Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 15:21-28 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 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.” 23 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.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
First let’s take a look at what happened, then look at the main people involved in this Gospel.
Jesus was in the region of Gennesaret, near the Sea of Galilee. This is Jewish territory, not far from Capernaum where he lived.
But then, suddenly, Jesus decides to make a journey into Gentile territory, the district of Tyre and Sidon, two Canaanite cities along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, apparently wishing to get away from the crowds for a short rest. However, he was noticed by a Canaanite woman who came to him.
Now, two things are of special note here. One, the woman was a Canaaite, a Gentile, not a Jew, not of the household of God, but a foreigner, an outsider. Jesus even points out to her that he was sent for the household of Israel, of whom she was not.
The other remarkable thing we notice here is that nothing else is ever said in scripture about this trip far out of Jesus’ way into Gentile territory other than the visit from this woman. A trip that would cost him several days to go and come. Time out of his ministry to the people of Israel, not to mention the fatigue and tiredness of making such a journey. Yet he went, and from the silence of scripture it is clear that the purpose of his journey there was for this one thing. He went there to help this one person. We see the love of Jesus shine like a beacon light as he sacrificed, toiled, and exerted himself all for a single person, and that person a gentile, an outsider. Someone hated and despised by his own circle of friends and family. Let this be a comfort to you in your needs, that Jesus never tires of hearing and answering your requests and prayers. He comes to you personally, individually in the sacraments. He is never too busy to attend to your specific needs, no matter how small or puny they may be, he will always take the time and go out of his way to hear you and help you.
What was her need? Her daughter was afflicted by a demon, an unclean spirit, an angel of Satan. She came seeking release for her daughter from the grip the devil had on her.
Why did this woman, a non-Israelite, a foreigner, come to Jesus? Because of the word and testimony of people who told her about him. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and because of that word, she believed that he would receive her kindly, even though she was an outsider, a gentile.
She knew she didn’t deserve any favor from Jesus. This is the faith of every true believer, yet she came. She said in her heart, “Although I am a foreigner, I speak a different language, I am not of the people of God, and I have nothing to bring to him, nothing to offer him, no money, no ability to render him service, I have only my sins and my lack of merits, still I am convinced that he will hear me, he will have compassion on me, for he is a good and kind man.”
And Jesus preached a sermon to her. He began with the Law. He made sure she knew that she was a sinner, “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise,” (Eph. 2:12). He ignored her at first. Then He told her that he had come only to the house of Israel. Then he called her a dog. We too must remember that we are by birth not of the household of God. We too were born gentile sinners, foreigners, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. We were outsiders. Cut off from God by our sin. Banished from the presence of God, and placed under the curse of death, since the Garden of Eden. But this woman, apart from all human reason, trusted that in Christ Jesus those who were far off, banished and condemned sinners, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. This is the word of promise that she held to. This is what this woman knew and believed, so, she persisted. Oh, that we all would have such a faith in the hour of trial and need!
But, as she came near to Jesus and was crying out after him to have mercy on her, other people come onto the scene. The disciples of Jesus became annoyed. They knew she was an outsider, she did not belong here. They then put even more obstacles in her way. They told Jesus, “Send her away for she is crying behind us.” They had angry expressions on their faces, threatening scowls, eyes that burned into her conscience. Have we ever sent away a hungry person without food? Have we ever been cold to the visitor who seeks to be in God’s presence? Have we ever closed our hearts to a homeless person in need? Is not Jesus speaking to us when he says, “I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink, naked and you did not clothe me, sick or in prison and you did not visit me”? That is exactly what the disciples did that day. They denied the love of God to the woman and tried to lock her out of His presence.
This certainly hurt. For when we are rejected, told to go away, shut out, excluded, we feel pain. And she even more so, for she was there out of love for her daughter. She was not seeking anything on her own behalf. She was not wanting something for herself. She was acting out of a love that was ready to sacrifice everything, including her own personal dignity and respect, in order to save her daughter. Here she gives us the highest and most noble example of true Christian love. Agape love, that is not a feeling, but it is action on behalf of someone else. She was taking action, and in the face of opposition and threats, she did not back off or turn away.
And then there was Jesus. At first. he did not answer or speak to her. When he finally did speak. he said, “Woman, you are a gentile, but I am sent only to the House of Israel. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Surely, she might have thought, “What a fool I have been coming here. I have been misled about this Jesus. I am mistaken about him and will go away.” But, she did not look at what her ears and eyes perceived. She only saw what her faith that trusted in the words about Jesus saw. So she persisted with her own argument saying, “Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Jesus allowed her to push back. To present her arguments, to bring her complaint to him.
We see here an example of true Christian faith. She did not relent, but instead trusted. In the face of threats, scorn, hatred, she did not lose her faith in the one she had heard about and believed in on account of those words. She knew this Jesus as the one who was coming to smash Satan and trash his kingdom. She knew that Jesus is the stronger man that entered into the strong man’s home to plunder it by the cross.
And by faith she knew that Jesus willingly and voluntarily suffered all things, faced the most extreme temptations and hardships, was dealt with harshly, tormented, and would die on a cross and be cast into the eternal fire of hell for her. That he had come all this way from Galilee to this foreign country with help just for her. That by his death, he would release her daughter from the jaws of Satan.
This is for our great comfort today. For you too are gentiles. You too are sinners. You are not the house of Israel. Nevertheless, although you were outsiders by birth, separated from the covenants and promises of God, by his giving himself over to death for us, you have been delivered from the jaws of Satan. Your sin is forgiven and the curse of sin is removed. Your lack of love has been paid for by Jesus, and you will not go to hell because of your sin. That his death is the death which wipes away your death and is the gate into the eternal kingdom of God. And you are also assured that Jesus came to save you individually. Just as he made that entire trip to a foreign country, he comes on your behalf to help and serve you. Do not ever say that Jesus must be too busy to listen to your trivial prayer; that he has too much to do to stop and help you, with all the big problems in the world. No. We see here that He even goes out of his way to help you, to give you what you need. Such is the love of Christ for you.
In her persistence, we see her faith. This is not a text that urges us to pray without ceasing. This is not a law text giving us instruction on prayer. This is a gospel text, where we see, by her persistence in prayer, an example of true faith that comes only by the word of God. This is a gospel text that shows us the love of Jesus for us, that he goes out of his way to help each individual person in our need. That he allows us to come to him with our needs and even complaints and to argue with him. That he voluntarily gives himself for us without pay or recompense to help us in our need. And the example of the woman shows us how certain we too may be that Jesus is nothing but a good and kind Savior who deals with us only in mercy and grace.
May this faith be your faith! Amen.