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." He 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. Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)
Our daughter has been asking for a dog lately. I can't blame her, only child. We already have a cat, an old one, who is scared of everything else, even her own shadow. So for now the dog will have to wait.
One of the nice things about having a dog in the house is what to do with leftovers. If you had a dog in your house when you were growing up you remember that little trick at the table when you had to eat something you didn't like. You wait until your parents aren't looking, then slip the food under the table to the open mouth that was waiting below.
From Jesus' words to the Canaanite woman, this trick has been going on for thousands of years. It's a win-win situation. The kids don't have to eat what they don't like, and the dog is happy to get a tasty snack. The problem is that begging dogs are not what parents want to see at the table. And, kids, your parents want you to eat your own supper. So we send the dog away until after the meal is over. Then they get to clean up the scraps. Even a dog's life has its good moments.
It was a good moment for that Canaanite woman. She had plenty of bad moments lately. Her daughter was possessed by a demon. An agent of Satan attacked her body. Today some might consider this to be a form of mental illness, but the Bible differentiates between mental illnesses and demon possession. Jesus cast out many demons, and he also healed people from paralysis and palsies. A demon occupied this little body. Even children suffer the attacks of the devil. So this woman came to Jesus and followed him begging for his help. There was nothing she would not do for her little girl, even beg, just as you would do for your beloved children. Anything, just help her.
She went on begging Jesus. "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. Help my little girl." She went on so long and loudly that it began to get on the nerves of the disciples and they resolved to do something about it. They came to Jesus begging also, saying, "Get rid of her. Tell her to go. She's becoming a nuisance. Besides, she is a foreigner. Have nothing to do with her. We've got a preaching engagement to make."
The disciples were right about her being a foreigner. She was a Canaanite woman. Mark says she was a Syrophonecian, a person from the seacoast, known for it's false gods and immoral practices. In those days it was unacceptable for women to chase after men in the streets as strumpets would. It was also uncomfortable for a Jewish person to acknowledge a gentile who was not a convert to Judaism.
According to the Law of Moses and the customs of his day, Jesus owed nothing to this beggar woman. He would have been well within his means to tell her to leave him alone. He could have ignored her and kept walking. But out of compassion for a person in great need Jesus stopped and said, ""I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
Most people would resent being compared to a little dog begging food at the table. "Nobody treats me like a dog," we say. But this woman knows her place and accepts it. She is a beggar before God. She has a good clue about who Jesus really is, and she knows God owes her nothing. But she is bold and persistent enough to get down on her knees before him and keep pleading her case.
The beauty of her answer is that she answers Jesus in the same way he spoke to her. She says, "Yes, Lord, I am a little begging dog as you say. But even the little dogs get to eat the crumbs that the children drop from the table."
Her answer to Jesus is wonderful in every way. She accepts what he says about how He was first sent on his messianic mission to the chosen nation. She understands and consents to it, and she submits without questioning it. She does not complain against his reasoning or argue about the fairness. She knows the power of the one she is pleading with.
She keeps to the figurative language of Jesus, showing she understands and accepts his comparison of her to a begging dog, and she is humble enough to admit it. She does so because she knows herself well and she knows what she needs. She does not need an elevated self-esteem. She does not need a higher self-image. She's okay being a little dog, as long as her master is dropping the crumbs, she'll be happy to eat them.
Often our problems stem from an elevated view of ourselves. The Bible teaches us that we are born spiritually sick and blind. We accept that on the surface, but somewhere inside we get to thinking God owed us something. Perhaps it's the idea that the customer is always right. We view God as the storeowner and we are the customers. If we aren't pleased with his services to us, we complain that we aren't satisfied with the service we are getting.
What we forget is that we are not customers. We are beggars, and beggars can't be choosers. God owes us nothing. We in ourselves deserve none of the things we pray for. As Jesus said, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.' "" Luke 17:10 (ESV) St. Peter recognized this when the Lord called him to be a disciple. He fell down at Jesus' feet saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Luke 5:8 (ESV)
As we confess in the Catechism section on the Lord's Prayer, "We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them." That is our chief reason for disappointment today. We have got the idea that we are on an entitlement program with God, instead of depending on his continual grace.
We should all remember, as this poor woman did, that everything depends on the grace of God. As the Scripture says, "It is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works. (Ephesians 2:8-9). The worst thing we can do is to think that somehow God is beholding to us and owes us the slightest favor. Remember, the Bible says we have all like sheep gone astray. Every one of us has turned to his own way. We should make no promises to God like, "if you will only do this for me, I will dedicate my life to you." What good thing do we have that God did not already give to us?
Rather, we have a perfect example of the persistent prayer of faith in this dog woman of Canaan. "Even the little pet dogs underneath the table eat the little crumbs that fall from the children," she says.
Look at the crumbs falling down to us! H provides all the things of this life. He supports our body and soul, giving us food and clothing, home and family, education, good government, protection from evil, good weather, friends and productive employment.
He provides for the needs of our soul--forgiving our debts, washing away the stains of our past, giving His son as the sacrifice to take away our guilt before God. He invites us to pray and hears our cries for mercy. He speaks his word to us, washes us in Baptism and puts his own name on us. He calls out to us and invites us to receive him in the bread and wine of the Supper.
These crumbs keep on falling from his table, and there are more that have yet to fall. One day He will come and lift us up to sit at his royal table, where a great banquet has been set for us. Jesus said it himself, "In my Father's house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you."
This woman believes that Jesus can help her. She is ready to catch any crumb that might fall from the table. She has withstood his test, and her faith is firm. Jesus said to her, "Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And Matthew records for us that her daughter was healed instantly.
What needs do we have of the Lord? Are you sick and unsure of your health? Jesus hears your prayers. Are you afraid of what the future might hold? Christ knows all things. Take this woman's example and plead for his help. God's mercy is great. You will receive just what you need, even the salvation of your soul. Don't be too proud to plead with Jesus. Get down on your knees and call upon His mercy. He is compassionate to your every need.
I suppose one day we will have a little dog under the table at our house. There will always be something for it to eat as long as it is with us. How much more true is this for us who live beneath the table of the Lord?
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