Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 15:21-28)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost + August 20, 2017
Text: Matthew 15:21-28

The Psalmist, David writes in Psalm 25:6, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.”   And it’s true: God always remembers us. The harder thing is for us to remember Him.  Our sin causes a double forgetfulness.  When we prosper and things are good, we take it for granted and forget that everything we have in this life comes from Him.  Then, when we suffer and times are hard, we forget His love and faithfulness and think that He has abandoned us.
So, how can we be trained to remember the Lord’s mercy and steadfast love toward us?  It comes through the testing of our faith, when God doesn’t prosper us, and hides His face when we’re in trouble.  James is even so bold to say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”[1]  This may not be the kind of God you want Him to be, but He is the kind of God who loves you and saves you eternally.
Now to be trained in this lesson, our Lord holds up the example of dogs.
It seems for many these days, their dogs are like children to them.  Yet, no matter how close a person is with their dog, there’s still more of a connection between parents and their true, human children.  God tells us that we are His beloved children through faith.  Because of that, we are certain that God is our dear Father and we are His dear children.  But here, Jesus uses dogs as an example from which the children can learn.  And what we can learn best of all from our canine companions is how to ask for what we need.
The disciples were quite annoyed that this Canaanite woman was crying out after them.  They begged Jesus to just send her away.  After all, He seemed to be ignoring her.  But the Lord was using this encounter to teach his disciples and teach this poor woman.  A dog’s begging can teach us how to pray.
Dogs are not shy about begging for what they want.  If a dog wants something you have, it is a difficult force to stop.  You can close the door, but then comes the scratching and the whining.  The Canaanite woman shows this same unabashed confidence.  Her people were despised reminders of Israel’s unfaithfulness, but here she is calling out after Israel’s Messiah.
And that’s how the Lord wants us to pray—with confidence.  God’s table is full of good things: comfort for our sorrows, abundance for our poverty, mercy for our sins, and even life for our death.  Yet, we assume He keeps all that just for Himself or only gives it to better people than us. We think, God must have better people to help than me.  But if He truly is your Father, He wants to give us every good thing.  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”[2]  He has promised it, so we should boldly ask for it.
The wording of the Lord’s Prayer reflects this too.  The fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” sounds very poetic, but the Greek is much bolder: “Our daily bread…give it to us! Today![3] It’s as if there’s no one else who can give us what we need for the day and tomorrow will be too late.
When you pray, beg like a dog and be confident.
The whines of a begging dog teach us about our posture in prayer.  When you have a table full of a delicious food, only a disorderly scoundrel of a dog would jump up and steal from your plate.  But even the most well-behaved dog will still approach the dinner table, head bowed, showing you the big eyes, and whimper.  A good dog knows its place in the pack.  They know that the food on your table doesn’t belong to them.  Even so, they really, really, really want some of what you have.  And this is a picture of humility.
When Jesus finally did answer the Canaanite woman, He brushed her off and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 
Jesus is not discriminating against her because of her nationality or race.  He doesn’t brush her off as if to say that one group of people—be it Israelites, fair skinned people, or Americans—are children, while others are dogs and deserve inhumane treatment.  That’s an issue right now with a resurgence in white supremacy and alt-right nationalism.  Supporters of these ideas claim that people should take care of white Americans as “children” while the rest, be they Mexican, or Jewish, or Muslim, should be cast off and treated as second class.
This is bigotry and does not come from God, no matter how many out-of-context Bible passages twisted men use.  He made the people of every nation, but it was our sin which divided us into nations and languages after the Tower of Babel.[4]  It’s our own wickedness which makes us proud of outward traits like skin, body features, language, or citizenship.  But God’s desire is for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[5]
Even for Canaanites to seek after Israel’s Savior.  So, even though Jesus brushes her off by saying He was sent only to Israel, “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.’”  Jesus tells her, You see this rich spread on the Lord’s Table?  It’s not for you because you don’t deserve it.  It’s for the children, and you are a rebellious sinner.  You deserve to be cast into the outer darkness.  But her response is incredible: “Yes, Lord.”  She acknowledges that she doesn’t deserve even the smallest table scrap.  If fact, she doesn’t even deserve to still be breathing in His presence.  Neither she, nor any other human being—even Israelites—have something to boast about that will get God’s attention.  Yet, how she responds expresses a humility that acknowledges all this, and yet seeks the grace the Lord has promised.
When you pray, beg like a dog and be humble.
Now think about your dog when you have to put it out in the garage or back yard.  It will stand at the door whining and scratching.  How long does that go on?   Dogs may have a short attention span while you’re training them, but if they have their heart set on something—namely you—they don’t give up quickly.  If you were to come back an hour later, you would probably find that dog waiting right at the door, as if any moment you were going to open for them.  A begging dog is persistent, even if you brush them off.
That’s what we also see between the Lord and this woman.  He refuses her three times: First, he doesn’t answer her a word.  Second, He tells her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And finally He tells her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  As Jesus compares her to a dog, He’s also holding up her example of persistence.  Finally with her answer, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” He commends the faith she has.  It is a faith which, when put to the test, proves to be true.
In faith, she has the confidence to ask Jesus, humbly acknowledging that she deserves nothing.  Now, her faith is shown to be genuine because she doesn’t take adversity for rejection. Her persistence shows that her faith is in Jesus alone.  She isn’t hedging her bets and just “trying prayer out.”  It’s real and it’s serious—her only hope is the Lord.  If it’s true that “neither death nor life…nor anything in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” shall we be turned away by “tribulation, or distress, or persecution”?[6]  God our Father has commanded us to pray and promised to hear us.  We do well to listen to Him!
When you pray, beg like a dog and don’t give up until He answers you.
Now, what dogs are after and what we need are very different things.  Dogs are satisfied with people food, a scratch behind the ears, and a place to snuggle up next to you.  Our needs are more complex.  But everything that we need, God’s table has in abundance.  This woman confessed that she would be satisfied by even crumbs from the Lord’s table, because His bountiful goodness is so great.  The Psalmist declares, “A day in the Lord’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere”[7]  Even the littlest bit of God’s abundant love, mercy, and provision is enough to satisfy all of our needs.
Out of even these undeserved crumbs, He gives us the peace we need through His Word.  When everything seems broken beyond repair to us, even our troubled heart is not beyond His help.  And we have still more comfort!  God’s table, metaphorically speaking, is full of the goodness of our Father’s house.  Well, the Lord Himself does prepare an actual Table with all of these things.  “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Lord’s table.”  The Lord has set His Table here today with the choicest of Food and Drink: His own Body and Blood for Christians to eat and drink.  No other food has the promise, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”[8]  The Food spread on your Lord’s Table has the power to forgive all your sins and unite you with your Lord and His victory over death.
Your Lord and Master is here to give you every good thing.  He satisfies you with the abundance of His house.[9]  You are far more than a pet in His house; you are a beloved son through Jesus Christ.  As a son, come to your Heavenly Father confidently, humbly, and persistently.  He hears your prayers of faith and never forsakes you, even if He may not answer when and how you want.  “Be it done for you as you desire.” Amen.
[1] James 1:2-3
[2] Matthew 7:11
[3] Matthew 6:11
[4] Genesis 11:1-9
[5] 1 Timothy 2:4
[6] Romans 8:38, 35
[7] Psalm 84:10 ; Psalm 90:14
[8] John 6:54
[9] Psalm 36:8