August 16, 2020
Hear audio and watch video of this homily
Gospel reading starts at 19:30
Homily starts at 21:19
Matthew 15:21 – 28
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
So, imagine, a friend comes to you and says, “Tell me about Jesus. I’m not familiar with him.” And they pick the Gospel that you just heard. Good luck on bringing somebody to Jesus with that Gospel. It is not a good look for Jesus, nor is it a good look for the Apostles. Jesus sounds rude, He’s insulting, arrogant, as you read this. And, of course, the Apostles sound like a bunch of whiners.
We know that Jesus loved and respected women. He loved his mother, He loved Mary of Magdala, He loved Martha and Mary – the sisters of Lazarus, the woman at the well he showed great respect for, and the woman who touched His hem and cured her hemorrhage – He showed great respect for them. So how does that Jesus become this reading today? That’s not the Jesus that I know and love. So, let’s look at that.
We know that there’s a story arc to Jesus’ earthly ministry. It begins with a young man on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, picking his first four apostles. Then He goes and reads and teaches at a synagogue and then goes to Peter’s house where he cures Peter’s mom, and then cures all these people who were brought to Him later that day. And, it just continued to sky-rocket, but the Jews in Jerusalem were not concerned with Jesus at that time. Jesus was just one more of many itinerant preachers. They expected Him to just fade away, just like all the rest of them had. But all this time, Jesus is growing this ministry because people heard his message about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. And people loved that message. And He grew that ministry and grew that ministry. And that’s your upward arc.
Here, recently, we celebrated the Transfiguration. That’s the apex for Jesus’ ministry here. That’s the highest point. Three of his Apostles – Simon (Peter), James and John – go up on the mountain with Him. And they hear God say, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased”. You can’t get any higher than that.
But we start the downward arc after that. Now the Jews are familiar with Jesus. They do recognize Him as a danger to their power. And so, they begin to plot to be able to get rid of Jesus. And so, they start sending the Pharisees to wherever Jesus and the Apostles are teaching and preaching. And the arc, as it comes down is headed toward Jerusalem, and the Passover, and we know what waits for Jesus there.
So, today, just before this Gospel that we heard, Jesus is in a Jewish area, northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee. He’s there at Capernaum where he feeds this mass of people, right? Over 5,000 people with just some fish and some loaves, and He feeds them and has food left over. Then He moves over to Gennesaret. And there He heals everybody who’s brought to Him in these Jewish areas. But the Pharisees are there.
The Pharisees are constantly trying to undermine Jesus and His mission. And they’re reporting back to Jerusalem all the time. So, the reason that Jesus has taken the Apostles to Tyre and Sidon, which is in Syria, along the coast, is because that’s not a Jewish territory. That’s the land of the Gentiles, who don’t like the Jews all that much. But He knows that the Jews will not follow Him because the Gentiles – you and me – are unclean. They don’t want to associate with those don’t practice the Jewish practices as far as etiquette, cleanliness and dietary. They don’t want to have anything to do with that. So, they’re not going to follow Jesus there. So, Jesus isn’t there to teach. He isn’t there to teach. He’s there to lie low for a while and let this thing with the Jews blow over
And the first thing that happens, they’re walking a little marketplace there, and this woman cries out. Turns out she’s a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites and the Jews are historical enemies. But this woman is willing to cry out to Jesus because her child is possessed by a demon and she wants Jesus to heal her. And what does Jesus do? According to the Scripture reading, He ignores her! But she continues to follow, she continues to cry out. She’s very persistent. And she continues to ask Jesus for His help for her daughter. And what do the Apostles do? They tell Jesus, “You’ve got to make her go away. She keeps asking for your help, calling out to us.” And Jesus, again, according to the Scriptures, says, “I have come here for the lost children of Israel – the lost sheep of Israel. That’s who I’m here for. Not the unwashed masses out there.”
And, so, He continues to move, and she continues to follow. Eventually, she falls at His feet. And she begs him to heal her daughter, to help her. And Jesus looks at her and says, “It is not right to take the food meant for the children – the Jews – and just throw it out to the dogs.: And she says, “Even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” And Jesus says, “Woman, your great faith has saved you.”
This is the Jesus who has painted some of the most learned men in Jerusalem into traps by their own words. He’s the greatest debater I think the world has ever known. But suddenly, this little Canaanite woman just beats Him in a debate! I think that because of the fact that it is written – maybe writing, I don’t know – but I think because of the way its written, we don’t get the nuanced message here. I don’t think it quite sounded that way. Imagine. My high school coach was a pretty gruff guy. If I made a mistake, he always either came up and slapped me against the side of the helmet or grabbed my facemask and shook it. And he would always say, “You are such a meathead!” My mom, when I would make a mistake, or I’d do something wrong at home, she would reach out, ruffle my hair, and she’d go, with a big smile she’d say, “You’re such a meathead.” Same words, said in context, if you read that, then you understand that one was with love.
If you allow me, I’m going to kind of paint a little bit different scenario. I think what happened was – you know, Jesus never does anything for nothing. That’s East Texas for Jesus always knows what He is doing. Jesus, I think, was leading this woman to a more central area where everybody could see what was going on. And He knows that Isaiah has prophesied that anyone who loves and serves the Lord will be welcome in the House of the Lord. So, He knows this woman is welcome. And, so what He does is, He stops. She says, “Lord, help me.” And He looks down at her. And He says, “You know I came here for the lost in the Jewish people. Its not right for me to take what was meant of the Jews, and just cast it out among people, some of whom don’t even believe.” And she says, “Jesus, I understand, but the Jews are arrogant. They are not accepting it. They believe they are owed this by birth. They’re not even accepting what You are bringing, what You’re offering. Why not, what they’re rejecting, give to us – those who are not Jewish, but those who are ready to believe, those who are ready to have faith? Let those scraps fall to us.”
And Jesus sees, and He knows. And He’s got all of these people surrounding them. And you hear what Paul said. Paul says, “I’m trying to make the Jews jealous. I want them to want what’s being offered to the Gentiles.” That’s what Jesus is doing. He’s showing what He was here for – and that is forgiveness, for healing, and for bringing the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, He tells her, “You know what, your faith – it is so great. Whatever you ask, its done.” And so, her child is healed from that moment. Her child is healed from the demon. The woman was doing all of this. She was doing willing to be embarrassed, calling out to Jesus, an enemy of her people. She was willing to be humiliated by His insults, and she’s willing to beg – not for herself – but for her child – for someone else. That’s what good parents do. Good parents love their children so much that they would sacrifice even their lives for their children.
So, as you leave here today, I would like to send a question home with you for you to think about, for you to discuss, however you want to do it. But think about the fact that if we, as parents, are willing to give away everything to protect, and to keep our children safe, how difficult must it have been for God to sacrifice His only child for us?