The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 20 August 2017
A Sermon on Matthew 15:10-28 by Samuel Zumwalt
Matthew 15:10-28 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
THANKFUL LIVING: BEGGING FOR MERCY
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Canaanite woman, a Gentile woman, a woman not from God’s chosen people came to Jesus begging for help for her daughter. Some of you know what that’s like. I’m guessing most, if not all of you, know what that’s like. You have come to Jesus in prayer even here at this altar. You have come begging for help for your daughter or your son or your spouse or your parent or your sibling or your dear friend or perhaps even for someone who considers him- or herself to be your enemy and whose life is so toxic and miserable.
It’s different, isn’t it? It’s different how you come to Jesus when you’re begging. It’s different when you’re vulnerable. It’s different when you don’t have all the answers, when you’re not in control, when you feel helpless and maybe even just on the verge of hopelessness.
Some of you remember me telling about a very successful man to whom many people turned to solve problems. He used to say that people only came to him when their ox was in the ditch. This man was a marvelous negotiator in business who told people up front, “If the deal isn’t good for everybody, then it’s not a good deal.” His phone rang from morning to night. His grown children said, “Daddy could make a fencepost talk.” Even when his finances were at their worst, he was still able to negotiate his way through and come out better and stronger on the other side. This was a man, a pastor’s son, who could always find a way through any problem.
But, then, one morning he called me. He wasn’t his normal confident self. His daughter, his baby, had just delivered her first child, a son, after several miscarriages. And the baby went into heart failure in childbirth. I didn’t even know that could happen. He said they were loading mother and baby into a helicopter to fly from the hospital in Austin to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. He asked if I would drive with his wife and him to Houston, a three hour drive, in order to baptize the new grandbaby and to pray over the baby and the baby’s mother and father.
On that drive, he confessed he had never felt so helpless in all his life. He was the go-to guy who solved problems. He was the negotiator. He could make deals work for everybody. He was the man his children turned to when they needed help. But there was nothing he could do to solve this problem. He couldn’t work a deal to make it right for his baby or her baby. And so we prayed. And I prayed. It was a terrible few hours, the longest day of his and his wife’s life. The man was reduced to begging just like the Canaanite woman. Most of us would never beg for ourselves. Most of us despise even thinking about having to beg. But there’s not one of us who won’t beg when it comes to the people we love the most! You beg when you feel helpless!
So the Canaanite woman came to Jesus begging on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. I need to say this. The daughter was not mentally ill. She was not bi-polar. She did not have multiple personalities. The daughter was bound by the old evil one. Please don’t try to make evil more manageable, more rational, or less terrible by trying to equate it with mental illness. There is a great difference. I will leave it at that. Her daughter was demon-possessed.
Several years ago, a pastor friend told me about a younger pastor who had been taught very poorly by people who should never have been pastors much less teachers of future pastors. And this young pastor said in a sermon that the Canaanite woman had to teach Jesus about mercy. My pastor friend sat the young man down afterwards and explained to him what it means to confess Jesus as Lord: Jesus is God! Nobody had to teach Jesus about mercy. My friend said his little child knew that the young pastor was wrong and called him on it. Martin Luther said a seven-year-old child can be an excellent theologian. That little child knew who Jesus is!
The Canaanite woman knew that Jesus could help. She called Him “Lord,” as if she were one of Jesus’ disciples. And she called Him “Son of David,” which means she had not only heard stories about Jesus. She knew He is the Messiah, the King from David’s family, whom Israel had been looking for since the sixth century BC. And like the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, this Canaanite woman had no expectations that she deserved to be treated like a Jew. She knew how the Jews felt about Canaanites. She wasn’t shocked when Jesus matter of factly said it wasn’t right to toss the bread that belonged to the Jewish people to dogs.
You see, that’s what so upset that young pastor who had been so poorly taught. It wasn’t nice when Jesus called the woman and her people “dogs.” You see, when you start complaining about Jesus you come awfully close to the attitude of the Pharisees, who came to Jesus at the beginning of Matthew 15, complaining about His disciples not washing their hands rightly. The implication wasn’t veiled. If Jesus’ disciples weren’t keeping the Law rightly, then the problem was with Jesus. But Jesus uses this as an occasion to teach that uncleanness comes from within. Everyone is sin-sick. The Pharisees were sin-sick. You are sin-sick. I am sin-sick. And so we have nothing to teach Jesus. We have nothing to offer Jesus but our sin and our death. That’s why the only proper stance before Jesus is to come begging for mercy like the Canaanite woman.
If the Good News of Jesus were some kind of psychological acceptance, as some very bad teachers wrongly teach today, then Jesus would never have called the Canaanite woman a dog or never addressed and done something about her daughter’s demon possession.
If the Good News of Jesus were some kind of Marxist liberation, as some very bad teachers wrongly teach today, then, I suppose, Jesus might have declared that all the powerful people in the world should be killed, or at least stripped of their possessions, on behalf of the oppressed poor and now He was bringing in the socialist workers’ paradise on earth. But He didn’t say or do that. In fact, He said His Kingdom was not of this world!
If the Good News of Jesus were some kind of united liberal protestant church, as even some of our bureaucrats are wrongly hoping to create, then I suppose Jesus would have passed out special colored ribbons with straight pins, declared today Canaanite Women’s and Demon-Possessed Daughter’s Sunday, taken an offering for them, and led all the men in a litany declaring: “Forgive me for being born a man!” or “Kick me, I’m a Pharisee!” But I digress.
The Canaanite woman had nothing to teach Jesus. But she has everything to teach us! We are beggars. Those were Martin Luther’s last words on his deathbed. We are beggars. All of us are beggars, because we are all born sin-sick and constantly oppressed by the old evil one throughout this earthly life. The demons may put on lipstick or after shave. They may dress themselves in the most attractive garb. They will try to seduce us with the devil’s empty promises. We are born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.There is only one Lord, one Savior, one Deliverer, who can take our sin and our death to His lonely cross and give us His own eternal life and righteousness (His obedient relationship to His Father) as a free gift in Holy Baptism. When we pray like that Canaanite woman, we beg, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Do you remember what mercy is? Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. Grace is what we don’t.
The Canaanite woman trusted Jesus with her daughter, because she knew there was no place else to go for help. She admitted she was a Canaanite dog, just as you and I admitted the truth about ourselves when we confessed our sins. We will come again today like Canaanite dogs hungering to get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. We will pray, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world have mercy on us.” And He will. And He does for all us beggars!
I surprised a man recently when he asked me my favorite Bible verse. If you’ve been here a while or taken Crossways Bible Study with me, you may know what I told him: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Our Lord does not accept everything we do. Our Lord does not bring in a workers’ paradise. Our Lord prays for the unity of His Church, but He doesn’t teach us to create a church that’s all about us. And, our Lord doesn’t promise that all our prayers will be answered as we want them to be. “If for this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied!” But…
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And we shall rise from death, too, and all will be well on that day. There will be no more tears, no more sickness, no more dying. He will make all things new! And when we have been raised, there will be endless joy with God!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
[Professor Dr. Jeff Gibbs from Concordia Seminary, and author of three commentaries on Matthew, preached a very fine sermon on this text: You can download by pasting this into your browser:
Bulletin Insert (see below)
Thankful Living: Begging for Mercy
“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 619).
Matthew 15:22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David…”
St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th century Bishop of Poitiers, “the Athanasius of the West”): “Intermingled with the Jews, therefore, these people came from the Gentiles. And since a portion of those among the crowds who believed were proselytes, this Canaanite woman most likely had left her territory, preferring the status of a proselyte – that is, coming out from the Gentiles to the neighboring people” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28, 27-28).
Matthew 15:22 “…my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
St. Hilary of Poitiers: “She was appealing on behalf of her daughter, who was a type for all the Gentile people. And since she knew the Lord from the law, she addressed him as Son of David…This woman, who professed Christ as both Lord and Son of David, did not need any healing. Rather, she was begging for help for her daughter – that is, the Gentile people in the grips of unclean spirits” (28).
Matthew 15:26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Epiphanius the Latin (late 5th – early 6th century bishop): “Then, in the face of the Jews who were rejecting him, this Gentile woman asked him to heal her daughter. But the Lord turned a deaf ear to her. She fell down at his feet and adored him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’…Plainly he implied that they [the Jews] were children and called the Gentiles ‘dogs.’ The woman agreed, saying… ‘Yes, Lord’” (29).
Matthew 15:28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Epiphanius the Latin (possibly Bishop of Benevento or Seville): “What they rejected, give to us who are asking for it. Knowing the importunate faith of this woman, our Lord said, ‘O woman, your faith is great! Let it be done for you as you desire.’ Faith accepts what work does not merit, and through faith the Gentiles were made children out of dogs. As the Lord spoke through the prophet: ‘In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’ it shall be said to them, ‘Sons of the living God.’” (29).
- Do I come before the Lord in prayer with the sense that I am owed whatever I demand?
- Do I understand that only Jesus can cast out the demons oppressing me and my dear ones? That my only proper posture before the Lord is one of begging and pleading?
Table of Duties (from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism)
Certain passages of scripture for various holy orders and positions, admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities
To Workers of All Kinds
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8
To Employers and Supervisors
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him. Ephesians 6:9
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how easily Martin Luther’s citing of St. Paul could easily be misunderstood as affirming human slavery. Read more closely how all people on earth stand accountable to God for what they do with their lives and how they relate to their neighbor. If God is the Maker and Owner of everything and everyone, what does God expect?
- Those who are militantly obtuse about Scripture often contend that it affirms human slavery. This is, inevitably, the precursor to their rejection of any claim by God on their lives. In other words, first they apply their own meanings to God’s Word and then reject God’s Word because of the way they read it. A closer reading of Scripture shows that human slavery, in St. Paul’s time, is recognized as a temporal evil that exists because of sin. It is not God’s good and gracious will, and it will not persist. Taking the whole counsel of God from the entirety of Scripture, Christians are always to read difficult passages in light of much clearer ones. Because each person is created in God’s image (the first chapter in the Bible proclaims this truth!), Christians are bound to proclaim any kind of slavery (physical, mental, emotional, and, especially, spiritual) as not of God and on its way to eternity’s dustbin. We do well to remember that most famous American spiritual proclaiming God’s Word to slave owners: “Let My people, go” (“Go Down, Moses”).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”