Matthew 15:21-28: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table

Dog looking at his master for food (610x351)Did you ever feel that God has ignored your prayers, not by answering “no,” but by taking no notice of them?  If so, then today’s Gospel is for you.  Have you ever felt that God has treated you in a cold or cruel way, allowing you to experience so much pain in this life?  If so, then today’s Gospel is for you.  And if you’ve ever wanted God to lift you out of the rut that entraps you, then today’s Gospel is for you.

A Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  She’s a Gentile.  But she’s using the Jewish expression, “Son of David,” recognizing that Jesus is the fulfillment of King David’s line.  She understands that Jesus is the Messiah.  She gets it!  And, in faith, she calls out to Him as her Lord.

But acting as if He were deaf, Jesus “didn’t answer her at all.”  And when He finally does respond, He sounds cold, heartless, not like the Jesus that we want in our lives.

The Jesus we want doesn’t ignore others; He receives them with welcoming arms.  The Jesus we love shows compassion to the crowds and heals them (Matthew 14:14).  We like the Jesus who grants a desperate man’s plea for help (Mark 9:17-25).  We like the Jesus who confronts others to help those broken by sin (John 8:1-11).

But the Jesus we see in today’s Gospel reading doesn’t fit the tender, loving, and heroic Jesus we love and adore.  Today, He is cold, deaf, and distant, even unwilling to respond to a desperate woman, who has nowhere else to go.  Jesus seems uninterested in hearing her prayer: “He didn’t answer her at all.”

And when Jesus finally does speak, He veers His eyes.  He talks only to His disciples, as if she wasn’t even there and worthy to receive the decency of direct speech.  Jesus tells His disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”

And when the woman finally throws herself before Jesus, so He can no longer ignore her, what she hears Him say would likely crush and drive away the likes of you and me.  “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

How jarring!  How rude!  And yet, Jesus teaches us something that every Christian must learn and re-learn all the days of his life.  We must learn, and re-learn, the truth behind Jesus’ actions because of the sinful voices in our heads and hearts, voices that unrelentingly want to draw us away from the one, true faith.

What Jesus did teaches us to understand the difference between feelings and faith.  Our feelings can be like a cunning thief in a cloak of disguise.  They can easily become a false measure of faith and how you think you’re doing in your faith-walk with God.

And so we must learn to realize that faith believes what is true, even when our feelings differ from the gift of faith.  For “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” [or felt] (Hebrews 11:1).  The Gentile woman is a strong, powerful example of faith.  She won’t let her feelings and emotions drive her away from Jesus.

Consider it this way: How you would feel, and respond, say, if Jesus were the man behind the counter at an auto-parts store.  What emotions would erupt within you if you went to Him and said, “I need some help.”  But Jesus doesn’t even hear you.  And when you finally get Him to look your way, He rudely says, “I’m not here to help you.”

What!  That’s ridiculous.  If you’re anything like me, you’d be smoking mad.  I’d take my business somewhere else—even if it cost me more money!  And I’d probably mutter some words under my breath that a pastor should never speak from the pulpit.

You want quick and considerate attention from Jesus at the service counter.  You want to get the car part you need.  But you also want to leave the store feeling good, having received a good deal on the part you need.  That’ll make you a repeat customer!

But the woman in today’s Gospel reading—she won’t take her business anywhere else.  When she heard, “I’m not here to help,” she would’ve calmly replied:

What do you mean you’re not here to help?  You’re behind the service counter, aren’t you?  You’re wearing the hat and the shirt.  Of course, you’re here to help me!  That’s why you’re here!  I’m even sure that you will now get up, get what I need, and bring it to me.  Take your time, if you wish!  And I’ll keep asking you to do what you’re here to do until you do it.

This woman is a model of what it means to be a disciple, for she won’t let her feelings define her faith.  We know this because Jesus forced her to deal with her feelings as they intersected her faith.  Jesus ignored her.  Then, He was blunt with her.  But, in faith, she wouldn’t take her prayer anywhere else.

Jesus was whom she needed; by faith, she knew this!  So, she wouldn’t let her feelings drive her away from Him.  Even the disciples wanted to be rid of the woman: “Send her away; she keeps shouting as she follows us.”

If you’ve ever felt that God has ignored your prayers, learn from this woman.  If you’ve ever felt that God has been cold or cruel to you, learn from this woman.  If you’ve ever felt that you just want God to make you feel better, learn from this woman.  Learn that feelings and faith are not the same.  Join this woman, every day, basing your faith, not on how you feel but, instead, on Jesus and the promises He has spoken.

She came and knelt before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And Jesus answered, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  She then said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

This woman’s confession of faith is as valuable to you as it was to her: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She was saying to Jesus that she knew He was the Redeemer, the Savior, of the world.  Oh, she knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the One promised in particular to the Jews, and that she wasn’t a Jew.  But she also knew that God’s love could not be contained only to one people.

The woman knew that “God loved the world” (John 3:16).  She knew that He “wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  She knew that God would gather “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord” and that His “house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

Jesus sounds cruel and unkind, but He isn’t fooling that strong woman of faith!  That’s because she knows that Jesus didn’t come as Entertainer, someone to make her feel good, but as Savior, someone to save her from sin and death.  Jesus came to release captives from their captivity—captives like her daughter.  She didn’t focus on how Jesus made her feel; she focused on holding Jesus to His Word, to His promises.

So learn from that strong woman of faith!  Every sunrise and sunset, when you wake and when you sleep, learn and re-learn the foundation of your faith and life in Christ.  Learn that you base your faith, not on how you feel or how you think Jesus might be treating you, but on Jesus Himself and what He has promised to do!  Again, base your faith, not on how you feel, but on Jesus Himself and what He has promised to do!

So, what does Jesus promise to do?  He promises to forgive your sins, even if guilt gnaws at you like a hungry dog, and you feel unworthy of forgiveness, or far away from God’s love.  He has washed you clean in His blood, mingling that sin-cleansing blood with the water of your baptism, making you “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).  “You were washed, made holy, and made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Jesus patiently hears your prayers and answers them in His love and mercy—even if it doesn’t feel that way!  After all, you are now fully clean, holy, and forgiven.  And so God hears in your prayers only the purest motives and the most-Christian yearnings.  That’s what it means that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, who is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

Jesus loves and cares for you every day because He cannot do otherwise.  Caring for you is part of who He is.  Mercy is what He does as the Messiah; it’s His calling, which He faithfully carries out because He loves you.

And because Jesus loves you, how He answers your prayers may not always make sense to you.  After all, He answers them based on your eternal needs, not on what your sinful flesh may desire.  That’s what an eternal love does.

On this side of heaven, “we see indistinctly, as in a mirror” and what we know “is incomplete” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Because we have incomplete knowledge, and our sinful nature all-too-easily twists what we do know, we have almost no ability in our fallen flesh to gauge Jesus and what He does.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t want you to let your feelings interfere with your faith.  If the Canaanite woman had dealt with Jesus based on her emotions, the story, most likely, wouldn’t have ended well.  It’s the same for you.  So, like this woman, hang on to Jesus like a junkyard dog.  Like this woman, keep praying, “Lord, help me.”  Jesus will hear you; He will answer you, even if you think He isn’t paying attention.

Like that great woman of faith, come and kneel before Jesus.  But today, you kneel before Him in His holy Supper, for that’s how He comes to you, in His body and blood.  And He comes, not giving you bread crumbs, but giving you Himself.  And only He has what you need.  Amen.