13 Pentecost A | Matthew 15:21-28
(Last fall, I preached this sermon at a Luther Seminary chapel service. I adapted it from an earlier post I made here.)
Dear Canaanite Sister,
You go girl! I've never seen anyone talk to Jesus like that. And this from someone who so clearly does not belong. No one has called anyone a Canaanite for centuries. You are a foreigner—or you would be a foreigner if it were not your home turf that Jesus had wandered into. What's more, you are a Canaanite woman in the middle of a group of Jewish men. You are so out of place and so out of time and so exactly where your daughter needs you to be.
I heard you first, before I saw you. You were screaming, crying, crying out, wailing in that Emergency Room that doubles as a road through Tyre and Sidon . So completely foreign it all was. What were you doing there? What was Jesus doing there? You would tell him what he was doing. "Have mercy on me, Son of David," you said. "My daughter… my daughter is tormented by a demon."
You were screaming when you said this, hysterical we would say. It was hard to hear, harder to watch. You followed those men, still crying after them. The disciples wondered if the demon didn't have hold of you, too. You kept shouting. They asked Jesus to dismiss you. He ignored them. But he ignored you too, and some of us who know him found his silence even more disturbing than your cries.
Then he spoke, and things got worse. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ," he said. At that point, had I been you, I would have gotten angry. "Sent only to Israel, huh? Then what the hell are you doing in Tyre? Need a map, Mister Omniscient Son of God?"
Did you teach the Teacher? "Lord, help me," you said, instead of fussing about just who was lost and who was out of place. To which you heard, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
You were kneeling when he said this, existing low where it is possible to smell exactly what the Rottweiler had for lunch. Had you fallen at his feet just to stop him in his tracks? Maybe, but your kneeling looked like the posture of worship. It looked like you were praying when he said you were a dog. And heaven knows, “Lord help me!” is a prayer.
"It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." We still cannot quite believe our Jesus said this. We are so embarrassed that Jesus would call anyone a dog, and we are so nonchalant about God keeping promises to God's children—unless, of course, we are the children of God to whom the promises were made. But when Jesus spoke of the children and their bread, he was not talking about most of us any more than he was talking about you. You knelt before him, and he as much as said, “You are right where you belong, dog.”
I wonder if it was not your place below the action that told you what to say next. "Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." I'm down here, Lord, with the dogs, looking for just a little. A little… “My daughter…. Have mercy…. Crumbs."
Did you teach the Teacher? I think you did. Because of you and your fierce need, God's own Son himself came to see his life's work as bigger than before. What he had not thought to look for in anyone like you, he saw: faith. He saw your tenacious conviction that he could help, and amazed, he did.
I have thought that fear makes it impossible to imagine things. "Perfect fear casts out all imagination," I have thought. But you were afraid—you must have been afraid of the demon and of your daughter's suffering and afraid of all those foreign men and all their insults. You must have been afraid, yet you could see a new thing—healing—at the same time. “Woman,” Jesus said (choosing, finally, a better name than dog), “Great is your faith.” You imagined healing before it happened and you showed it to the Healer.
Walking by faith, crying out by faith, kneeling and talking back to God by faith like that, what might we see?
Can faith declare God's work for us in places where we don't belong?
Will faith point us, with you, to that stranger on the road—out of place himself—who certainly can help?
Will it break for us the loaf that is enough for children and for dogs.
Might your story help us grasp these things even when we're terrified?
You taught the Teacher. What will you teach us?