The Matthew Series - 36. Scraps off the table
Matthew 15:21-28 New International Version (NIV)
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
This passage tonight beautifully and clearly displays for us the gospel. Martin Luther The great reformer said that this woman gives us an example of “perfect faith”. Other commentators over the years have been struck by the interaction in this passage. This passage illustrates, quite beautifully, how we approach God – or at least how we should approach God. And it comes on the backend of the interaction with the Pharisees. Which is a display on how man generally approaches God and fails.
As Keller puts it in his book King’s Cross there are essentially two ways to approach God:
“There is the ancient understanding: God is a bloodthirsty tyrant who needs to be constantly appeased by good behaviour if not outright sacrifice. And there is the modern understanding of God: He’s a spiritual force we can access anytime we want, no questions asked.”
Apprised to these then is the way this woman does it; which displays for us exactly how we should approach God which is by the wonder of the gospel.
So how does she approach Christ?
1. With bold (but not rude) persistent (v22-23)
Now to understand the boldness that this woman comes to Christ with we have to understand who she was, Matthew describes her as a Canaanite. Mark gives more clarity and shares that she was a Greek (or Hellenised Gentile) born in Syrian Phoenicia. Matthew and Mark are display that this woman by all definitions is outside the Jewish group.
She was not a Jew nor a Jewish convert. She was toughly gentile, and yet she hears of Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter. She cries out to Jesus, in the Greek it is clear this woman is making a scene. So much so, that the disciples say to Jesus please send her away.
Now, why does she come? Because she was desperate, her daughter was possessed and was suffering terribly. There is no one more bold that a desperate parent and no parent more bold than a desperate mother.
It was this desperation that drove her to approach Jesus. She would have known that she had no “right” to approach a Jewish man, never mind a Jewish Rabbi. But her state drove her to not be rude, but persistently bold.
And here is the first lesson; often we don’t go to God because we essentially don’t recognise our desperation. Our pride, or our false humility keeps us from actually coming as we are. We pretend, we fake it. or we make false promises and play games. We don’t approach God as this woman, because we don’t recognise our need for him.
See if this is not you; “Lord, if you come through for me, I promise I’ll…” you are not coming to God desperate, you are negotiating. No one negotiates from a position of weakness. Or, “Lord, I know you are calling me to [such and such], but,…” God is a convenience, not your life or hope.
How do you approach God? Is it from a recognition of your need? Do you understand your absolute need for God? If you don’t you will never come to Him as your actual hope, you will come to him with something to negotiate.
Next we see that she comes to Him…
2. With humble acceptance of our state (v26-27)
It is here we are going to have to contrast the Pharisees of the verse 1-20 with this woman. The former approached God with a demanding arrogance. Stating that they followed the tradition of the father, therefore God has to be on our side. The later’s approach to God was humble acceptance of her state, but a grateful recognition of His goodness.
The woman knew her “outside-ness” she out of anyone in that crowd she didn’t have the right. And then Jesus in a most peculiar of statements highlights that when he says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Now, today in the world we live in we are a very dog-loving society. I mean some people even let their dogs sleep in their beds. But that wasn’t how it was in the time of Jesus, there were pets, there were dogs, but when someone called you a dog, it was a reference to the street dog, a mangy pest that were generally flea infested. It was a complete insult to be called a dog. So, an obvious question that comes up in this passage is; was Jesus being a little racist here? Was he calling this non-Jew a dog as a racially exclusive trope? Many objectors to Christianity will use this passage to infer that and so discredit Christ. However, that is simply not happening here. The Greek word that Jesus uses is κυνάριον (kunarion) Which is the diminutive form of dog (like when in Afrikaans they add a “tjie” to the end of something) and it means a puppy, Jesus is inferring a family pet and beyond that inferring a cared for puppy – a needy and dependent family pet.
This is quite profound, because by this, Jesus is inviting her in, even though she is an outsider. And the woman picks up on that and dives into the metaphor to express the goodness of God. She responds to Jesus, . “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Again a push to appeal to the goodness of God from the interactions of a family. It is not a demand of the goodness of God, but a humble recognition of her state and God’s goodness. And this speaks directly to our tendency as a culture to treat God as our lackey. To demand God’s goodness. How often have we heard, “If God is good how could he allow this to happen to me?” or “Why has God let me go through this; what have I done?” even the modern trope, “I just don’t believe in a god who…” the central tendency of all these is that God owes me. He exists for us, and not the other way around.
The truth of the matter is that we are all outside of the favour of God, each of us deserving nothing else but his wrath. The problem of evil in the world shouldn’t shock us, if you knew yourself, and I mean really knew yourself, and you understood human nature, you wouldn’t be shocked that there is evil in the world, you would be asking why is there any good at all!
So, yes, we are all outside of God’s favour, but he invites us in. How we come in defines how we experience God. Do we come in demanding God respond and the Pharisees did, by the display of our apparent goodness. If we do that we show that we don’t actually want God we want the stuff of God. Or do we come to him recognising our need for him, trusting in who he says he is and completely dependent upon him?
Effectively, are we coming to Him by faith and that will make all the difference, and it leads us to our last point;
This passage reveals that the woman comes to Christ;
3. With faith in what He can do (v25, 28)
Jesus responds to the lady not praising her wit, or her boldness, rather he praises her faith! What is being displayed in this passage is the power of saving faith. Faith is not a power in itself, it is also not a wishful-ness, it is a confidence in God and who He says he is.
The modern debate has reduced faith to a wishful-ness or a primitive hopefulness. In the modern world it is pitted up against science and either you are a rationalist and so therefore accept science or you are an idiot who believes. You will hear this in the distain that people like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or even Sam Harris have for believers. Christian faith is not mere hopefulness. It is not a suspension of reason, it is an acceptance of things as they are.
You see Christianity is a uniquely historical faith, in other words it is predicated on a historical reality. Either 2000 years ago there was a man who claimed to be God and died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead, or there was not. And if Christ did not exist, and he did not rise from the dead then nothing about what he said actually matters.
The whole Bible has always been about this; it is a revelation of the God who acts within history to save people broken by the problem of sin. If the bible is a collections of myths, then the true crisis of humanity remains, and there is not hope.
This is why it is often foolish to argue over the nuance of Christianity that are so often argued over, such as the age of the earth, does God actually condemn homosexuality etc, etc. We have to reconcile the fact of Jesus, his death and subsequent resurrection, first. If this is true, well then everything else becomes a response not a position to argue about. If Jesus actually did exist, if he did say the things that he said, and if he really did rise from the dead, that puts us in a very different situation that if those are all just stories with nice moral lessons for us.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, your sins, and therefore you guilt, is still a problem, the issue of meaning in the world is still impossible to discover and you are hopeless. This is the irony of all godless philosophy, ultimately it collapses on its own premise; it seeks to find meaning in a meaningless universe, and every attempt is supreme self-delusion.
You cannot honestly create meaning if it is not there. If your creation is an accident, and your death is ultimately meaningless don’t try and pretend that what you do in-between that makes any difference. I would argue this is the absolute crisis of the 21century. We are a hopeless generation.
However, this is the power of faith, it is an acceptance of things as they are. The universe has meaning because it was created, you are important because you were destined to be born in such a time as this by God. Not only this but the guilt and shame that you experience in your existence in not a complex that needs to be dealt with through medication, it is a crisis of being; you have knowingly lived in opposition to your creator. Your hopelessness, your emptiness is a by product of this. And the evil you experience is the logical conclusion of a world that has chosen to go its own way.
The hope is that God has intervened into our lives, he has made a way for broken, sinful beings to come back to a relationship with Him. Christ through His death and resurrection is the invitation to be welcomed back in. It is a way for the outsider to come back in. How do we come back in to relationship with our God well through the same faith that this woman displayed.
It is as we recognise our needfulness and His goodness, and we trust in that that we are brought in. We are restored, because we are aligning ourselves with the reality of creation. So long as we live with arrogant hope that we can fix ourselves and that we are what truly matters in the universe; the more we will experience dissonance (or lack of harmony) with the way things truly are.
Are you going to respond the work of God, and place your hope, your future and your existence in him? If you do this will be a daily picking up of your cross, because if you accept this you are accepting that you are not your own, but you were bought at a price the precious blood of Christ?” and if you realise this you will give yourself as a daily living sacrifice as this is your only logical and reasonable act of worship!
Church are you living with the humble confidence of faith, or do you arrogantly continue in the demanding, denial of the way things are? The work is done! Christ did it all, the response to that work is in your faith or your denial?.
Do you believe? Well, live in the humble confidence of that faith!