Sermon for Sunday, August 16th, 2020, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 133; Genesis 45:1-15; St. Matthew 15:21-28
The Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
The Topic: In prayer, persevere in faith.
While kayaking in southern England off the Isle of Wight, Mark Ashton-Smith, a lecturer at Cambridge University, capsized in treacherous waters. Clinging to his craft and reaching for his cell phone, Ashton-Smith, thirty-three, called his dad.
It didn’t matter that his father, Alan Pimm-Smith, was training British troops in Dubai 3,500 miles away. Without delay, the father relayed his son’s Mayday to the Coast Guard nearest to his son. Within twelve minutes, a helicopter retrieved the grateful Ashton-Smith.
Like this kayaker, when we are in peril, our first impulse should be to call our Father — the one we trust to help us.
— “Capsized Man Phones for Help 3,500 Miles Away,” Reuters News Agency (September 11, 2001)1
MATTHEW 15:21-28: THE CANAANITE WOMAN APPEALS TO JESUS FOR HELP
In our Gospel lesson today, the Canaanite woman who appeals to Jesus to heal her daughter, was exercising faith in Him as Israel’s Messiah. Her use of the terms “O Lord” and “Son of David” shows she acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, or Christ.
It is instructive for us to note that Jesus at first does not respond to her request that he heal her daughter who was “severely oppressed by a demon.” Jesus’ answer to the disciples when they urge him to send her away is that his mission is only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Canaanite woman then kneels and worships Jesus, asking him to help her. Her faith is a persevering faith!
When Jesus speaks of it not being right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, he is not referring to the vicious dogs that lived on the streets in those ancient times. The Greek word used for dogs here refers to the lap dogs of a household, who would be fed from the scraps of food from the family’s meals. What did Jesus mean by this saying? He was stating clearly that the nation of Israel was the focus of his mission on earth, and not the Gentiles. The effect of this statement on the woman is not to create despondency, but to increase faith. While implying that the bread of the children should not be taken from them so as to be given to the dogs, she boldly and faithfully believes that there is enough bread both for the children and the dogs. In her case, that would mean that the Lord Jesus Christ’s healing grace, though given to Israel first, overflows for the Gentiles as well. Therefore she replies that even the dogs eat the crumbs, or scraps, that fall from their masters’ table.
When Jesus sees how great her faith is in believing in him for this provision of healing for her daughter, he speaks the word that heals her daughter of demonic oppression.
So profound is this Canaanite woman’s faith that it becomes an example to the Church of great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Prayer of Humble Access, composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Communion service of the First Prayer Book, alludes to this passage in the words, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” What counts here is, that, though the Gentiles are unworthy to receive God’s grace, Christ, by his death on the cross, has made all worthy who believe in Him.
Through the mission of the Apostles and Evangelists, including St. Paul, the Gospel, and the scraps of grace from the children’s table, have come to the whole world. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ carries with it healing grace to all the world.
As we intercede for our loved ones, and for those with whom we are sharing the Gospel with the purpose of leading them to faith, and as we offer petitions to God for ourselves, there are times when it seems that God is distant from us, just as the Lord Jesus Christ seemed distant from the Canaanite woman, appearing at first unwilling to grant her repeated request for the healing and deliverance of her daughter. At such times, we must not allow our faith and zeal to pray to grow weak, but we must strengthen our faith in God and continue to pray for God to grant our requests. Though the Canaanite woman knew she was not one of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, and was a Gentile, she believed that just as the puppies in a household were given the scraps from the children’s meals, so she and other Gentiles would be given “the scraps of grace” from the table of Israel. The example of this woman’s persevering faith has become a symbol of hope for all believers who come boldly to God’s throne of grace to “obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16b, KJV).
Will you persevere in faith as you pray for others even in the face of real or apparent spiritual opposition?
1 p. 107, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.