August 18, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Proper 15/A [Pent. 12] (08/20/2023): Ps. 67; Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28.
[Jesus said], “To take the children’s bread and to throw [it] to the dogs is not good.” And [the woman] said, “Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs that are falling from their masters’ table.” Thereupon Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great! Let it be for you as you wish” (vv. 26-28a, b).
It startles when we hear Jesus describe a distressed Gentile woman and her daughter as “dogs”, an epithet in accord connoting a condition of uncleanness from false worship. So, what to make of this encounter except to observe the woman’s faithful worship in contrast to Jesus’ description of Peter as “little-faith” last Sunday doubting and failing to walk over turbulent seas at Jesus’ word.
Resistance to Jesus’ ministry was increasing; violence had been inflicted with the murder of JB, and more threatened. Unbelieving crowds viewed him a curiosity, a bread-king and miracle healer. Jewish leaders dogged him with false charges; and his nascent Apostles, despite numerous signs of the coming Kingdom in Jesus, remained clueless of his identity, an understanding essential to true worship.
After feeding 5,000 mostly Jewish men plus women and children with five loaves and two fish, Jesus retreated into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon where he was confronted by the Canaanite woman distressed over her daughter’s demon possession. Today’s Gospel is employed to advance apostolic understanding.
After walking on the sea, the Apostles did confess Jesus as “Son of God”; well finally that was a good start, but much more needed unpacking, as also for us, notably that “Israel” is not a static designation. In Jesus incarnate, God was making Israel his son a new creation (Isa. 56: 1, 6-8). By describing the Canaanite woman and her daughter as “dogs”, Jesus employed a false Jewish catechism and calling into question, that only Abraham’s physical seed were God’s “children” within salvation history. Jesus was now put-upon by a Gentile “dog” whose confession of his identity was advanced beyond that of his apostolic disciples. The woman cries, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”.
Before Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish his disciples had little compassion for the gathered people; whom they would have dismissed without feeding; as though we would terminate today’s Service absent our Lord’s Supper. The apostolic disciples were disturbed by the pleading woman’s confession. She identified Jesus, what his disciples as Jews were expected to know, “God” and “Son of David”, Israel’s rightful king of justice, righteousness, and mercy.
Jesus answers the woman not a word, rather he directs his remarks to his disciples. Here was a teaching moment for the compassionless disciples; the woman’s “great faith” is clearly contrasted with Peter’s “little-faith” on earlier he sea crossing (Mt. 14:31).
The woman pled for mercy from heaven’s true Bread; not belly bread of the Jewish 5,000, but the abundant Bread of angels (Ps. 78:25). The woman, admits to being a “dog” according to Jewish orthodoxy, but by the wisdom of faith bestowed, she appropriated to herself and daughter the promises of God to Israel.
From the moment of Jesus’ Baptism and repositor of the HS he entered God’s office of Israel in place of the faithless children of Jacob. “Israel” was no longer a static ethnic designation, but the ingathering of those who render true worship of God in the man Jesus.
From the Canaanite woman’s disadvantage, she starts well. David’s reign over Israel’s Zion was characterized by “justice and righteousness” (2 Sam. 8:15). The woman discerns in Jesus, David’s kingdom come near to her, even as David allied himself with king of Tyre and Sidon for building Jerusalem’s temple.
Peter on the other hand sought something more than Jesus’ word; he sought an experiential dance over storm-tossed waters, looking to the fearful threat rather than keeping his eyes on Jesus alone, incarnate Word; unlike Peter the Canaanite woman trusted in the promises of God proffered by the prophet Isaiah.
She desired something greater than her daughter’s exorcism. She sought to “join … YHWH, to serve him and to love the name of YHWH and to become his [servant], [to keep] the Sabbath … and [take] hold of [YHWH’s] covenant”, by kingdom Bread and promise in Christ (Isa. 56:1, 6-8).
Unable on her own to release her daughter from demon enthrallment, the woman looked outside herself to one more powerful in promise through Jesus. She correctly identified Jesus to be the object of prophesy and Son of David; still Jesus does not address her directly. As would later be the case with Peter (Mt. 16:17), the woman received revelation of Jesus from the Father. The woman did not dispute Jesus that she and her daughter were unworthy; but by persistent faith in his essential character for mercy she turned the tables on the old Jewish orthodoxy; insinuating that even a “dog” has access to its master’s table.
Jesus was overwhelmed by her faith, exclaiming, “O woman”, putting her “great-faith” on par with his mother Mary, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and the Magdalene, all whose faith represents that of the Church.
At Jesus’ word it was done as she desired, and more; the woman was included in Jesus’ kingdom, not a pet under a Jewish table, but a joint heir in the promises to the patriarchs, a daughter of Jacob.
In response to the woman’s dogged faith, a sea-change in the economy and priority of God’s salvation was initiated; foreigners and Jews alike are brought to God’s “holy mountain”, Zion the Church, by his kingly mercy in Christ (Rom. 11:32).
Refreshed by the Gentile woman’s “great-faith” Jesus moved to another venue for God’s compassion, and to drive home the Eucharistic significance beyond the pale of Judaism’s exclusivist worship, by feeding 4,000 in Gentile territory with “seven loaves and a few small fish” (Mt. 15:29-39; Mk. 7:31; 8:1).
On the cross Jesus is the Church’s Bread of Life spoken of in the “grain and fish parables” (Mt. 13). We, who are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection are today fed for faith. Like the restored and transformed Canaanite woman, we are no longer growling K-9s; but receptively seated in ranks of order at the King’s table. By his Bread we possess his justice, righteousness, and mercy in the world.
St. Paul tells us, that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile. For those possessing the Canaanite woman’s faith Jesus is true Israel and by Baptism, we his siblings and co-heirs of God. He is new Zion’s Temple in whom we worship God in Spirit and Truth; he is our new Covenant for Sabbath rest and communion.
In-gathered to God we are being restored to true humanity, the image of God and likeness of Christ. We are mindful of Jesus’ closing words about his Church, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
In Christ, we are restored to missionary prayer for all “outside” the Church; and by God’s word their release from Satan’s thrall. Amen.