Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Proper 15A Sermon -- Matthew 15:21-28

August 14, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.’”

“It’s not meant for you.” You have heard that statement before. Many of you have spoken it to others. What does it mean? The words declare that an individual does not have a claim to something. The item and audience may differ, but the statement remains the same. They have no right to it. It is not to be theirs. What is desired is assigned for someone else, and the one who assigned it will ensure that they get it.

“It’s not meant for you,” appears to be the message that Jesus gives to the Canaanite Woman in the Gospel Reading for this morning. You were told about Jesus’ withdrawal to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He had left Galilee after performing some great miracles and after refuting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus had ventured into the land of the Gentiles. And as He was there, what happened? “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.’”

The Canaanite Woman’s presence and actions bring forward an interesting situation. She asks Jesus for help: “Have mercy on me.” She addresses Jesus with a Messianic title: “O Lord, Son of David.” She wants Jesus to use His authority over the supernatural: “my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Everything that the Canaanite woman says is based on truth: Jesus desires to give aid, He is the Messiah, and He has power over the evil forces in the universe. But does this Gentile have a claim to what Jesus can bring? Is it meant for her?

Jesus’ immediate response to the Canaanite Woman is nothing: “But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus’ disciples notice her presence: “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” But their wish is not met; instead, Jesus replies with a cryptic statement: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And when the woman persists, saying again: “Lord, help me,” Jesus tells her: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Silence, a description of finding Israelites, a proverb about the injustice of throwing children’s food to the floor: these all scream out the message: “It’s not meant for you.”

“It’s not meant for you.” That was the message of Old Testament prophecies and promises—or at least that was the way it seemed. The promises were made to those who came from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the ones identified by the Lord as His Covenant People. The promises were passed down as an entitlement and birthright. By being in the family, you had it made. But this Canaanite Woman had none of this. She was of the wrong group. She was not in the bloodline. Her ancestors had long been enemies of the Lord’s Covenant People. They even had prophecies of judgment spoken against them.

The Canaanite Woman’s response to Jesus acknowledges this. Jesus told her what was unjust, what was not right: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Faced with that, what does she say? “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Grabbing the children’s food and throwing it on the floor is not right, but the Canaanite Woman does not seek that outcome. She knows what is accepted as perfectly good: the masters at table do not catch every crumb that falls from their hands; when the dogs happily eat the crumbs, no one begrudges them. The woman’s response displays no disagreement with Jesus over what is right. Instead, she waits for what might come from Jesus’ generosity.

And that generosity comes! Jesus says to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Her desire for what Jesus can give is answered: “And her daughter was healed immediately.” But in this way, she actually gets what is meant for her. The Canaanite Woman’s actions are the fulfillment of what the Lord desires. In fact, it was promised centuries before in the Old Testament prophecies, including those spoken through Isaiah: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord’s will was to bring people of all nations, all ethnic groups, into fellowship with Himself.

The Canaanite Woman receives the Lord’s promise in the way that He intends to give it. The Lord speaks of people who join themselves to Him and love His name. That is what she did: acknowledging Jesus as Lord, calling Him by His Messianic title. The Lord speaks of people who become His servants. That is what she did: she knelt before Him and asked for mercy, not for entitlement. The Lord’s promise of foreigners being brought to Him was a matter of faith. And what does Jesus say about the Canaanite Woman? “O woman, great is your faith!” In the region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was bringing about the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Jesus’ words and works actually tell the Cannanite Woman: “It is meant for you.”

That same message is brought to you who live centuries later. The Lord’s promise declares: “I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.” That is what has taken place for you. As the Lord has fulfilled His promise, bringing people of all tribes, nations, and languages into fellowship with Himself, you have been gathered in. You have been made to share in the salvation that Jesus has accomplished. You have been included in the covenant that the Lord has made and executed. Like the Canaanite Woman, you have been given to know Jesus’ will, identity, and works—including His death for your sake and His conquest of sin, death, and Satan. That is what the Gospel, the Word of Christ, has brought to you.

But like the Canaanite Woman, you are not given what is right and just—and many thanks for that! What is right and just is not to have the divine actions done for depraved, sinful people. What is right and just would be having divine retribution and punishment brought against you. That is not what Jesus brings. Instead, He gives out of His superabundant mercy. St. Paul puts it this way: “God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.” Jesus’ entire salvation enterprise was going to a location to bring to its people what should not have been theirs. But He came to earth and has brought forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The Gospel that you have received allows you to act like that Canaanite Woman did. Jesus has deliberately come to the region of Harrisburg and Hershey and Carlisle with His Gospel—Proclamation, Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper. He is here, and you cry out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” You kneel and pray: “Lord, help me.” You ask for what you do not deserve. You ask for what only Jesus can give. And you know that it isn’t right for you to get it. But you ask for it, knowing that Jesus is not present to dole out the wages of sin, but to distribute the merits of His sacrifice. You who should be outcasts because of your sin and your sinful ancestry are gathered to be part of the Lord’s household instead. Seeing your actions, your coming in humility, trusting not your goodness but His, Jesus says: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” He says: “It is meant for you.”

So the Lord fulfills His promises, bringing benefit and blessing to you. You are people who receive His favor. But you know that it is a gift and that the Lord who shows you favor desires to show it to others. The Lord’s benefits are not just crumbs that fall from His table: they are what He wishes to bestow to those whom He makes His children. So the ancient prayer of the Lord’s people flows from your lips, as it did today: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” There are many other “Tyres and Sidons” where Jesus’ Gospel is meant to go. What He has to give is meant for all people who are like that Canaanite Woman. He desires to say to them: “It is meant for you, too.” Giving of what you have received from the Lord helps to bring that Gospel to them, so they can be gathered with you and all believers.

All that is what this episode in Jesus’ life reveals. You see His generosity. You see His fulfillment of promises. You see what brings you the Lord’s favor is not any earthly identity; rather, it is belief in who He is, what He does, and what He wills. So hear His promises and believe them. Join yourself to the Lord. Serve Him. Love His name. Hold fast to His covenant. Follow His exhortation: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon My salvation will come, and My deliverance will be revealed.” Then when Jesus returns to gather all His people from the ends of the earth, you will have the promised place in His eternal kingdom. It is meant for you.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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