Mercy at the Table / Matthew 15:21-28 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 16th 2020 / Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sun August 16th 2020: Season of Pentecost / Matthew 15:21-28 "Mercy at the Table"
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” [Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. A couple weeks ago the disciples wanted Jesus to send away the 5,000 Jewish men who had come to hear Jesus preach when the day was spent and the evening meal was approaching because they didn’t have anything to feed them, Jesus famously fed them all plus the women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the meal and everyone had eaten and was satisfied the disciples “took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” The implication is that these leftovers, these scraps, these crumbs from the table could feed the whole of the twelve tribes of Israel. That none of them would need to go hungry. But what about those outside the twelve tribes of Israel, what about them, does Jesus have enough for them to eat too? Does the mercy of God extend to them as well?
We have often heard the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So what do we make of Jesus in this Gospel reading when He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”? Will only the natural born Children of Israel, Jacob’s descendants be fed from God’s table? What makes a person part of the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Are you part of it by blood or by faith? Perhaps this will be easier to understand when we consider Jesus’ chat with the non-Jewish Canaanite woman seeking His help and the place of mercy in this Gospel reading and in all our readings today.
Very quickly a picture emerges in the midst of Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman of a family at a table and a begging dog looking for leftovers, for scraps of food, crumbs. Some of you who have had actual dogs deal with this in different ways. Some people feed their dogs from the table; others never feed their pets people food only pet food. These days some people will refer to their pets as fur babies and to themselves as parents to their pets even though they have not birthed them. Some people with dogs tolerate no begging and work to train this behavior out of their pets. With all that in mind Jesus’ comments to the Canaanite woman might to our modern sensibilities sound insensitive, this is not the case by the way, I would ask you not to lose sight of the big picture of our readings today and how they are connected together.
Who are the dogs at the table? From the conversation that the Canaanite woman and Jesus had that day we can see that the dogs at the table aren’t the Jewish people. They aren’t part of the Jewish family. So who are they? Well, responding to Jesus’ comment we see that she, a Canaanite woman, acknowledges herself to be one of the “dogs” begging at the table; and from this we can quickly determine that everyone who isn’t Jewish would fall into that category, certainly Jesus’ disciples would have looked at it that way. The Dogs at the table are the Gentiles and that includes us. If you asked a Jewish person today if you as a Christian are a Jew or a Gentile they would say you are a Gentile that is if you don’t have a Jewish mother you are not Jewish: You would by that standard be the Goyam, the nations, the Gentile, the non-Jewish.
When saint Paul wrote the Roman Christians he talked to them about the Jews and the Gentiles, he gave the example of grafting branches into a pre-existing tree, the tree being like unto the whole history of the Jews, its original seed found in Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather (faith planted by God) – Imagine a family tree and think about adoption; Saint Paul writes: “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree [from which Jesus Christ came to save us – the Jewish people], do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
Now Saint Paul wasn’t one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, he wasn’t with them the day that this Canaanite woman came requesting Jesus’ help to heal her child, Paul came to faith in Jesus as one who had rejected Jesus “a branch that was broken off” but who then became a believer and was then “grafted back into the olive tree.” The Canaanite woman would be like the “wild olive shoot” not originally part of the tree – yet by the end of Jesus’ conversation with her He said “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And there you have it, she is grafted in, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” You can’t believe without faith and faith is a gift. She is at that point a Christian. She is not a dog begging for crumbs under the table she is sitting at the table where God wanted her to be all along. Turns out by faith she was one of the lost sheep of Israel that Jesus was sent to save. As is normally the case Jesus, with the non-Jewish woman begging for help for her daughter, is teaching a lesson to His disciples and to you, He is a teacher after all. What we see here is an example of that gift coming to someone who is not a natural part of the tree, this is a branch grafted in.
In last week’s Gospel lesson we heard of Jesus walking on the water in the Sea of Galilee and the disciple Peter who calls out from the boat, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Jesus says “Come” but before Peter gets to Jesus he sees the wind and the waves and becomes afraid and daunted by these things he begins to sink down into the water, fearing death he calls out, “Lord, save me.” And Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of [Peter], saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In today’s lesson the disciples are looking for a way to get rid of this Canaanite woman, the disciples begged [Jesus], saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Yet by the end of this encounter Jesus is saying to the woman, “O woman, great is your faith!”
To Peter a Jew one of the chosen people Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
To the Canaanite woman, a Gentile, not one of the chosen people, a dog at the table, Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith!”
Even under the oppression and occupation of the Romans, and the Greeks before them, the Jewish people had become full of themselves and had forgotten their purpose – they often used the word “dogs” to refer to the Gentiles and Jesus knew this. What does the Lord say to them in Isaiah, what from Isaiah should they remember? “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people,” That part they seem to understand and yet the Lord continues in Isaiah to say that they will be, “a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” So here you have this Canaanite woman, a woman of the nations, seeking rescue and help for her daughter who is “severely oppressed by a demon” and the disciples want to send her away, this is the opposite of what God desires for them, and Jesus who is God, the second person of the Holy Trinity desires to teach them this, that they are to be merciful: That they, from the wealth of God’s mercy to them, can spare mercy for those seeking after it.
Jesus wanted His disciples and us to love our neighbors; God wanted the Jewish people to love their neighbors, to love the Gentiles, the nations. He wanted this all along – we can hear this yet again from the book of Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson this morning when God speaks by Isaiah saying:
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant
these I will bring to My holy mountain,
and make them joyful in My house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on My altar;
for My house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.”
Also from Isaiah we hear these words:
“I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The faith of the Canaanite woman was used by Jesus to show His disciples that He came not just for the Israelites alone but for the Gentiles – those branches who were to be grafted into the olive tree of Christ’s Body, those neighbors that they were asked to love, those nations to whom they were supposed to be a beacon of light in the darkness of the world. Jesus had said to them, to His disciples, to us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Sometimes it is easy to hide our light, to consider outsiders to be dogs at the table, to call out to Jesus with the disciples that day saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” But this is not what we are called to do. "Dear Lord, when we are callus, and unloving help us remember that we too are dogs at the table, even if our families have been Christian for hundreds of years we have been grafted in because of Your kindness and love, give us the strength to ask for forgiveness, in Jesus name. Amen.”
What this account from the Gospel of Matthew, and from our various readings this morning, demonstrates is the nature of God “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” Jesus did not turn away this woman as His disciples had begged Him to do, hearing her request for mercy, Jesus is merciful as He says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And Saint Matthew tells us that “her daughter was healed instantly.” Remember, even though she was counted as an outsider, she had been taught who this Jesus was because she had initially called out to Him saying “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” As Saint Paul teaches, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” clearly someone had spoken to her about this Jesus before she came seeking His help. Keeping this in mind: when you find a person who wouldn’t usually be classified as Christian who nevertheless finds themselves praying to God, praying to Jesus seeking the mercy of God, even when it runs contrary to everything they normally would stand for take notice of them, treat them with kindness, this woman did not approach Jesus from a place of arrogance, she did not make demands, she didn’t desire to mold or shape Jesus into an image of herself, she simply asked for mercy and God granted it to her.
What the Canaanite woman and the disciples that day, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, didn’t yet know was that all the mercy they were receiving from God came to them, and comes to each of us, directly though this same Jesus by way of His crucifixion where He personally receive blessed little mercy; where He was beaten to the point where He was hardly recognizable, mocked and spat upon, insulted, nailed to the cross, and killed. Jesus knows what it is like to need mercy, to be in the hands of callous and indifferent men. The High Priest Caiaphas and the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate gave Jesus no leftovers, no scraps, no crumbs from their tables, He was not welcome there. Instead Jesus was sent away to His death. Therefore when you pray for mercy remember Jesus understands your call for help, your need for relief. Where He received blessed little mercy from the World you receive an abundance of His mercy. And unlike those who would shoo you away, or treat you poorly you will have His mercy in your time of need. Keep this in mind when you pray for mercy from the threat of Covid-19; when you pray for mercy if sickness visits you. “The Lord is gracious and merciful,” and we see this in our readings today. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Which means His mercy is the present for you every day, and new every morning. Ask from His almighty will and from His will He will give you the mercy you need. The abundance of His table is yours in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Matthew 14:13-21
 John 3:16
 Romans 11:17-24
 Matthew 15:28
 Matthew 14:28
 Matthew 14:30-31
 Isaiah 42:6–7
 Isaiah 56:6-8
 Isaiah 49:6
 Matthew 5:14-16
 Psalm 145:8–9
 Romans 10:17
 Hebrews 13:8
 Lamentations 3:23