Sermon based on Mt 15:21-28 for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear children of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the most heart-wrenching things to see is a small child seriously ill, especially as the parent of the child. You stand by, not knowing what will happen. You feel completely helpless because there is nothing you can do for the poor child. You cannot heal them. You cannot make them feel better. You feel desperate to find a solution for the illness, to find someone who can help.
The woman in our Gospel reading was in this position. Her daughter was demon possessed and there was nothing she could do for her. There was nothing anyone could do… except for Jesus. Jesus is the only hope this woman had for her daughter to be healed and to be released from the demon. So she did the one thing she could do when Jesus came near.
As soon as Jesus arrived in the area, the woman immediately fell down at His feet, and she continually begged for Him to cast the demon out of her daughter, beseeching Him for help. She poured her heart out, telling Jesus about her little daughter and pleading for mercy. But Jesus did not answer her a word. He gave no indication that He even heard her pleas for mercy. He showed no sign of care, or that He would respond in any way.
This leads to the disciples’ suggestion that Jesus send her away because she’s following them around crying out after them. Finally Jesus responds not to the woman but to the disciples by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She nevertheless continues her prayer, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answered her prayer by saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26).
This woman was a Gentile, a Canaanite, not from the seed of Abraham, not a member of the people of God to whom the Messiah was promised. It is not right to take the bread away from the children of promise in order to throw it to the dogs. She is not worthy of having her prayer answered. She is an undeserving dog. Jews considered dogs to be the most despicable, insolent and miserable of creatures. Dogs were considered unclean. Calling someone a dog was very derogatory and demeaning. And yet, Jesus says that she is not a child of the household, but a dog.
Is this the kind of answer we expect from God when we pray for something? Or what kind of an answer do we expect from God? Do we expect a “Yes”? In the very least, we hope for Him to answer, “Not right now, but later.” We don’t really expect the response, “You are an unworthy, undeserving dog”!
Are we any different than the Canaanite woman? Our sins are so great, and the way we have lived our lives makes us the most despicable, insolent and miserable of all creatures. So do we pray demanding from God that He take away our sickness and pain because we deserve it? Do we pray like we have a right that our child be healed from a debilitating illness? Do we pray like God owes us health and wealth in this life? Do we pray like we do not deserve the pain and suffering in our life?
Jesus tells this sinful woman that she is not worthy to receive anything from Him as she begs at His feet. She does not argue or disagree. She acknowledges her unworthiness and seizes on what Jesus says, responding, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v. 27). She does not base her request on her worthiness to receive anything from God. She bases her request on her faith in Jesus’ love and mercy being so overabundant, that they overflow the children’s table and are more than enough for her, the dog under the table.
What faith this woman had! She knew that Jesus was the only one who could help and make her daughter whole. She acknowledged that Jesus is God by calling Him “Lord” and by recognizing that He had the authority to cast the demon out of her daughter. She believed that He would help her. She realized she was asking for a blessing that she did not deserve and that did not rightfully belong to her, yet she believed that out of Jesus’ love and mercy, it would be given to her. Although Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5-6, 15:24), this Gentile woman trusted that all nations would be blessed through the Messiah of Israel as prophesied in the Old Testament, including our Old Testament reading this morning.
So we return again to us. How do we pray? How should we pray to God? Like this woman, we should realize our unworthiness and pray to Him not on account of our worthiness, but on account of His promise to hear us. In our confession and absolution this morning we also heard the same: “Let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition” (LSB, 203). We confess that we are unworthy to receive anything from God and deserve nothing but hell and eternal punishment.
The suffering we experience in this life is due to our sin and the sin of everyone else, and we have no right to expect anything else. We are undeserving dogs.
Yet, the Son of God left heaven and became man. He came to save us, even though we are miserable, undeserving dogs. He came to be despised and rejected by us (Is. 53:3) and to die for our sins. And He did this in order to give us what we do not deserve. He came to give us the forgiveness of our sins. He came to give us new life. He came so that we might no longer be dogs, but be adopted as His children (Rom. 8:15).
As His children, Jesus has taught us to pray to God the Father, calling Him “Our Father”. So we do not need to be anxious about anything, but through prayer and supplication, let our requests be made known to God our Father (Phil. 4:6).
So, even though we are unworthy, we can expect God to answer our prayer. Not because we deserve it, but because He has promised to answer our prayer. We can trust God’s answer to our prayers, because He always hears our prayer and answers how He knows best.
And what kind of an answer can we expect? Like the Canaanite woman, perhaps the first answer we receive may be no answer at all. It may seem to us like He does not hear us. Perhaps the answer we receive will be like the second answer the Canaanite woman received – an answer to humble us, to make us realize that we do not deserve that for which we ask. And perhaps, like this woman, God will eventually grant us our request.
But sometimes, we ask for something which will not be granted to us. The apostle Paul pleaded with God that he would have the thorn in his flesh removed, that it would leave him. God responded to Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). So Paul says he will therefore gladly boast of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might rest upon him (2 Cor. 12:9).
The world is filled with suffering and illness and poverty because of our sin, and Christians suffer along with unbelievers. But God’s power is shown in you, when you suffer loss, yet say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). God’s power is shown when you suffer sickness and still thank God for life and breath. God’s power is shown to the unbelieving world when you suffer trial and tribulation, yet you say, “This all I deserve, I am an unworthy dog, yet God has taken me into His house, forgiven me my sin, and made me His child.” This is the power of the Gospel. Through God’s way of answering our prayers, He prepares us to receive more good from Him than we ever thought possible. His love, mercy, and good gifts are so generous, they overflow the table and fill the floor. And He picks us up off the floor and seats us at His table. He seats us at His table, where He gives us the bread of life in His Son’s body and blood. He also prepares an eternal banquet for us to celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.
While we are undeserving dogs, God’s love and mercy are overflowing in abundance to us. So when you feel helpless and desperate, seek Him Who answers prayer. Pray like an undeserving dog for what you do not deserve. Fall at the feet of Jesus, relying on His love and mercy. Not only do His love and mercy overflow the table and spill onto the floor, but Jesus picks you up off the floor and seats you at His table. On the cross He took the punishment that you deserve so that you will receive what you do not deserve – eternal life. And He is now preparing your place at His eternal banquet table, where He will feed you forever as His dear child. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.