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8/20/23 Sermon

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Matthew 15:21-28 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 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.” 23 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.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that moment.

Matthew 15:21-28 – The Message

21-22 From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.”

23 Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.”

24 Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 Then the woman came back to Jesus, dropped to her knees, and begged. “Master, help me.”

26 He said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.”

27 She was quick: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.”

28 Jesus gave in. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well.

Stubborn Blessing

Jan Richardson, from “The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief”

A Canaanite woman… came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Matthew 15:22

Don’t tell me no.

I have seen you

feed the thousands,

seen miracles spill

from your hands

like water, like wine,

seen you with circles

and circles of crowds

pressed around you

and not one soul

turned away.

Don’t start with me.

I am saying

you can close the door,

but I will keep knocking.

You can go silent,

but I will keep shouting.

You can tighten the circle,

but I will trace a bigger one

around you,

around the life of my child,

who will tell you

no one surpasses a mother

for stubbornness.

I am saying

I know what you

can do with crumbs

and I am claiming mine,

every morsel and scrap

you have up your sleeve.

Unclench your hand,

your heart.

Let the scraps fall

like manna,

like mercy

for the life

of my child,

the life of

the world.

Don’t you tell me no.

Was anyone else alarmed, dismayed, or confused upon hearing these verses of Matthew’s gospel? This is not the Jesus that we think we know. This is certainly not the Jesus of our Sunday School lessons. Where was his compassion? He insulted the Canaanite woman’s status, her worth, her dignity, her humanity by using the slur “dog” that Israelites commonly used to degrade the Gentiles.

I don’t have to look very far in order to see this playing out still, today, in myriad locations around our globe, and sadly, in our hometowns. Fear that there is not enough to go around, or that “those people” are not deserving were prevalent issues then and still are today.

How does this play out in our time and place? With our unhoused population. With those suffering mental illnesses that prevent them from gainful employment and stable relationships. With people addicted, waiting for treatment programs that never seem to have room for them.

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all turned away uncomfortably when confronted by someone yelling on the streets, demanding something that we don’t feel capable of or willing to give.

Who do we help? Do we have compassion for everyone or for those like us? Do we have compassion only for those that are “easy” to love?

This woman was in Jesus’ face. When he ignored her she started in on the disciples. She wasn’t going to let this go. The woman knew her inherent worth and dignity – that of herself and of her child. She knew his reputation for healing and knew her daughter was deserving of that healing.

In these verses of Matthew’s gospel Jesus employs several avoidance techniques with the woman seeking relief for her daughter’s demon, or mental illness. First he ignores her, then he excludes her from the scope of his ministry, and finally he insults her by telling her that she and her daughter are not worthy of his time.

Are we to believe that the same man, the same divine being that has been tirelessly healing the sick and teaching the good news of God’s kin-dom has an off day? Would Jesus have insulted this woman? Or anybody that was seeking healing? Sounds doubtful.

How do we reconcile this perception of Jesus with the one we studied last week, when he was so in tune with our Creator that he was in command of the wind and the waves?

You have heard me say many times, “if it is true for Jesus, it can be true for us.” This scripture makes me wonder, “if it is true for us could it have been true for Jesus”?

How divine was he? How human was he?

This scripture paints a picture of a person blinded by tribalism and struggling to recognize the universal scope of God’s mission. That is what Jesus is so often sparring about with the Pharisees. This time he is found to be on the wrong side of the argument. His sparring partner has a quicker wit than he does. Does he dig in his heels and hold his ground? No. He accepts that his argument is ridiculous and says to the woman that her great faith, her perseverance has restored her daughter to health.

In this scripture, this very human Jesus cannot seem to transcend the limits of the narrow view he inherited, but must learn about God’s larger purposes the hard way, by trial and error.

As do we. I don’t know about you, but I know that my best learning typically has come via the school of hard knocks.

How is it that Jesus can “win” his arguments with the Pharisees and church elders but lose them with this uneducated and “faithless” woman?

Perhaps Matthew created this parable to teach his community. Perhaps we was employing his own parable about how he believed Jesus would, and how we should ultimately treat others. All others. Matthew’s community was moving from a Jewish-based following to one beginning to include Gentiles.

“Jesus’ initial refusal is based on the logic of the zero-sum game. He comes bringing mercy, but there is only so much to go around, and it is meant for Israel. If you give the bread to the dogs, there will not be enough for the children.”

Nevertheless, she persisted. The Canaanite woman, in her desperation, pushes Jesus. God’s mercy is not finite. There is enough for all. Jesus granting mercy to her and her daughter, or us granting mercy to those in need, does not take away mercy from anyone else.

In this scripture, Jesus moved from a closed hearted response to an open hearted response. From apathy to compassion, from inaction to action.

Perhaps Matthew’s intent is to convince the church and her people that there must be movement on their part to reach out to all people.

We need to change our view. We need to welcome the outsider. We need to respond with compassion. We need to show mercy. All the time, to all people.

When our church is leading the way, Alleluiah!

When our church is in the way, we had better get our courage up and make change.

The Canaanite woman’s great faith kept her from giving up, from giving in. Her great faith is what fueled her persistence. Her great faith is credited with restoring her daughter to health.

We can do no less for those in our midst today.


Rev. TJ Mack – August 20, 2023

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