Proper 15 + August 20, 2017 + Matthew 10:21-28
Preached August 20th at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
A woman is calling out to Jesus for help. Surely, he will listen. Surely, he cares about her. Her daughter is possessed by a demon and she knows where to go for help. She goes to the men she’s heard about. The men who cast out demons and restore those possessed back to their communities. They are here for her.
All she has to do is ask for help. These men have the power of God in their hands. These men have the power. She’s heard about these men and their willingness to help. They will help her. Surely, they will help her. She hears the crowd of disciples walking by. She hears Jesus preaching. Now is her chance. Now, she will get healing for her daughter. She feels hopeful.
The woman cries out loudly, “Show me mercy, Son of David! My daughter is suffering!” She asks for mercy. She calls Jesus “Son of David.” But he didn’t respond. Did he not hear her? Is “Son of David” not his name?
Motivated by her daughter’s suffering, she keeps yelling. She follows the men. “Have mercy on us! My daughter is suffering! Help us!”
They keep walking, ignoring her. She follows and repeats her message. “Help us!”
Finally, annoyed by her persistence, the disciples appeal to Jesus to tend to her. But not to heal her. To send her away. “We can’t make her stop. Jesus, send her away. She is annoying us.”
If they were the disciples of Jesus, surely they would have had compassion on her. This is what they do, right? They heal the sick, free the possessed. This is their calling, their purpose. And surely, Jesus would turn around and demand that his disciples attend to this woman. There is a daughter who is suffering and in need of healing.
Instead, Jesus replies, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” What?! Jesus denies her request? Jesus says to her, in front of all his disciples, “You’re not my problem.”
Jesus declares publicly that he is only there to serve the people of Israel. This can’t be right. Did y’all read that in the text, too? Did you see that? Am I reading this right?
Jesus is claiming that God has sent him only to care for the lost sheep of Israel. That means his priority is only for Jewish people who have gone astray.
Did we read that right? By using the phrase, “lost sheep, the people of Israel,” he is implying that his job is to return these sheep to the nation of Israel. He finds which sheep that have left the fold and returns them to Israel where they can be brought up in the law. Surely, there is an explanation for this. Surely, Jesus wouldn’t be exclusive or nationalistic. Surely, we aren’t reading this right. Surely, we are missing something.
I guess we better read on.
The woman persists. She kneels before Jesus. Her voice drops. Her yelling ceases. She stops the crowd. “Lord, help me.” She calls Jesus by a different name this time. She calls him, “Lord.” Kyrie. Help me.
The crowd is silent. They are watching this exchange. They are aghast at the boldness of this woman. She defied the authority of these men. They told her to be quiet. They told her to stop bothering Jesus. She persisted. She went directly to Jesus, the Son of David, and begged for his attention. He sent her away, but she didn’t go away.
Surely, he would strike her down. Surely, he would put her in her place. The crowd is watching. The woman, kneeling in the dirt before Jesus, asks again, “Lord, help me.”
Jesus doesn’t disappoint the crowd. He puts the woman in her place. He says an extremely offensive thing, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” He tells this woman, the lost sheep of Israel are the children. She is the dog begging at the table. He tells her that her request is taking his attention from the children. She, the dog, is putting herself above the children.
Are you reading this? Are you hearing this? Is this our same Jesus? The Jesus who silences the crowd and says, “No, no, let them come to me. Let the blind man be healed.” Is this the same Jesus who spoke to the woman at the well? Is this the same Jesus who just 6 chapters prior, heals the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years? Is this the same Jesus who we talk about every Sunday? Our same Jesus who welcomes all of us, even those of us who aren’t Jewish, to eat at the table? Is this our same Jesus? Did he really just call her a dog in front of his disciples?
Unfazed, and unwavering, the woman persists. She says, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”
“Sure, call me a dog. Tell me that I’m not your child or your priority. Tell me you can’t be bothered by my request. Tell me I’m not good enough to warrant your attention. Just heal my daughter. I’ll take it. Like a dog begging at the table, I am happy to get any scraps I can. Just heal my daughter.” Her words stop Jesus in his tracks.
Jesus hears the woman. He says, “Great is your faith.” Matthew then tells us that her daughter was healed instantly.
For those of us who are wanting Jesus to answer our prayers, we might be wondering at this point in the story, what was it that the woman did to get her prayers answered? Why did Jesus finally choose to respond to her? If I have “great faith” would that mean Jesus would listen to me? If my faith was big enough could my prayers be answered?
Just for a moment, let’s not rush to coming up with a formula for getting our requests answered. Let’s not try to answer our lifelong question of, “What can I do to make God listen to me?” Let’s look at this woman. Let’s listen to her request. Let’s consider her experience.
She persisted with her request in the midst of public embarrassment, being ignored, being seen as an annoying pest for someone to deal with. She knew what she needed and she persisted with her request. She was told, “no” multiple times, but she didn’t give up. She persisted.
How frustrating it is to have people not listen to her. How frustrating it is to have the group of men tell her to be quiet. How embarrassing it is for her to hear the men ask their leader, Jesus, to deal with her- to silence her. How awful it must have been to be called a dog in front of all of those people. But, she persisted. She never waivered. And the disciples are seen as fools and Jesus is impressed with her great faith. And her daughter is healed instantly.
Dear friends, we know this woman. We are this woman.
We are living in a time where it seems like our pleas are falling on deaf ears. We are fighting for justice but folks tell us to just sit down and be nice. We try and try and try and try but it seems like nothing is working. We advocate for the poor, but the system keeps them poor. We speak up for the marginalized but those in power deny there is a problem. We meet to pray and to work to dismantle racism, but then they meet to protest, then we counter, but then someone dies. So we get up and we try again. We try to make our voices heard, we try to affect change, we try and we try and we try. But they, the people in power, don’t believe us.
Even though it seems like all our efforts for peace and justice aren’t working, please be encouraged.
The more irritated they, those in power, are annoyed, the more we know our message is being heard. When the woman was loudly crying out to Jesus, that is when they, the disciples, those in power, got the most annoyed. That is when they wanted to silence her. But she kept crying out. She kept after Jesus. She begged, she demanded, for him to listen to her. She persisted and her daughter was healed.
If you are discouraged in your efforts to work for peace, be the Canaanite woman. If you are frustrated in your efforts for reconciliation, pursue with the same fervor you would if life depended on it. Because lives do depend on our work for justice.
Staying positive, staying hopeful, feeling close to God- none of these are markers of great faith. Instead, great faith is marked by persistence, by pursuit after God’s will.
Let us all persist so that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done.
Holy God, teach us through the story of this woman in our passage today. Show us how to love and advocate for those who need you to intervene. Show us how to pray on behalf of those who suffer. Forgive us when we are complacent and recharge us when we are tired.