"-- We`re going to look at love - what this kingdom love looks like. This is one of the more striking stories in the New Testament. This is from Matthew, chapter 15:
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman came to him from that vicinity, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." 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." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. Jesus replied, "It is not right to take the children`s bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord, " she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from thier masters` table." Then Jesus said to her, "You have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. ''Matthew 15:21-28''
-- Now just a moment of truth here. How many of you think Jesus seems a little rude in this story? Doesn`t it kind of seem like He woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something in this deal? This is kind of a hard story to understand. It has become one of my absolute favorite passages. I just think it`s an unbelievable story. To being with, to understand it, a guy named Ken Bailey - a great New Testament guy - said that this is the story of a master teacher. And there are a few things you need to know. A master teacher understands that lecture alone is not enough to transform life. People need to experience truth. And, Bailey says, a master teacher is able to teach on more than one level, to more than one group at once. That`s part of what`s going on here. And Bailey says, to get the point of this passage, you have to see Jesus is kind of giving a test for two different groups of people, for the woman and the disciples. It`s test time. So we`re going to walk through the test and see who aces it and who`s having a little trouble with it.
-- Jesus and His friends are in a region that`s far north or where they usually are. Occasionally they would go there, probably for some rest. Tyre and Sidon were two Phoenician cities way up on the Mediterranean coast. And you need to know this for this story. The Israelites regarded these people as to be despised. Josephus, who was a historian in the first century, said the Israelites considered the people of Tyre "our bitterest enemies."
-- Jesus was teaching the Israelites one time and He said,
Woe to you, Chorazin and Bethsaida, ''two cities'' if the miracles that were performed in you ''in other words, the stuff I did in you'' had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. I tell you, it would be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you. ''Matthew 11:21-22''
Now why does He use Tyre and Sidon here? Well, He`s saying, even the people that you think are the most wicked people you know - like the spiritual bottom of the barrel - even Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they had seen what you`ve seen, the miracles that I`ve done with you. The people of Israel thought of Tyre and Sidon as the sin capital of the world. The town motto was, "what happens in Tyre and Sidon, stays in Tyre and Sidon." The point of all this is that this woman would be regarded by the disciples as a member of the most spiritually degraded people they know. But she comes to Jesus with the cry of a beggar: have mercy on me. She humbles herself. And she adds a little - "Lord." The Greek word was the word kurios , which could mean "sir", it could mean "master" and be an expression of submission. And I want you to notice in this story how this word comes up. It`s an amazing story. She calls him Son of David. She has learned something of Judaism. She is deeply respectful. And then Matthew says in verse 23,
Jesus does not say a word. ''Matthew 15:23''
This woman`s daughter is suffering terribly. She comes to Jesus in humility and reverence, and Jesus acts like He didn`t hear her. He blows her off. And you notice, now Matthew doesn`t try to hide this. Matthew is deliberately drawing your attention to it. So something`s going on. Matthew knows how this story is going to end up. We don`t know that yet. He wants his readers to have to struggle with this. He`s doing this on purpose. The woman has to decide here, "how deeply do I want healing for my daughter? How much am I willing to trust this guy?" It`s Part One of her exam. And I want to leave her for a second to look at the disciples. Here`s Jesus giving them a little lesson. They`re not surprised that their Rabbi wouldn`t talk to a woman, because what rabbi would? There`s actually a rabbinic saying from ancient times, roughly Jesus` days: "He that talks with womankind brings evil on himself, neglects the study of the law, and at the last will inherit Gehenna ''hell''." That`s a rabinic saying from ancient times. And that`s what these guys grew up with. Don`t have a conversation with a woman. So Jesus deliberately ignores this woman and watches the disciples to see what they`re going to do. Do they get it? Do they understand what He`s about? And in their response, in verse 23, they`re quite confident that their words are going to meet with Jesus` approval. They say to Jesus,
Send her away! She keeps crying out after us. ''Matthew 15:23''
That`s a little grandiose, isn`t it? Does this woman ever ask for them ? Whom does the woman ask for? She`s just coming for Jesus. But they rather generously include themselves in the woman`s request. "You know, Jesus, she`s bothering us. We came north to get away from all this, and everybody wants a piece of us, so You send her away." This is quite reminiscent of when the children try to come to Jesus. Some of you know this story. It says, the disciples rebuked them. They considered themselves quite expert at whom does Jesus want to be with and whom does He not. And we`ll see if they`re right.
-- Jesus goes on to Part Two of this exam. Again, He`s talking to the disciples here. They come to Him,
Send her away! ''Matthew 15:23b''
I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. ''Matthew 15:24''
Now why does He say this? Because in a lot of other places, even in Matthew`s gospel, Jesus makes it real clear that He came so that the whole world might be saved, so that no one would perish. Earlier in Matthew another Gentile, a Roman centurion, came to Jesus with a request, and Jesus granted it. He healed the servant, and then said,
I haven`t found faith like this Gentile Roman centurion has. I haven`t found anybody in Israel who`s got that kind of faith. ''Matthew 8:10''
Jesus also says that He came so that many will enter the kingdom. There`s that word again. Jesus came so that people will enter this kingdom, this realm of God`s presence and God`s power.
Many will enter the kingdom from the east and west . ''Matthew 8:11''
Now that phrase, when you run across that in the Bible, that`s technical language, that means Gentiles, people who don`t live in Israel, people from the east and the west. Jesus said He came so that they could enter into the kingdom. So why here does He say, "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel"?
-- Well, Ken Bailey says, He`s testing the disciples. Good teachers don`t just give lectures. Jesus tried the lecture approach after the children deal, and that`s not working so well. The disciples need some remedial help. When I was in the first grade, teachers would assign students to reading groups based on how well they could read. But they wouldnt` call the groups the good readers and the bad readers because that might hurt our feelings. They would name all the groups after birds so that everyone would feel equal, but you could tell how you were doing by what bird your group was named after. So there were the eagles, and the robins, and the pigeons. And the disciples are in the pigeon group. So Jesus appears to agree with them, "of course! I`ll get rid of her. I was sent to Israel! We`re God`s favorites. We`re on the inside. We`re us. We have no time for Gentiel, female, second-rate riffraff. Good call, guys! I`ll send her away!" But you notice, does he send her away? No, He doesn`t. And He watches the disciples to see how they`ll respond. Will anybody disagree? This is the master teacher at work. Will anybody get it? Will anybody stand up for her? No, they all nod their heads. "Yes, that`s right, send her away!" Now, simultaneously, the woman is going through Part Two of her test. She`s hearing all this. Again, picture the scene. Jesus is facing and talking with his disciples. His words say to her, in effect, "you`re an outsider. I`m the son of David. You`re not my mission. Why should I serve you?"
-- And now, is her concern for hre child so deep, is her confidence in Jesus` compassion and power so great that she`ll just persevere, just keep going? In her mind, she can hear her daughter screaming. She has nobody else to turn to. She has nowhere else to go. So she kneels down, in a posture of deep humility and reverence, and utters in just one phrase, the cry of a tortured human soul.
Lord, help me! ''Matthew 15:25''
She still doesn`t understand what all is going on. He hasn`t acted like she thought He would. But still she calls him Lord. The disciples are watching this woman on the ground. And now the tension starts to build real strong, just as Jesus knew it would. Their belief system tells them this woman is to be shunned, rejected, ignored, sent away. And they themselves would say just the same thing Jesus said - and yet- something inside them is deeply moved. This is the cry of a desperate mother for a beloved daughter who is in physical and spiritual agony, and something inside them - could God be bigger than they think? Could God be better than they think? - but they don`t get it yet.
-- Jesus speaks again. he`s been speaking to His disciples, and the text doesn`t say anything about His turning around. So it helps to get the dynamic of the story as you picture Him saying this next line, as I think probably He did, still looking at the disciples, still watching their faces, Jesus says,
It is not right to take the children`s bread and toss it to their dogs. ''Matthew 15:26''
Now, the meaning of this would have been crystal clear to everybody. Who in this little saying, who do the children stand for? Israelites. And who does the dog stand for? Gentiles. For this woman. And most of us in this room, by the way. Dogs in the Middle East generally were not for the most part considered pets, the way we do. They were mostly scavengers in order to live and were considered fairly unclean. So Jesus now is forcing His disciples to face themselves. He is saying to them, "You want me to get rid of this woman? You want me to limit my ministry only to Israel? You want me to just keep it us versus them? Okday, I`ll do what you ask. Just watch her. Just listen to her daughter scream. Just see her in agony. Just look at her kneeling on the ground." And he gies voice to their beliefs. because again He does not do what they tell Him to do. There`s a deliberate contrast between the words that Jesus is saying and what He`s actually going to do in this story. And Matthew wants us to wrestle with this. It is one thing to have contempt for somebody else behind their back. It is another thing to have all that ugliness, of my thoughts and my feelings, expressed out loud in the presence of a real human being. We all know about the difference. Will any of them speak up for this woman? Will any of them say, no, we ought to love her? Not yet. Their time is coming, but not yet. Jesus makes this statement in verse 26. He uses real harsh language about dogs to force the disciples to face themselves.
-- At the same time, Ken Bailey notes, He softens His language slightly for the woman. In Greek there are two primary words that can be used to describe a dog. Jesus uses the diminuitive form of the word for a little doggie - kunarion - is the word in Greek. This is not an attack dog that Jesus is talking about here. It`s a little doggette. He literally puts a little attachment to the end of the word like "ette." He uses the word for the disciples` sake. "You want me to treat all Gentiles like dogs? Here`s what it looks like."
-- Now this is the hardest part of her test. Will she run away? Because she could. She could decide it`s not worth the effort, this strange tug of war. Give up. And her trust in Jesus is so profoundly deep that she`ll keep going. And her response is unbelievable.
Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master`s table. ''Matthew 15:27''
And in this response she picks up on the diminutive form of the word "dogs" that Jesus used. She uses the same word, and then she adds the same ending, that same diminutive form, to the word crumbs, deliberately to parallel that - literally, it would be like "even the doggettes get the crumbettes from their master`s table." She comes back at Jesus with grace and grit and even wit. There`s an element of something like playfulness here, as if she`s sparring with Jesus. She just won`t give up. And the disciples are watching this, and their jaws hit the floor. They have never in their lives seen anyone show such confidence with Jesus. They have never seen such a demonstration of bold, risk-taking love. Watching this woman when she showed up, they knew they were watching their inferior - their spiritual, moral inferior. It turns out she is their master in every respect. She is relating to Jesus on a level of understanding and humility and trust and boldness that puts them to shame.
-- And then they look at Jesus. Then everybody looks at Jesus. And finally Jesus turns to face this woman, and now the mask is off. And if for a moment he concealed the great goodness of His heart, He had a purpose, but now that purpose is fulfilled. Now the test is over. Now the time has come for the grades to be given out.
Oh, woman, great is your faith! ''Matthew 15:28''
He didn`t use that phrase to describe his disciples.
-- In an earlier passage in the gospel of Matthew, in the eighth chapter, they flunk a storm test. They get all panicky and worried and everything and some of you know how Jesus describes them.
Oh, you of little faith! ''Matthew 8:26''
It turns out that they - who thought they were the top of the ladder - they`re in the pigeons. She`s an eagle. And then she goes away and we never see her again.
-- How come this strange tug of war? I don`t know exactly. I don`t know why sometimes we struggle. I do think that as long as that woman lived, she remembered till the day she went to her grave the day that Jesus looked her in the eye and said "Wow! Woman! You have great faith!" I think He knew she was an eagle. And I think there was something going on in that process that named and developed enormous strength of soul in that woman. I don`t understand it all, but I think there was something going on. She was an eagle. But part of the good news of this story is that Jesus is very patient with the pigeon group. He kept working with the pigeons.
-- And many years later, after His death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter gets it one day. This is a long time later, and Peter is praying to God, and he gets this vision to go to the home of the Roman soldier, a Gentile named Cornelius. And God finally breaks through Peter`s hardness of heart and all those prejudices and all that junk that divides up the world, that always had divided up the world till Jesus started this movement. And Peter gets is. And Peter says,
Now at last! Now, at last I see. God plays no favorites. It makes no difference who you are, where you`re from. The message he sent to Israel, that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again. That`s the Gospel. That`s the good news. ''Acts 10:34-36''
Up there is coming down here. Well, He`s doing it everywhere among everyone. I finally get it. And Peter remembers that day when Jesus stood there with that woman. Now at last I see what He was teaching me.