Proper 15/A [Pent. 11] (08/16/2020): Ps. 67; Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28.
Dogs, “To take the children’s bread and to throw [it] to the dogs is not good.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs that are falling from their masters’ table.” Thereupon Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great! Let it be for you as you wish” (vv. 26-28a, b).
It startles when we hear Jesus describe a distressed woman and her daughter as “dogs”. So, what are we to make of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman?
Resistance to his ministry was on the increase; violence inflicted with the murder of JB, and more being threatened; unbelieving crowds viewed him as a curiosity, a bread-king and miracle healer; Jewish leaders dogged him with false charges; and his Apostles remained relatively clueless of his identity.
Jesus retreated into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. When confronted by a Canaanite woman, he employ’s the occasion to advance his Apostles’ understanding. Yes, after walking on the sea, the Apostles did confess him “Son of God”, but there was much more that needed unpacking, notably that “Israel” was no longer a static OT designation. In Jesus, God was making Israel anew (Isa. 56: 1, 6-8).
By describing, for his Apostles, the Canaanite mother and daughter as “dogs”, Jesus was employing Judaism’s false catechism that it is only the physical seed of Abraham who were elect “children” of God in salvation history.
Jesus was now put-upon by a Gentile whose confession of his identity was advanced of his Apostles. Her revelation he recognized was of the Father. The woman cries, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”.
Before the multiplication of the loaves and fishes his Apostles had little compassion for the 5,000 and would have dismissed them without a meal; as though we would terminate this Lord’s Day Service without the Supper.
Even, now the Apostles were bothered by the woman. She calls Jesus both “God” and as Son of David “Israel’s rightful king”; still Jesus answers her not a word, directing his remarks to the disciples. Here was a teaching moment for his compassionless Apostles, the woman’s “great faith” stands in contrast to Peter’s “little-faith” recently attempting to walk on water (Mt. 14:31).
The woman’s plea was for mercy from heaven’s true Bread; not belly bread for unbelieving crowds, but abundant bread of angels (Ps. 78:25). The woman, admits she to is a “dog” according to Jewish orthodoxy, but by faith’s wisdom she was bold to appropriate a daughter’s promise.
From the moment of Jesus’ Baptism with the HS he entered into God’s office of being Israel in place of the faithless children of Jacob. “Israel” was no longer a static designation determined by genealogy.
From her Gentile’s theological disadvantage, the woman starts well. David’s reign from Zion over Israel was characterized by “justice and righteousness” (2 Sam. 8:15). The woman sees in Jesus, David’s kingdom come to her, as David allied with Tyre and Sidon for the Jerusalem temple’s material.
Unlike Peter who earlier sought from Jesus more than his word of peace, demanding an experience, dancing over the storm-tossed water for proof of Jesus’ “real presence”; the Canaanite woman trusted in the promises of God alone from the prophet Isaiah.
Unable to release her daughter from demonic enthrallment, the woman looked outside herself to one more powerful by God’s promises, to Jesus. She correctly identified Jesus the object of prophesy and Son of David; still he does not address her directly.
In response to the woman’s dogged faith, a sea change in the economy and priority of salvation was initiated; foreigners and Jews alike are brought to God’s “holy mountain” by God’s mercy in Christ (Rom. 11:32).
The woman did not dispute Jesus’ characterization that she and her daughter are unworthy; but her persistent faith in his essential character for mercy turned the tables. She insinuates that, as a “dog” has access to his feeding as household pet.
The woman desired something greater than her daughter’s exorcism. The Canaanite woman sought to join… to YHWH, to serve him and to love the name of YHWH and to become his [servant], [to keep] the Sabbath… and [take] hold of [YHWH’s] covenant”, by kingdom Bread and promise (Isa. 56:1, 6-8).
Jesus was overwhelmed, he exclaimed, “O woman”, putting her “great-faith” on par with his mother Mary, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and the Magdalene, all whose faith represents that of the church. At Jesus’ word it was done as she desired, and more; the woman was included into Jesus’ kingdom, not a pet under a Jewish table, but a joint heir in the promises to the patriarchs.
Jesus refreshed by the woman’s “great-faith” moved-on to another venue for compassion and feeding, 4,000 with “seven loaves and a few small fish” (Mt. 15:29-39). The crown now included both Jews and Gentiles (Mk. 7:31; 8:1).
On the cross Jesus is the church’s Bread of Life spoken of in the “grain and fish parables” (Mt. 13). We, who are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection are fed for faith. Like the restored and transformed Canaanite, we are no longer growling K-9s; but receptively seated in ranks of order at the King’s table. By his Bread we possess the King’s justice and righteousness for his mercy in the world.
St. Paul tells us, that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile. For those possessing the Canaanite’s faith Jesus is true Israel and by Baptism, we his siblings and co-heirs of God. He is Zion’s new Temple in whom we worship God; he is our New Covenant in whom we have Sabbath rest and communion.
In-gathered to God we are being restored to true humanity; in the image of God and likeness of Christ. We are mindful of Jesus’ closing words about the church, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
In Christ, we are restored to a missionary calling, to prayer for all “outside” the church’s pale; and their release from Satan’s thrall by God’s word. Amen.