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Who Are You?

August 17th 2014 by Joel Schultz

In the Gospel text today, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus for help. She receives an unexpected answer but is persistent. Jesus relents and heals her daughter. Who are you in this story? The disciples? The daughter? The woman? Jesus? Listen or read to find out....

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Proper 15A – “Who Are You? – Matthew 15:21-28 – August 17, 2014

Who are you? In any good story, movie, or book, one that you really get into, one in which you’re caught up in the drama, you see yourself as one of the characters in that story. I love reading – especially sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and historical fiction – the more sword play and gun battles the better! In basically every book I read, I picture myself as the hero – stopping evil, saving the day. I get immersed into the story and I am right there with the characters.

Who are you in this account between Jesus and the Canaanite woman? A woman’s child is demon possessed. She’s suffering terribly. Her mother is desperate. The mother hears Jesus is passing nearby, and she goes to Him. She cries out for help. It’s the cry of a mother who will do anything to save her child. But Jesus doesn’t even answer her. His disciples treat her poorly: “Send her away” (v 23). The mother is making so much noise it’s embarrassing, and she’s getting on the disciples’ nerves. When Jesus does say something, he tells her He will only help the people of Israel, not some foreigner like her.

Silence, rejection, exclusion, yet the woman doesn’t give up. Now she kneels before Jesus and begs. It’s a heartbreaking scene. Surely Jesus will do something now. But no, He tells the woman it’s not right to help her instead of the people of Israel. He even calls her a dog. But the woman presses on, asking for the crumbs that come from the table of a dog’s master. Now Jesus does what we expect Him to do. He heals the child and commends the woman for her faith.

Who are you in this incident? I doubt many of us would say we’re the disciples. They just want to get rid of her. Nor do I resonate with Jesus. He seems to be out of character. He seems uncaring, prejudiced, and even mean. The demon-possessed daughter? No, I don’t know her well enough. But the woman, the mother, the parent – yes, that’s who’d I see myself to be in this situation. I’m sure the same is true for most all of you.

But wait, are you sure you want to see yourself in that way? I mean, what the woman does seems so foreign to us as Americans, so different from the way we live as proud and independent people. Look closely.

She comes to Jesus begging for help. She has to cry out, yell at Jesus, just to get His attention. Over and over she’s calling to Him for mercy. That’s not us. If we don’t get served right away, we take our business elsewhere. We have no patience for someone who won’t answer us. We will walk away and look somewhere else for answers. And we certainly would not embarrass ourselves in front of others by asking for help.

What’s more, even after Jesus gives her the silent treatment, even after Jesus says He shouldn’t help her because He has been sent to the people of Israel, she still comes and kneels before Him. She doesn’t argue with Jesus. That’s not us. We like to think of ourselves as special people. We see ourselves as insiders, who deserve the best. I saw this sentiment on a bumper sticker: “Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite.” That’s more our attitude.

It gets worse. The woman is called a dog. Back then, a dog was not seen as favorably as today. Dogs could be house pets, but they were seen as inferior, lowly creatures, and even treated with some contempt. The woman accepts that position. She sees herself as a lowly, miserable creature, unworthy to be asking Jesus anything. That’s not us. We have our self-esteem. We are proud to be Americans. No way would we see ourselves as dogs. No way would we see ourselves as people who don’t deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Do not call us dogs. No way!

And one more thing. The woman is content with crumbs. She’d be happy if Jesus just gave her a scrap. It didn’t have to be much or the best, just this one favor. Just help my daughter. That’s all she was looking for. That’s not us either. We would never settle for crumbs. No, we want everything super-sized. We’re not happy with just food. We want a supermarket, a super-center to buy whatever groceries we desire. Not just a place to live, but a dream home, made over to be the envy of the neighbors. Not just any car, but a new car, a luxury car with all the latest features. A couple of months ago, I read an article about a church that is putting in cup holders in the seats so that those who come to church have a place to put their coffee. No, we would not be satisfied with crumbs, table scraps in life.

Who are you? Do you still see yourself as the woman in this scene? It is not quite as easy to do that anymore, is it? I find it hard to be so humble, so needy, so unworthy, so contemptible. Do you see yourselves as dogs who have to beg for table scraps?

We should! Why? Because look what happened when the woman accepted the reality that she was unworthy of anything Jesus would do for her. She knew her only hope was to beg for mercy from Jesus, humbly, and as no more than a dog looking for table scraps. And Jesus commends her. He is pleased with her humble faith. He praises her for holding onto Him even when it seemed hopeless.

Who are you? Oh, we need to be the woman who holds on to Jesus in humble faith. Why? Because did you notice who the enemy was in this story? It was Satan. It was a demonic possession: “O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (v 22). No way the woman could do battle with that enemy. Neither can we.

Only Jesus can defeat Satan. And that’s precisely the super-sized help Jesus wants to give us in our lives. No mere crumbs, but a super-sized victory over the demonic realm.

Near Effingham, Illinois, just off the intersection of interstate highways 57 and 70, stands a silver cross. You can’t help but see it. It towers over the road to a height of 198 feet! It’s been placed there to witness silently to all drivers what Jesus did for His disciples, for the Canaanite woman, for the lost sheep of Israel, for everyone, even those of us who are unworthy of even a table scrap from Jesus.

Only the cross for Jesus was smaller, wooden, and at a place where He was treated with utter contempt. In that battle with Satan, it appears Jesus was the loser. He dies. He is buried.

But Jesus will not go down in defeat to satanic forces. No, He will rise again on Easter Sunday. When Jesus gets rid of the demon in the woman’s daughter, it was just a preview of our Lord getting rid of this enemy’s power over our lives. When He rose from the dead, Jesus defeated all those forces of evil, and He super-sized all sorts of blessings for us.

Forget about crumbs, leftovers, and table scraps. Instead, these blessings come from Jesus’ table: Forgiveness – huge! Heaven – enormous! Salvation – tremendous! And all are super-sized for us.

The woman called Jesus “Lord” and humbly knelt before Him. She knew who she was, and she knew what He could do for her. She asked for a table scrap as a dog, but she receives a place at the table with super-sized blessings for her and her daughter.

For us too. It’s just the right posture to kneel before Jesus when we come to the Communion rail to eat at His Table. That is why with our new projects, we are including a communion rail – a place to humbly kneel before Jesus – to humbly ask for His blessings, even though we do not deserve to be in His home. Yet the wafer is placed into our mouths. A sip of wine touches the tongue. Jesus’ very body and blood are present, and those are not leftover scraps. “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Take and drink. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin unto life everlasting.” Super-sized blessings indeed!

Who are you? The Canaanite woman? A dog? You are a child of God, welcomed into His house to eat at His Table. You are super-sized bless-ed. All because Jesus gives super-sized help to those who humbly come to Him as the Canaanite woman did. Amen.

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