Todays readings for 11th After Pentecost Genesis 45:1-15 Psalm 133 Romans 11:13-32 Matthew 15:21-28
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Anne Kennedy.
Matt 15:21-28 The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen
Yesterday, I took Scarlett to listen to the Welsh Choir at Rob’s Church – well equipped with snacks, story books, colouring books and crayons, a Barbie doll and a toy penguin – just in case!
On the way there in the car, we talked about relationships – I was her mum’s mum, and yet her mum was my daughter – the family tree is complicated when you are 4-1/2 – and then we got on to her 14 cousins on her dad’s side of the family – and no cousins on her mum’s side.
This was Scarlett trying to understand where she belonged in the family – trying to establish her identity. Knowing our identity is vital to help us live in society.
The Gospel of Matthew was written in first century, and it deals with self-understanding, Christian identity and what it is to be church.
It was written for the new church – consisting of Jewish people who believed in Jesus Christ – and Matthew’s message was that Jesus, the Son of God, had come to interpret the Torah – Jewish Scriptures – in a new and powerful way.
As we read his Gospel, Matthew asks us to look at humanity through the eyes of Jesus, and see that humanity as afflicted, and weighed down with burdens of every kind. Jesus doesn’t come enforcing religious rules and regulations set out by the Jewish Temple authorities – Far from it – Jesus comes to bear and lift their burdens, and Matthew repeatedly portrays Jesus in the guise of the “Servant” figure often referred to in Isaiah.
Context: Feeds 5,000 in Galilee, his home country – then withdrew; comes walking on water, shocking the disciples; they then left that place, crossed over Gennesaret, an older name for Lake Galilee – where again, Jesus healed many who were ill.
Jesus faced danger from hostile Jewish authorities – so moved away from their influence. He and his disciples walked around 100 kilometres north-west into the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon (now in Lebanon). These two cities were once great seaports contributing to the ancient trade route of the Silk Road through the East.
People in this area were predominantly Gentiles – people generally known as Canaanites – several tribes with Hebrew backgrounds and language, pagans, who worshiped idols. But many had heard of Jesus, and sought him out.
As did the Canaanite woman who shouted to get Jesus’ attention and healing for her daughter “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” But Jesus ignored her.
Why did Jesus appear to treat this woman so poorly? Why did Jesus liken her to a dog, a common derogatory term for Canaanites?
He’d listened to the pleas of women asking to be healed before, so it wasn’t because she was a woman, classed as a lesser being in the eyes of the community of the time.
He’d proved race was no barrier to his healing – he healed the son of a Centurion, a Roman citizen, at the request of his servant, who, perhaps, was a believer.
What changed his mind?
The faith that this woman showed is what changed his mind.
She knew she was crossing boundaries by talking to a man, a Jewish rabbi especially. But her faith in his ability to heal her daughter was so great that she was willing to risk everything. Even after Jesus paid attention to the Jewish people he’d been sent by God to save, the Children of the house of David, she would be grateful for anything that he would give her.
What amazing faith! That faith had grown out of her love for her daughter. She could see the healing love that Jesus shared with his own people, giving her tormented daughter new life.
But – here Jesus is in foreign territory, not in the familiarity of his own countryside, around his own people. Jesus has stepped out of his comfort zone (albeit to escape the wrath of the Jewish authorities), and he is confronted by a Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter.
His first response is to ignore her, even though she recognizes him and acknowledges him as the Son of David. The disciples tell Jesus to tell the woman to go away.
She persists, and is told in no uncertain manner, that Jesus’ mission is not meant for the likes of her. But that doesn’t stop her – she wants healing for her daughter, she is willing to take the silence, the insults – no matter what. She falls before Jesus on her knees and simply begs “Lord, help me” and receives a callous reply inferring that she’s like a dog.
And despite that final rebuff, her quick response has the ability to change Jesus’ heart.
Her quick-wittedness must have surprised Jesus, and maybe even confused him – here was a Gentile confronting him – challenging his mission and the focused mission of the disciples – to bring salvation and peace to the Jews, those Chosen ones of the House of David. You can imagine him wrestling within his mind – ‘do I confine my work with absolute priority to the Jewish nation that’s rejecting me – or do I allow myself to expand my mission to the Gentiles?’.
Finally, the woman gets the response she craves. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This woman created a shift in Jesus’ comprehension of his role – if the Jewish people were rejecting him, he must take his message to the Gentiles.
Now, let’s reflect for a moment on the actions of the woman – What was she willing to give to Jesus?
- She honoured him by calling him ‘Lord, Son of David’, acknowledging that he was the Jewish Messiah;
- She gave up her pagan faith by accepting Jesus as her Lord;
- She had given up her dignity – shouting over the crowds for attention, speaking to a man, a Jewish man at that;
- She probably risked her life by acting so boldly;
- She was willing to give all she had. Her faith was complete.
I wonder if we have can claim to have such faith?
When you read or listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ, there are many instances of people willing to give up everything they have to follow Jesus – people who are willing to unburden themselves from earthly worries in order to experience that illusive peace that Jesus promises – the peace of God that passes all understanding.
At the same time, there are people who turn away from Jesus, overcome with sadness because they feel that they can’t leave their comfortable lives and worldly possessions. That sadness will weigh them down forever.
Jesus’ mission on earth, to bring peace and understanding to everyone in this troubled world, can only be realized through the generosity of heart and wealth of those who love him and want to share his message.
Jesus is not asking us to become homeless, to live on the street, or to go without those things required to meet our need for health, dignity and survival. But for God’s mission to flourish, we need to commit ourselves to a less complicated, simplified lifestyle that will enable us to increase our monetary giving to empower the message of Jesus to have an impact on people in this community.
What are we prepared to give up for Jesus Christ?
What are we prepared to sacrifice to enable the work of God to increase in this Church?
The Canaanite woman was prepared to give up everything just to gather up some crumbs from under the table. Here we are blessed with far more than we can consume. Let’s pray, as we look at our own resources that we might find ways and means of giving more generously of heart and money each week, in order to grow God’s kingdom in this corner of the world. Amen.