesus said about her. He said she had great faith.
I want to tell you a story about my dad and my dog. I had this dog named Herman. He was a dachshund, you know, a weiner dog. Every morning Herman would get cottage cheese or milk for breakfast. As I stared at my Fruit Loops box eating my cereal, Herman would sit by my dad waiting for his bowl of milk. But he would sit straight up, for minutes at a time. And my dad would drink his coffee and ignore him. And Herman just sat and sat and sat . . . straight up the whole time.
Jesus treated this woman just like my dad treated Herman. In her mind she must have wondered, “Where is the man whom everyone praises for his compassion. All I see is a hard heart.” But she did not let that stop her. She kept after him to the point of annoyance. His disciples came and pleaded, “Send her away, because she keeps crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus’ disciples weren’t quite as mean as they sound here. They were asking Jesus to send her away by giving her what she was asking for. Jesus’ response does sound mean. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was as if Jesus were telling her, “You don’t deserve anything from me.”
Now, picture this distressed woman following after Christ, crying after him, asking, pleading and Jesus casually walks on, paying no attention to her. How miserable she must have felt.
How would you have responded? Would you have said, “No one treats me like that” and stormed off? She didn’t. She didn’t leave in a huff. She didn’t argue with Jesus. She didn’t try to buy his help. None of that. She fell at his feet and pleaded, “Lord, help me!”
26He answered her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Did you hear that? He called her a dog. Just a pet. Nothing more. How could she put up with such humiliation? She could because her faith believed what Jesus said. If Jesus said she was a dog, she was a dog. 27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet the dogs also eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” If she is a dog, then like a dog, she could receive the crumbs. She was saying, “I am not a child of Abraham, but you are a rich Lord. Give your children the bread and the place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me pick up the crumbs of your grace and that will be enough.” She didn’t argue that she deserved it. She simply trusted in his mercy. And what does Jesus call it? Great faith.
We often think of missionaries or people who accomplish great things for the church as those who have great faith. But what does Jesus do here? He points us to this woman who did nothing but beg. Faith is not great because of what we do; faith is great because it trusts. Great faith humbly trusts in Christ alone.
Like this woman we can make no demands on Christ. He owes us nothing. As we said this morning, we are sinners who “deserve only his wrath and punishment.” Like a pet dog we are all beggars. That is why we pray almost every Sunday, “Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.” We come empty handed and broken hearted. We can’t do anything, offer anything, promise anything. We are all beggars. All we can do is beg.
And this is great faith. Great faith is humble faith that trusts in Christ’s mercy.
A second characteristic of great faith is that it clings to Christ persistently. Remember my dog Herman? He would sit up for 15 or 20 minutes before my dad would finally get up and get his bowl of milk. Why would he sit up so long? Because he knew that eventually he would get his milk. Why did the woman keep after Jesus even when he ignored her? Because she believed would give her what she asked.
Why can we be persistent in our faith? The cross. Because of the cross we know, even more than this woman knew, that God loves us. With great love Jesus suffered for our sins in our place. He has proven his love for us. In the cross Jesus has already given us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. And in the cross is the promise of everything we need.
But it doesn’t always feel like he loves us, does it? When Herman waited for his milk, my dad would often turn the other way so that Herman had to stare at his back. That is the way it is for us, too. We can only see God’s back. Moses once asked to see God’s glory but God told him that no one can see his glory and live. So God put him in a cave and passed by and all that Moses was allowed to see was God’s back. That’s often all we see, too.
Perhaps you feel like you are staring at God’s back. Perhaps you have had times when you feel like this woman, ignored, rebuked, alone. Times when it seemed that God was far away and your prayers fell on deaf ears. It is at those times that we need to learn to be dogs. At those times, great faith shows in humility and persistence.
Look at the example of Joseph in the Old Testament. Sold to slave traders by his brothers, he prayed and things only got worse. For thirteen years he prayed and what happened? Slavery, falsely accused, prison, forgotten. But in the end he became the ruler of all Egypt.
May we have the faith to persistently trust in God’s love, to trust that he will grant what is best for us. May we also have the humility to let God work on his own time schedule and not ours.
Great faith trusts in God’s mercy. Great faith clings to Christ persistently. And that’s the point we don’t want to lose sight of. We can learn a lot from this Canaanite woman about faith. But we miss the point if we lose sight of Jesus. This woman realized she was nothing and Jesus is everything. She was not worthy – she was just a dog. It all centered on Jesus and his love.
May that be our faith, as well. May we come to God in prayer daily, not because we are worthy, but because he is a merciful God. May we come to the Lord’s Supper regularly, not because we are worthy, but because of Christ’s mercy. And may we trust that God will always give us what is best, not because we deserve it, but because of his mercy.
You know, don’t you, that Jesus always knew he was going to grant her request. You know, don’t you, that Jesus will give you what’s best. When you get tired of staring at God’s back, remember his face crowned with thorns, hanging from the cross. Believe in his love. Believe in his promises. “Let us never doubt that we have a ‘Yes’ in heaven, imbedded in the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . and that in his time it will be revealed.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s House Postil, Vol. 1, p. 327)