The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 16-17, 2008
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is important to recognize what is happening. If one is out in the woods deer hunting, and one sees movement in the brush, you have to determine what is happening. Is that the wind? Is that an animal of some sort? Is that another hunter? Or is it s a big buck moving in your direction? You have to be able to recognize this in order to do the right thing. It could be tragic if you think it’s a deer and it turns out to be a hunter. We make jokes about Dick Cheney peppering his friend with bird shot, but it very easily could have ended in disaster. When driving in bad weather, we must be able recognize the road conditions or we could end up in the ditch. Young drivers have problems with this. My brother Mark one time hit a patch of ice on an otherwise clear road. Thankfully the ditch was full of hard snow and there wasn’t much to it. About three or four winters ago, a couple teens did the same thing over by St. Croix Falls and were spun into oncoming traffic and killed. They didn’t recognize what was happening around them.
Our text is about recognition. It is about a women who recognized what was happening around her. It is also about all those who didn’t see what was plain in front of them.
Christ went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon in modern day Lebanon. Christ probably does this as a vacation. It is a beautiful area. Before the Islamic militias began their war, Lebanon was one of the great tourist destinations. It was called the Riviera of the middle east. It was also an area where there were some Jews, but most of the people would been of Canaanite ancestry. So there would not be as many preaching opportunities. He can rest and pray before returning to Galilee and the large crowds.
While Christ is there in Lebanon, He is approached by a woman. Why does this woman approach Christ? To have Him heal her daughter. Yes, but that doesn’t really answer the question. I’ve never asked human being to heal me. Most people have never asked a human being to heal them. In fact, why would you? At most one would go to a physician seeking medical treatment. But that is quite different from healing. The woman goes to Christ because she recognizes that Christ has the power to heal.
The woman describes her daughter’s condition in terms of demonic possession. Now in the ancient world, many illness were considered demonic in nature. Consider the name “Pneumonia”. It is derived from the Geek word for spirit. Literally, pneumonia is having spirits in the lungs. So we cannot say if this was simply a physical illness, perceived as demonic, or an actual case of demon possession. And for our purposes it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this women recognized that Christ has power over demons.
Let’s contrast this for a moment with the Jews. They saw all the miracles and demanded more, like patrons at the circus. But they didn’t grasp that Christ had this power intrinsically. This woman might have seen some of Christ’s miracles, but more likely, she just heard about Christ. Having only heard the reports, she believes.
She approaches Christ asking for His mercy. Why? Why does she presume that God’s mercy would be there for her? One has to believe that some of the Old Testament stories were circulating among the Canaanites. Those stories might well have included the healing of the Syrian general Naaman from II Kings 5. But there is more. The woman’s answer to Christ is instructive. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” There are several things in this statement. First, is that Christ can heal her daughter without taking from what He was sent to do. But more importantly, she recognizes that Christ is her master. He is not just some traveling freak show. He is not just a religious teacher. He is something fundamentally different. She is going to her master’s table begging for crumbs. The Jews did not recognize that Jesus was their Lord and Master come to earth. The disciples didn’t even get it. This Canaanite woman did.
This text is a great many things. There are many lessons here. Among them is a stern warning. Martin Luther described the Gospel as a summer shower that passes through and then is gone. The day came when the Christian Church no longer made a conscious effort evangelize the Jewish people. They were busy with other mission work among other people. Why did that happen? Because many Jews rejected the Gospel. In our day we risk becoming similarly victimized by our own unbelief. The Christian church as a whole in the United States is like a doddering old man grasping at straws. Even as Christianity seems to be collapsing in the United States, Africa is embracing the Gospel. All the real strong, courageous Church leaders of our age, in all denominations, are Africans. There is no one in the leadership of the LCMS that holds a candle to Bishop Walter Obare Omzuma. Nor is this just a leadership problem. It’s in the pews as well. Recent surveys show that many of our life long Lutherans still believe the lie that they are saved by their own good works. Certainly some of the blame falls on the pastors who have failed to feed their sheep, but each member also has the responsibility to know the Small Catechism and the like. So are we like the Jews who didn’t recognized Christ among them, and who were in the end replaced by the ones called “dogs” in our text?
Where then is Christ among us? Right where He has promised to be - in Word and Sacrament. Christ is present among us in the Church, where He has called and gathered His people together. Did we deserve this? No. We are sinners. We don’t even deserve the crumbs of our master’s table. We don’t love God or our neighbor as we should. We’re not even close. Nevertheless, Christ is here among us, in His Word, in His Body and Blood, offering to us forgiveness and life as a free gift. But it is important that we see what is happening around us. We must see that Christ is present here as He has promised. For the day may come when Christ moves on. But that day has not yet come. Christ is still present here through His preached Word. Christ is still here in Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Supper. That is Christ’s gift to us. Let us seek Lord where He has promised to be. For in this time, until the judgement, Christ has promised to be present in Word and Sacrament. Wherever His Word and Sacraments are present, there is also forgiveness. The presence in Word and Sacrament is a presence in grace. It is here in Word and Sacrament that Christ invites us not to have crumbs, but to feast upon forgiveness and life.