Matthew 15:22-28: Being a Blessed Dog

To the Northern coast, Christ goes, traveling into the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Far from home, He is walking on Canaanite soil with His disciples.  Many centuries earlier, God told Joshua to purge the land of these people when they recaptured their country.  With this shared history, the Israelites hated the Canaanites, calling them “dogs.”  Every respectable person went out of his way to keep himself from dealing with them.

The loathing goes both ways, with both groups trying to avoid the other.  Not so with a despairing woman.  A foul intrusion now infests her home, refusing to leave, sucking the life out of her lungs.  To her, since some demon began to inhabit her daughter, this irrational, long-held hatred no longer mattered.  Nothing she attempts, however, makes a difference.  The young girl might now be past all saving, except for some Israelite, of whom she learned, named Jesus. 

Such a stroke of fortune.  For this Man is making His way through town.  So, she advances toward Him—her first slip-up.  Only when a fracas is about to bust out, do these Gentiles push themselves on an Israelite. 

Worse, she’s also a woman, mistake number two.  In those days, women didn’t approach men, not like this, let alone a self-declared holy Man.  Frantic, she bellows out.  Ah, strike three for this poor lady, for her culture insists she is not to call out to a man in public.  Without anything to lose, she doesn’t care as she fractures all the rules. 

A foreigner with a distinctive accent shouts out as though she belongs to Israel.  “Show me mercy, Lord, Son of David.”  For these Israelites believe the Messiah will come from David’s family line, who will establish His throne.  Hmm, Jesus might assume I’m one of His own and choose to help.  “An evil demon is tormenting my daughter.”

What should Jesus do?  Most of us suppose He will restore the woman’s daughter.  Didn’t He do so for others, also embracing the Gentile?  Yes, but Jesus doesn’t say a word or acknowledge her.  No, He glares a stony gaze in another direction. 

How horrible, she thinks.  So, she focuses on the disciples, for they might be able to change their teacher’s mind.  “Please talk to your rabbi for me.  Tell Him my ailing daughter is sick with a demon.  Of all people, He can heal her.”

How stupid; these disciples are Israelites, too.  The three strikes against her still apply.  Rather than interceding, they beg Jesus to make her go away.  “Send her away—she’s causing a scene.  Lord, she’s driving us crazy.  Tell her to leave.”

So, Jesus replies, but to whom?  Tell me, who last spoke to Him?  Not the woman but His chosen followers.  So, if Matthew is following the proper pattern and procedures of writing, Jesus is responding to them, not her.  “Yes, I’m only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.  Right on, boys.  These bothersome Canaanites need to go away because the Father sent Me first to my countrymen, not foreigners.” 

Undeterred, this woman overhears Jesus, persisting and praying, and pressing Him for help.  Never say no to someone with nothing to lose.  All the pretense and fakery are gone as she falls before Him, pleading.  Gone is the fake Son-of-David talk.  A simple, unadorned Kyrie Eleison comes out: “Lord, help me.”  The pretend piety is gone, and she turns to this Man—if only out of desperation.

Now, Jesus talks to her, but only hard, cold, uncaring words pound her ears.  “How wrong for me to take bread for children, only to throw this to the dogs.”  Isn’t this Man rumored to be different?  Perhaps not, for He’s spewing out the D word.  These arrogant Israelites call me this every time they’re in town.  So, You too will kick me, when I’m as bad off as I can be, no better than a mangy mutt!

Don’t think for a minute Jesus’ words are meant to disrespect this woman or force her to leave without His aid and mercy.  No, He identifies what is in her heart and what He needs to say.  How can I proclaim this, like I can measure the mind of God?  Listen to how the whole affair ends, “Woman, your faith is strong!”  Though His words sting her hard, He voices them for a reason.

Let’s return to this woman and uncover more about her newfound faith.  How does she respond to our Lord’s brutal answer?  Gone are her efforts to control Him, for His severe response causes her to realize she can’t trick Jesus into helping her.  Vanished are her self-made solutions, for she now recognizes everything depends on Him alone. 

Now, she fathoms faith and its substance.  Buried deep within Jesus’ stern words, she perceives what only belief can comprehend.  Yes, He gives her something to grasp, to cling to and claim.  So, where did Jesus hide this treasure for her?  In the word “dog.”  In this one word, which only appears to humiliate and disgrace, stirs a hidden blessing. 

The sharp, cutting word points her elsewhere, to a different reality.  “A dog I may be, but dogs also eat the crumbs from their masters’ table.”  Detect who she now discerns Jesus to be!  None other than her Master, the same word for “Lord.”  Now trusting in His word, she holds Him to what He said, seeking His “yes” inside of His “no.”

With her no longer as a canine, Jesus addresses a despised Canaanite with dignity and respect, praising her.  Oh, He loves this faith talk!  Such trust she displays.  “O woman,” He cries!  An honorific title, which Jesus also used to honor His mother.  “Sturdy is your faith!”  True, for this woman held on to Him despite all appearances of turning His back and rejecting her.  My friends, this is the picture of steadfast faith. 

In front of His disciples, Jesus praises her, before followers who don’t yet understand the nature of faith.  To them, this woman isn’t worthy of Jesus’ help, for she isn’t one of them or part of the people of Israel.  A distraction, a bother, is all she is. 

So, Jesus teaches a profound lesson.  In their travels with Him, they think they’re the important ones, hanging out with Him.  Still hauling their works-righteousness thinking, faith remains elusive.  So, they too must discover our connection to God and His mercy doesn’t depend on our actions or ancestry.  No, one’s life with God only thrives when relying on His promises.  Don’t miss this—Jesus didn’t compliment His fellow Israelites, but this Canaanite, this woman, this “dog,” for her faith.

No matter what, faith clings to Christ, including those times You think He is forsaking you.  Whenever He stares you in the eye and calls you a dog, a robust confidence in Him will always hearken to the “yes” hiding behind the “no.”  A Spirit-given reliance cleaves to Jesus as Savior and Redeemer.  Dear child of God, true faith doesn’t believe in itself, but in Jesus.

The demon flees from her daughter, for he is no match for this Messiah.  “Let all be done for you as you desire.”  Yes, one little sentence from His lips accomplishes all.  The darkness and demonic realms must obey, which is why Jesus came—to vanquish the devil, the night of sin, and the gloom of death.  On the cross, He will deal His decisive blow.  For Jesus is Lord, and what He speaks becomes real.

The healing isn’t only for this woman or her child.  No, the Spirit chose to record this in Scripture for us.  Now, we, too, can understand the character of faith.  For appearances are deceiving. 

A full-bodied belief comes in the figure of a desperate, Canaanite mother.  For she embraced her brokenness before God, the disparaging dog, and pursued the promise hiding underneath Jesus’ seeming rejection.  All this instructs us, to hang on to His words and seek His favor in them, not to trust in our feelings.

The broken woman reveals God relishes the surprise.  Sometimes, He will take us off the well-worn trail, prodding us to grow in faith with the many twists and turns in our lives.  Many predicaments press down upon us, defying our endurance and comprehension—and yet God somehow brings us through them.  In His love and grace, we persevere. 

Sometimes, God leads us through such troubles, to help us to rely on His grace.  Other times, He’s achieving a purpose we may be unaware of until eternity.  Though these challenges may ache our hearts and churn our stomachs, on the other side, is a strengthened faith, a wisdom well-seasoned, and enduring joy.

Don’t expect shortcuts for a deep-rooted faith.  Learn from this woman.  Like her, we must go off-road with Jesus on His narrow path, with all the splinters of living beneath His cross. 

The disturbance of sickness or a bleak-sounding “no” might hunt and hound you.  Other times, as you await Your resurrection, life may treat you like a misplaced mongrel.  So, if you find yourself as the Canaanite woman, God wants you to be like her.  Keep going back to His promises.

To the world’s way, life under the cross of Christ is the life of a cur dog, detested and reviled.  Still, the scraps falling from our Lord’s plate are beyond any, a hearty and sumptuous fare—His Body and Blood, granting forgiveness and life.  A serving so rich and bounteous, surpassing any delight a dog can savor. 

So, cling to your Redeemer’s words.  Run to them—and if He tells you, “You’re nothing but a begging dog,” embrace His Word and dash to His table.  For only the richest of crumbs will fall your way, filling you to the full with His life and salvation.  Amen.

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