Monday, August 18, 2008
Sermon - Pentecost 14 - Matthew 15:21-28
Pentecost 14 – August 17th, 2008
“We are all beggars, this is true”. Some of the last words of Martin Luther – found by his secretary on a scrap of paper the day before Luther died. We are all beggars. We come with nothing to Jesus, and he gives us everything. We can't bargain or deal, purchase or sell. We can only beg for his mercy and grace that we do not deserve in the least. Beggars, all.
She had no earthly reason to expect help from Jesus. This woman wasn't a Jew, or from Israel. She was a Canaanite. A heathen. How did she know about David? And how did she know Jesus was the “Son of David”? Did she know that was a loaded term – indicating he indeed is the Messiah? Had she heard the good news of his kingdom, even before he arrived? Perhaps so....
The Syro-Phonecian woman was a beggar. Perhaps she had money and wealth, but she didn't have what she wanted most. Her daughter was beset by a demon. And when the great teacher and miracle worker, who some even whispered might be the Messiah, when he came to her neck of the woods, she went out to find him. And she cried out, pleaded, begged for mercy.
Like her, we are unworthy to ask for anything good from the Lord. We have no pedigree but original sin. We have no works of righteousness, only works of lawlessness. We have no holiness of our own, but only a life stained by sin and destined for death. We are helpless and hopeless without Christ. Beggars.
She cries, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon”
And Jesus does something strange. He doesn't say yes. At first, he is silent.
How often do our pleas and petitions meet with silence from our Lord? Often. So we can relate. Did he hear us? Is he ignoring us? Does the silence mean “no”? Or is something else going on?
The disciples are getting tired of it already. They want Jesus to send her away – that is, they want him to give her what she asks and be done with her loud crying and begging. (Notice, the disciples are beggars too, by the way). But still, he seems to resist.
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
To be clear – Jesus doesn't mean that he came as Savior of Israel only. But in his preaching and healing leading to the cross, his commission was to Israel. Only after the resurrection are all nations drawn into the kingdom. Still, a number of outsiders receive help from the Lord, even before his work is done. They would be a kind of first-fruits, a foreshadowing, of the many nations who would receive the kingdom.
The woman begs some more. She kneels down, in a show of humility. A good posture for the sinner to take before Almighty God. And if not physically, we should all bend low before God in the same humble acknowledgment of our own unworthiness.
"It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs."
“The children” are the Israelites. “The Dogs” that's what the Israelites called the Gentiles – outsiders. Dogs. Not a term of endearment. But Jesus isn't quite so harsh. He throws the woman a bone, if you will. When he calls her a dog – he uses the term for a house dog, a pet... rather than a mutt wandering the streets. A “little dog” or a “pup” might be a closer English equivalent.
And now the woman sees. Her faith, which had brought her this far – out from her home and to where Jesus was – following persistently, falling on her knees.... over against Jesus' silence and his protest, her faith begs, and begs. And she prevails upon Jesus...
Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table."
A beautiful confession of faith. One, that she is a dog – unworthy to sit with the children. Two, that he is the master. Three that he, Jesus, would grant her this request out of his mercy. And so he does.
And here's the mystery. He meant to all along. Why put her through all this before he grants the request? Why ignore her, put her off,
make her think he might say no?
Was it to strengthen her faith? Was it an exercise? Was it to teach us persistence in our prayers and petitions? Or was it to give her also the blessing of an opportunity to show her faith – to make a confession?
So often in our lives, we call on the Lord for help and hear silence. We are tempted to think he doesn't hear, or doesn't care. But “behind a frowning countenance, faith sees a smiling face”.
Faith holds God to his word of promise. Martin Luther said it well:
She catches the Lord Christ with His own Words. Yes, still more, with the rights of a dog she gains the rights of a child. Now where will he go, the dear Jesus? He has caught Himself and must help her. But know this well, He loves to be caught in this way. If we only had the skill of this woman to catch God in His own judgment and say: 'Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness and didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, 'to save sinners.' Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.
And one more thought. As we are all beggars, so we are all the dogs waiting for crumbs from the table. But as we receive faith, so we become children. And so also, share the food with others.
What child hasn't fed the family dog from the table – accidentally, and even with glee. So does the Christian share the Gospel. Accidentally, through works of love and service, by witnessing to the faith that drives us. Inadvertently, as we go about our callings in the world, doing all that we do for the Lord. Or even pointedly, as we have the opportunity to share the love of Christ in words, even the Gospel. Or else by supporting the work of the church with our time, talents, and treasures. Yes, in many ways, we throw the crumbs of the Gospel to those hungering for it. Just as we have received, so we generously give.
For what precious food this is! That even the crumbs are worth begging for. But he gives us so much more. He gives a lavish feast – a full course meal. He feeds us with his word, and even literally feeds us with his own body and blood. Not food we deserve, but the food of faith which sustains and strengthens us and delivers us forgiveness, life and salvation.
Oh, to be a beggar. Oh to be fed from the Master's table. Oh to feast on the fine food he gives. Faith begs, and faith receives, from Jesus Christ our Lord and merciful Master. Amen.