Catching Jesus in his words
(there’s nothing happier for him or you)
A sermon preached on Matthew 15:21-28 by Pastor Jonathan Were at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on August 30, 2020.
My name is John. I think you’ve heard of me. I was one of the 12 Disciples; wrote five books of the New Testament. I’ve seen Jesus do some amazing things and seen him do some strange things. But the strangest thing I ever saw Jesus do happened one day in a quiet, out of the way place. And it taught me a lesson I’ll never forget.
We were in the region of Tyre and Sidon, which means we were away from the hustle and bustle. And then out of the blue, this woman came right at us. You could tell something wasn’t right. She looked terrible. Like she hadn’t slept in days. And she started yelling, screaming practically. And what she said made my mouth drop open. She called out, “Lord, Son of David!” “Lord, Son of David” she called him. You have to understand, no one used that term for our Rabbi. No one. Because it was dangerous. “Lord, Son of David” was something you would say only if you were certain that you were talking to the Messiah we had been waiting for for over a thousand years. Which the authorities had decided was NOT who Jesus was.
But then it hit me like a shovel to the head–She believes that Jesus is the Messiah! He is, of course, I knew that, all of us knew that by this time, I think. But how did she find out, way out here? I mean, she wasn’t even Jewish? She’s, you know, one of “them” kind of people.
Well, she kept crying out, practically screaming like a crazy woman, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” And when she said that, we all became very quiet. I’d seen demon-possessed people before, we all had. And it ain’t pretty. When a demon gets inside a person, it changes them, and not in a nice way. They can be calm one minute and suddenly violent the next. They can moan and scream and use such gross language it burns your ears. I can’t imagine watching that happen to your own child. Your own sweet little girl turning into something so…..
But here’s what was so strange. Jesus just kept walking. I remember thinking, what in the world? Jesus does not walk away from people in need. He just doesn’t. What in the world was going on? Why was Jesus acting so strangely?
But this poor, stressed mom kept following us. Pleading. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassed for her. I don’t know how the other guys were feeling, maybe irritated for robbing us and our Rabbi of some of our r’n’r, I don’t know. But we all spoke up and told Jesus to send her away. I felt that if she left now, she could walk away with at least some dignity intact.
And Jesus looked at us and if what he did before wasn’t strange enough, what he said next seemed, well, mean. I never heard Jesus say a mean word in all the time I knew him. But at the moment, what he said seemed just plain mean. “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’”
We all knew what that meant. It meant this poor mom was out of luck. She was a Canaanite, you know, one of “them” people; she certainly was not Jewish-enough to be considered part of the “lost sheep of Israel.” But even if she was one of “them” people, I still felt bad for her. Because, well, do you know how it feels to think that Jesus is not for you? That you don’t really fit here, with his people? That you aren’t churchy-enough, or conservative-enough, or white-enough, or black-enough, or sports-minded enough, or middle-class enough, or social-enough?
And then what happened next was, well, I can only say it was the strangest and most amazing, thing I have ever heard—and it changed my life.
What happened next was that this heartbroke mom came and knelt before Jesus. Man a’living, this woman would not give up—there’s a lesson in that, too. And she said such a simple, beautiful prayer. She said, “Lord, help me!” She did not try to tell Jesus what to do, how to fix her problem. It was just “help me.” What an act of trust—laying your need out there, being so vulnerable, and completely letting God decide what to do about it. “Help me,” she prayed. Little did she know that was exactly what Jesus was doing.
You see, it was not only her daughter that needed help, she did, too. She, who, I am thinking was the kind of person who, maybe for years, had felt that God did not care so much about her like he did for others, because she wasn’t “enough.” She wasn’t Jewish-enough, she didn’t have her act together enough, she wasn’t a good enough mom, she wasn’t “enough.” So Jesus treated her the way he did outwardly so that it could confirm that yes, you are not good enough, you are correct woman, you are not good enough to earn God’s love and care. So that the only thing that would keep her going and not give up was if she stopped thinking about her own level of goodness (or lack thereof) and instead focus entirely on the goodness of Jesus, the goodness of the Son of David, who came to be the King of sacrifice, the King who would be good enough to earn God’s love for her and whose sacrifice on the cross would be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness for her, to earn God’s salvation for her…and her daughter. A King so good that the word “good” doesn’t even cover it by half. See, it was not only this woman’s daughter who needed help, she did, too.
But the lesson wasn’t quite done. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” I was shocked–how could Jesus continue to seem so mean?
But my shock wasn’t done. This woman did something no one had ever done. She caught Jesus in his own words. She said, “Yes, Lord”—she agreed; if Jesus wanted to compare her to a dog, she would not argue, for he knew the truth better than she did; just like when the Bible calls you and me sinners deserving daily problems, major frustrations, and at the end death and hell, who are we to argue, God knows the truth about us better than we do. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And that’s true. So what could Jesus do? She had him! If she was like a dog—and Jesus already said she was—she only wanted what a dog could expect. And she knew that crumbs from the Son of David would be better than any of finest things this world could serve. Just like if you and I are, in fact, sinners deserving problems, frustrations, and hell, then we only want what God himself has said such sinners can expect—a complete pardon from him since he had Jesus pay for our sin on the cross 2000 years ago; and with that complete pardon, his love every day and eternal life at the last, since that is what He said in his Word that sinners can expect from him because of Christ, his death, his resurrection.
She caught Jesus in his words. And that’s what’s so ironic. The Pharisees tried catching Jesus in his words, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matt. 22:17); the Sadducees tried catching Jesus in his words; the intelligentsia tried catching Jesus in his words. And they all failed. But this mom, likely sleep-deprived mom, succeeded. As you will, too—except we have it easier, we don’t have to think on our feet like this woman; no, Jesus wrote down the words he wants us to catch him in.
She caught Jesus in his words. And Jesus loved it—if only you could have seen Jesus’ face as he was saying this incredibly honoring thing to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. But it wasn’t only her daughter who got healed, this woman did, too. She got healed from that dreadful disease of “trying to be good enough”, that burden of worthiness. She got wrapped up in the arms of God’s grace in Christ, a love that you do not need to be good enough to get, a love that sent the Son of David to be King of forgiveness, King of salvation, the King of sacrificing himself on the altar of the cross, “the King of love my shepherd is whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.” (CW #375 v.1)
That day changed me. And I hope it has changed you. I have learned to say, “Lord, you said in the Bible, “Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”—so I expect you to answer each one of my prayers.” And I know he loves that, when I am catching him in his words—he loves that. And so I go about the rest of my day like someone who expects that God is busy answering my prayers with the best possible answer, whether I see it happening or not. And when I’m doing a particularly bad job of living like a Christian, I have learned to say, “Lord, you said in the Bible that you did not come for the righteous but for sinners—and that’s what I been proving big time that I am today.” And I know he loves that, when I am catching him in his words—he loves that. And so I go about the rest of my day like someone who knows that Jesus came for me. And that day when I came to die (do you know that I was the only apostle to die of old age? The rest were cut down early, they were martyred), when I came to die, I could have prayed, “Lord, you promised in the Bible that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved. I am one who believes and is baptized. Save me.” And then I could have faced my death with dignity and even anticipation, like one who is certain that the best is yet to come. And it did. Oh, it did. And that made Jesus happiest of all. And me, too.
Catching Jesus in his words. There’s nothing happier for him or you. Amen.