Breaking Down Barriers
Matthew 15:21-28

This is the first time in our series “Great People in God’s Story” that the person in question isn’t given a name.  She is labelled simply as the Canaanite woman, all we know of her really is where she was from and that her daughter was having demon trouble.  Yet we quickly discover that she is also a determined and persistent person, especially when it comes to the needs of her daughter and she is also quick witted.

We joined the encounter at the point where this woman came up to Jesus and the gathered disciples and was shouting continuously, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”.  Do you recognise these familiar words?  We use a similar format in our worship services every week, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”  Even in our liturgy we are persistent and a little repetitive. We can learn a lot from this Canaanite woman.

But Jesus didn’t answer her, he was flat out ignoring her, and the disciples wanted Jesus to get rid of her, she was annoying them.  Who could really blame them, have you ever been confronted by a shouter?  It can be quite intimidating, annoying and frustrating.  The added issue for the disciples was that they knew that socially and politically this woman didn’t really have a right to approach Jesus and yet she was following them and shouting out to him.

Then she came right up to Jesus and knelt at his feet and said, “Lord help me”, and the conversation began.  We are shocked by Jesus reply to her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” And her quick reply?  “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.”  It was a bold and clever reply and it was respectful of who Jesus was yet she still asked for just a crumb of what he could possibly give her, she wasn’t over the top, she was actually quite humble.

It wouldn’t have been easy to try and get the better of this one who she knew to be the Messiah and believed that he could help her daughter, but she did what was necessary to have her daughter healed.  Those of us with children know that there is virtually nothing we wouldn’t do for our children.  When someone says something against them or to hurt them we quickly fly into defensive mode, even those of us who usually avoid conflict will leap into action when it comes to our offspring.  This lady was no different.

She knew that as a Canaanite and a woman Jesus shouldn’t be talking to her, she knew that socially and politically at the time she could really not expect anything from Jesus, and at first that looks like what is going to happen.  But she is determined and persistent and eventually her wish is granted, her prayer is answered and her daughter is healed.  She received the crumbs from the table for the benefit of her offspring.

So what do we learn from this?  Firstly, no matter how unworthy other people think we are to receive God’s love and grace, or how unworthy we think we are, there is still enough to go around.  Yes Jesus did come to save the Jews, the people of Israel, but this encounter with the Canaanite woman is the beginning of Jesus revealing to the rest of the world that they will be included too.  If Jesus were solely the saviour of the people of Israel most of us would miss out too!  If you or I had walked up to Jesus on that day in the district of Tyre and Sidon we would probably have received the same reception from the disciples, we too are outsiders, not worthy to eat the children’s food, but Jesus gave her what she needed and he gives us what we need too.  He might not necessarily give us all we want, but he most certainly gives us everything we need, for this life and for the life beyond this one.

As I was thinking about the social, racial and political issues that came to bear on the Canaanite woman I was thinking about our congregation, at first glance it may look like it is made up of white middle class Aussies, but as you look through the gathered worshippers I give thanks to God for the diversity that we share.  As Jeannie and I were talking last week about the Longest Lutheran Lunch and our possible theme of ‘Many Nations, One Lord” our quick calculation gave us around ten different nationalities of birth in our midst.  We are blessed to be so culturally diverse, we aren’t judgemental, we don’t discriminate, all people are welcome in the kingdom of God and in our congregation.  Thank God for that!

Yet in the midst of all that we would still be outsiders in Tyre and Sidon and probably labelled as sinners as well!

When we think closely about it we have all at some stage in our lives failed to live up to God’s commandments for us, we have all sinned and fallen short.  Even the seemingly simple ones like not bearing false witness against our neighbour.  We talked about this one at head to the heart on Friday night.  Even gossiping about someone else or harming their reputation in some way is sinning.  It sounds like an easy commandment to keep but as we discussed it we realised just how hard it actually is to keep and then to switch it into a positive and only use our talk to build others up,

The way the disciples were so quick to condemn this woman from Canaan would probably fit into that category.  It isn’t for us to judge others and decide whether or not they belong in the kingdom of God, we don’t have the right to exclude someone based on race or gender, sexual persuasion or what their employment might be or lack thereof.  This is solely for God to handle. 

This Canaanite woman and her encounter with Jesus that was recorded by Matthew for all of us to read has throughout the centuries challenged all of us to continue to come to Jesus, no matter who we are or where we’re from and continue to whisper, say, pray, shout or sing, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

No matter what your need is in this life, no matter what your situation in life, no matter what you have done or failed to do, no matter what your nationality or social status, Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of God, Messiah is waiting for you to call to him, Lord have mercy on me a sinner, forgive me and answer my prayers according to your good and gracious will.  Sometimes he will say, “let it be done as you wish”, give thanks for the blessings that you receive, praise God at all times.

Amen