Lectionary 20 A
One of the nice things about having a dog is not having to worry about what to do with all the leftover food on the table. My family had dog when I was growing up and I learned very quickly that the family dog was only too happy to finish off whatever the family was eating.
One trick I learned at a very early age was that if I was served something that I did not want to eat I could always offer the food to the dog and the dog would eat it.
The situation would go like this: I would wait until no one was looking and then I would slip the food under the table to the open mouth that was waiting below to receive the food and, in an instance the food would be gone. At the time I thought it was a win-win situation because I didn’t have to eat what I did not want to and the dog was only too happy to receive a tasty treat.
This week I thought about the crumbs (and vegetables and liver) that I had fed to the dog as I read the text for today because from Christ’s own words to the Canaanite woman, this trick has been going on for thousands of years.
And so, when we read that Jesus told a woman that it was not fair that one should take the food meant for the children and give it to the dog, we can relate to the message that begging dogs are not what parents want to see at the dinner table.
After all, parents want their children to eat all of their food and so the family dog is not usually allowed at the table until the meal so over so the dog can then clean up the scraps. And the point being that even a dog’s life has its good moments.
As we turn to the text today, we quickly realize that it was a good moment for the Canaanite woman. Yes, the woman had recently experienced plenty of bad moments as she watched her daughter being tormented by a demon, but now she was in the presence of God’s own Son.
And so she cried out to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Realizing that her daughter had been attacked and occupied by a demon she went to Jesus and begged him for His help. But Jesus did not answer her.
And so the woman kept on begging Jesus until her call for help got on the nerves of the disciples and they begged Jesus to get rid of her because she was an embarrassment. After all, what foreigner would talk to Jesus in this manner and beg Jesus for His help. “Send her away,” the disciples said to Jesus, because she is not one of us.
Now it may surprise you to hear that according to the Law of Moses and the customs of the day, Jesus did not owe anything to this beggar. And Jesus would have been well within his right to tell her to leave Him alone.
Jesus could have ignored her and kept on 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.”
Now I realize that most people would resent being treated like that and we would be offended if we were compared to a dog begging for food at the dinner table.
“Nobody treats me like that,” we might say. But this woman knows her place and accepts it because she knows that she is a beggar before God.
And she accepts who Jesus really is, and she knows that God owes her nothing. But she is bold enough and persistent enough to get down on her knees before her Lord and plead her case. And the beauty of her answer is that she answers Jesus in the same way that He spoke to her. “Yes, Lord she answered, I am a begging dog as you say. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And with this answer the woman articulates incredible faith because she accepts what Jesus says about how He was first sent to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And she understands and consents to it, and she submits to Jesus without questioning him for she knows the power of the one she is pleading with and so she keeps to the figurative language of Jesus, showing that she understands and accepts His comparison of her to a begging dog.
The woman is humble enough to admit it because she knows herself well and she knows what she needs. And what she does not need is an elevated self-esteem or a higher self-image. She is okay with being compared to a dog because as long as her master is dropping her crumbs, she is happy to eat them.
And the same should be true with us because as long as God is providing all that we need we should be satisfied. But unfortunately too often we are not happy with what we have been given and so most of the problems that we face today stem from an elevated view of ourselves.
Even though scripture informs us that we all have been born spiritually sick and blind (and we accept this) we sometimes fall for the lie that God owes us something. And perhaps this comes from the idea that the customer is always right therefore we view God as the storeowner and we are His customers.
And so if we are not happy with His services to us, we complain that we are not satisfied with the service we are getting. But what we forget is that we are not customers. We are beggars, and beggars cannot be choosers. God owes us nothing. We in ourselves deserve none of the things that we pray for. As Jesus once 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.” And 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.” And that, I think, is probably our chief reason for disappointment today. Somehow, we have the idea that we are on an entitlement program with God, instead of depending upon His grace.”
We should therefore all remember, as this poor woman did, that everything depends on the grace of God, for as scripture states: “It is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works.”
My friends, the worst thing that we can do is to think that somehow God is obligated to us and owes us the slightest favor. Instead we should follow the perfect example of faith illustrated to us through this woman who states: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ; look at all the crumbs that fall down to us! God does provide all the things that we need in this life. God 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.
God provides for the needs of soul – forgiving our debts, washing away the stains of our past, even giving His Son as the sacrifice to take away our guilt before Him.
God invites us to pray and promises to hear our cries for mercy. God speaks His Word to us, washes us in Baptism and puts His own name on us. God calls out to us and invites us to receive Him in the bread and wine of the Supper.
And all these crumbs keep falling from His table, and there are more crumbs yet to come for one day Christ will return and lift up us all to sit at His royal table, where a great banquet will be set for us.
The wonderful example set before us today is that this woman believed that Jesus could help her and she was ready to catch any crumb that might fall from Christ’s table. And 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.
People of God: God’s Mercy Is Great. Therefore, don’t be too proud to plead with Him and to get down on your knees and call upon His mercy. For the Lord is compassionate and full of Grace. Amen.
Let us pray: Ever-loving God, your Son, Jesus Christ, gave Himself as living bread for the life of the world. Give us such a knowledge of His presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by His Risen Life to serve you continually. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.