First Congregational Church
February 21, 2015
Second Sunday in Lent
“Amazing Grace for the Healed"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
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.
Thank you, Jim. This morning we focus our worship around this year’s Lenten theme of Amazing Grace for the Healed. Most of us have probably heard this story often enough, but I will admit that it always catches me off-guard. At face-value, Jesus’ words sound terrible, arrogant, racist and just plain mean.
Maybe it’s the language of the children’s bread part that gets mixed up in my brain. Maybe it’s that in our culture, children and dogs are such good things, it’s hard to backspin them. More probably, it’s the problem our holy writings don’t often carry the emotion or body language that accompanied that present moment back then. Then again, maybe this passage makes perfect sense to you. Whatever the case, this morning we get to step into that moment with the help of Signe.
Call me Ginnie. As with many women who figure prominently in the Bible, my name is never mentioned, even though mine is an important story. I’m simply called a “woman” by the gospel writers Mark and Matthew. My daughter, the child Jesus healed, isn’t named either. I call her Isabel.
I was not from Israel. I was not a Jew, but I had heard of Jesus. News travels fast. Not long before Jesus came to the region near Tyre and Sidon, he’d fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Before that, he’d healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. Later Jesus cast a whole legion of demons out of man who lived among the tombs in the Decapolis. Imagine, a man naked and bleeding from throwing himself onto the rocks, became clean, clothed and in his right mind! It’s what gave me hope for my daughter.
Everyone was asking if Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world promised by the Hebrew prophets. Even the Samaritans were asking this, Samaritans, mixed blood people despised by the Jews, more despised than the Canaanites. With so many people being healed, why should anyone be surprised that I would seek out Jesus to heal my daughter?
Wouldn’t you? If your daughter was tortured with demons, mental and spiritual, if none of the physicians could help, if your own gods seemed powerless to do anything, but you had heard that there was a certain man who could help, wouldn’t you seek him out? I did.
As a mother who loved her daughter more than anything in the world, nothing would keep me from Jesus when I heard he was nearby. Jesus had come to a remote area in the region of Tyre, my home. This time he’d found refuge in the large and luxurious home of a rich host, a believing Jew. It wasn’t long before word spread that he was there along with his twelve disciples, resting and dining at a rich table.
I went to the house where Jesus was eating. I was there determined to get help for my daughter. Hearing the stories of Jesus and now seeing him with my own eyes, I had come to believe in him. This was the Messiah, the Savior, not just of the Jews but of the Gentiles too, people like me. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” I shouted as I dashed through the open door and threw myself at Jesus’ feet as he reclined on his couch by the table. “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” I pleaded. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon,” I told him.
I needed help. I prostrated myself before Jesus, seeking his mercy while his disciples tried to throw me out. To them I was just an annoyance, a disruption in the middle of a very pleasant meal. No, I was worse than that; I was from the wrong side of the tracks, trying to crash a party to which I had not been invited. I wasn’t the right kind of person. In fact, as a Canaanite woman, I wasn’t even a person as far as these Jewish men were concerned.
But Jesus, the compassionate Son of God, knew exactly what they were thinking, but not saying. So he voiced their concerns. Objections that make sense when they are but unspoken inward thoughts can suddenly become absurd when spoken aloud. To hear their own bigotry was perhaps as shocking to the ears of the disciples as I am sure it is to yours. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus said.
That’s what the disciples were thinking, but was it true? Is that how the blessing of Yahweh was put to Abraham? Hadn’t Yahweh said, “All peoples on earth shall be blessed through you?” Surely the disciples knew this, but conveniently they had chosen to forget it.
And this, words from Isaiah, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all people, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:7). All peoples. All nations. Surely the disciples knew that, didn’t they? All people are the ones for whom Messiah comes delivering them from sin and suffering and death.
Am I not included in all people? Are you not included? Yes, we are all included!
Jesus said out loud what others were thinking: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Calling me a dog, someone who is not entitled to eat the bread of God’s children, insults not just me but Yahweh himself. Is God’s grace and mercy in such short supply God hasn’t enough to share with those who are not children of Abraham by birth? Is Yahweh a small and finite God after all? No, he is not! His love and mercy are wider and deeper than any ocean, never capable of depletion. Where there is mercy for one, there is always mercy for another, like me, and like you.
I refused to accept the excuses of the disciples to be rid of me. Leaving in a huff of self-serving pride in the face of such insults would not heal my daughter. I persevered. I even agreed, if that would help Isabel. “Yes, Lord,” I said, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” I was not asking for a place at the table with the Master and his disciples. All I sought were crumbs of mercy, crumbs of mercy sufficient to heal my daughter of her demons.
I was like Jacob, wrestling the Angel of the Lord, refusing to let him go without blessing me. In fact that is exactly the way it was because Jesus is the Angel of the Lord. He is Yahweh himself in human flesh. If I must be a dog to get his help, then I would be a bulldog. My tenacity, my perseverance, my faith was answered. Jesus said, “Oh, woman, you have great faith. Let it be it done for you as you will.”
And it was. Jesus gave me his word and I believed it. I returned home and found my daughter lying peacefully in her bed, alive and well and in her right mind. My daughter was healed that very hour, just as Jesus had said. When I went home and found my daughter well, it was not just her body and mind that were healed. Her soul had been healed by Jesus too. She had been re-created, made new by faith.
This tells me something about faith. You modern people think of faith as being a private matter between you and God and no one else. But the restoration of my daughter shows me it’s more than that. Faith is a family matter. As parents believe and trust Jesus for the souls of their little children, their prayers are answered and God makes those children God’s own.
That’s what you find Peter saying about three years after the day I trusted Jesus and my daughter was healed. On the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came on the Church in a wonderful way. Everyone there was speaking of Jesus in languages they hadn’t learned, so that every foreign visitor to Jerusalem could understand. It was a great miracle.
The disciple Peter got up to address the curious crowd that had gathered: “Let all the house of Israel … know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified” (Acts 2:36).
The crowd was horrified, ashamed to realize what had happened. Perhaps their shame was something like the shame the disciples must have felt when they realized they had insulted God by denying me mercy and calling me a dog. But what many had done in Jerusalem on Good Friday was much worse; condemning and crucifying the Son of God.
“Brothers, what shall we do?” they cried, suddenly afraid of the divine consequences. Peter answered - as it says in your book of Acts, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
Did you hear that? As you repent in the name of Jesus, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit are God’s gifts to you and your children, and to all who are far off. Jesus loved my daughter. He healed her, body, mind and soul. We were both living “far off,” but God’s mercy is wide and vast, including even Canaanites. If there is room for Isabel and me in God’s mercy there is room for you.
Thank you, Ginnie. It’s interesting that although the woman makes no confession of faith, Jesus tells her that her faith is what healed her daughter. And Matthew doesn’t do anything to the writing to clean up the story or make it any tidier. Perhaps this whole story is to help us see how the world opened up to Jesus that day, the day he came to see that one who was normally seen as unworthy, was just as worthy as the thousands he’d earlier fed. If one possible point from this story is about Jesus widening his world view in terms of grace, then what is the point for us? Do we need to widen our world view of grace, even if it’s just one person?
Let us pray. Lord, there are times when we, like the woman, beg for you to have mercy. God, we are grateful that you don’t turn us away in our sorrow and despair, our guilt and our anxiety. Hear us, heal us, forgive us and save us. Most importantly, help us to widen our worldview of grace, that we can be the agents of healing you see us to be. And all your people of grace say, Amen.
By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.