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That Canaanite Dog August 14, 2011

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.

Matthew 15:21-28

Proper 15

August 14, 2011

Focus: God saves all who believe through His gift of faith.

Function: That the hearers live their lives rejoicing in the privilege of being children of God.

Structure: Frame and Reframe


Imagine your dining room table.  You’re sitting there, with a steaming plateful of food right before you.  Pork roast, homemade mashed potatoes, green beans, and a nice, warm apple crumble waiting for dessert.  You pick up your fork, and just as you’re about to begin, you realize that there’s a pair of eyes staring at you.  Lucky has noticed how great your meal looks, too.  He sits there, waiting for you to share something, anything, with him.

Every dog has his own style.  Some will cozy up under the table, waiting for food to drop.  Others will sit near the table staring and waiting like Lucky, giving you those sad puppy eyes trying to guilt you in to feeding them.  And then there are those that are a little more aggressive in their approach.  They place their head in your lap, or lick your elbow, or even make a move for the food itself.  We all know that dogs are good at begging.

And unless you happen to be one of the select few that can resist those puppy dog eyes, you eventually give in.  You take a small scrap off your plate and toss it to Lucky.  Or perhaps you have children who are better at feeding the floor than their mouths.  Either way, Lucky gets what he wants, that scrumptious treat: people food.  The food delights his taste buds, and with his tail bouncing to and fro,  he runs wildly around the living room, rejoicing in his new found happiness.  It may not happen every time, but Lucky knows that he can get the scraps from his master’s table.  And those are the moments worth living for.

Why this talk about dogs?  Well, because that is the image that Jesus chose to use in our gospel lesson this morning.  And it is an image that is very close to our hearts.

Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Gentile lands.  And when they reached the district of Tyre andSidon, they were approached by that Canaanite woman.  She pleaded with them for mercy, begging Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter.  All she was asking for was for Jesus to heal her little girl.  But Jesus didn’t even bother to respond to her.  He didn’t bother to even stop to say “no.”

His disciples noticed that she wouldn’t stop following them, she wouldn’t leave them alone.  How strange that was for them.  She’s a Gentile; she’s spiritually unclean; and the disciples want nothing of it.  Just by her being near them, they run risk of becoming unclean themselves.  “Send her away,” is their plea to Jesus.

And then, Jesus responds.  But He speaks not to His disciples, but to the woman.  He tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house ofIsrael.”  He confirms what the disciples know and believe.  Jesus came to redeemIsrael, not the Gentiles.  He is their Savior.  He came to deliver God’s chosen people from their bondage in this world, from sin, and from government persecution.

The Canaanite woman did not give up hope when Jesus said this to her.  Instead, she began worshipping Him at His feet.  She persisted in pleading for His help.  She knew that Jesus was the only One who could drive that demon from her daughter.

Jesus’ next line is well known: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Many Christians cringe at the thought of Jesus saying this because they think that Jesus is insulting this poor woman.  “Why not help her Jesus?  You came to help people, what’s so different about her?  Why do you have to speak so harshly to her?”

This verse has been blown out of proportion.  When Jesus referred to her as a dog, He used the word that referenced a dog that you would keep as a pet, like Lucky, rather than the image of a wild dog roaming the streets.  He was drawing a distinction between the Israelites and the Gentiles.  He refers to the Israelites as God’s children while the Gentiles are not.  Again, this fits with the idea of salvation that His disciples and most of the Jews would have believed.

But the woman persists again.  “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She knows how the dogs still manage to get the crumbs.  She isn’t asking for the bread, but the leftovers.  She was well aware that she was not an Israelite and likely knew that they considered her unclean.  But she also knew what Christ had to offer her.  And it was for that small hope, that little crumb, that she persisted.

And then Jesus says to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”  And just like that, her daughter was healed.  In such simple words, Christ performed a miracle, driving out the demon from that girl.  The woman was finally granted the help that she was looking for.

But if it was really that simple for Jesus to do, to work that miracle in that woman’s life, why did He first ignore her?  For what reason did He stand there bantering with her?  If it were really that simple, why didn’t He just do it?  Did this all really have to do with the fact that she was a Gentile?

If her nationality was part of this, what hope is there for you and me?  I’m not Jewish in nationality, and likely you aren’t either.  We were born Gentiles, outside of God’s covenant relationship withIsrael.  When God sent Jesus into this world, He did so to restore the covenant that He had made with His people, withIsrael.  Where does that leave us?

You and I are sinners.  We have disobeyed the laws of God.  Because of this, God has cursed us, condemned us to everlasting suffering.  Just likeIsrael, we messed up.  Together with them, we should be sharing in God’s wrath.  But wait, they have a Redeemer?  How fair is that?  Why should we not be saved also just because of our nationality?  We had no control over our births, and isn’t God our Creator as well as theirs?

It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve messed up in your life.  We’re not condemned because we’ve sinned a billion times.  It just takes one.  One moment of sin, no matter how insignificant it may seem separates you from a holy God.  That little white lie, or the time that you shoved your sibling when you were just a little kid.  Just one of those nasty names you called someone growing up.  Just one sin, and we are under the wrath of God.  What hope was there to make it through childhood and being a teenager, let alone a whole lifetime.  We have no hope.

That is why this passage is so close to home for us.  We are Gentiles, the ones the disciples believed that Jesus didn’t come for.  But, that is also why Jesus drew out the situation.  Had Jesus simply done as she asked the first time, His disciples still would have been thrown off by His healing of a Gentile.  But, they also may have overlooked it entirely, thinking Jesus was just doing it to get her to go away.  That isn’t why He healed her daughter!

In fact, in this miracle, Jesus is setting the disciples up, He’s setting up everyone for that matter.  They needed to hear this conversation.  Jesus came for the lost sheep ofIsrael.  He came to restore their covenant with the Father.  But yet this Gentile “dog,” a woman who wasn’t part of that covenant, had faith?  She believed when many Israelites did not.  She believed in Jesus and God the Father.  She knew that He could cast out the demon with ease.  Just a crumb, or a whole loaf, it didn’t matter to her.  She had faith in Jesus.  She had a relationship with God.

Jesus shared the gift of healing with her, with a Gentile.  Indeed this miracle is a glimpse of Jesus’ greater ministry.  His ministry stretched beyond just those who were Israelites by birth.  The New Testament is completely full of this language.  “First for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”  Jesus commanded the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” and sent them “to the ends of the earth.” Israel, God’s chosen people, went from being a nationality, to a way of life, to having a relationship with God.  Paul tells us that there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but that we are all one in Christ.

Through baptism we come into a relationship with God.  We are buried with Christ in His death, and we will be raised again with Him as He was raised from the dead.  On account of faith, which God has given to us, we are now His children.

If we look back to Lucky, our perspective may differ a little.  When it’s just a dog, then that dog doesn’t matter to us very much.  But the language Jesus chose included a “master.”  We know that wild dogs don’t have a master.  A dog that has a master is the master’s pet.  And when we go so far as to give that pet a name, we start to become attached to it, we form a relationship.  Lucky isn’t running around our house and begging for food at our table just because he is a dog.  Lucky can do those things because he is part of the family.  He is in a relationship with us.  That wonderful people food that he devoured, he knows there’s more to come.  He also knows that He will be cared for.  Lucky truly is lucky, or better yet, blessed, because he is loved.

And now, through faith, the Gentiles are no longer dogs, but children of God.  God has every right to cast us off as worthless and wretched for what we’ve done.  But through His Son, He has formed a relationship with us.  We can rejoice because we are not outside of the house anymore.  And, we can rejoice because we aren’t even dogs anymore.  We can rejoice because we have been made children and have the honor of coming and dining at the master’s table.  God our Father is pleased to give to us more than just crumbs.  He has given us His Son; He has given us true life.  For this, we rejoice, and know that we are loved.



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