Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 27, 2017
“It’s a Dog Eat God Life”
Rev. Richard Langness
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours this day from our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters at Immanuel. Last Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing my youngest granddaughter as we traveled to Erie, PA. As a parent and grandparent it brings joy to my heart knowing that my children and grandchildren are covered in the blood of Christ. They are baptized and they continue to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of their sins. I cannot imagine the distress that I would feel if any one of them were not saved through the merits of Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, I can relate, as many of you can, to this Canaanite woman who cried out on behalf of her daughter who was oppressed by a demon.
Now in many ways we do not see a good picture of Jesus in our Gospel text. He doesn’t come across as the loving, compassion savior that we expect. The woman cries out, ““Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word.” (Matthew 15:22-23a) Jesus is silent and we don’t like it when He is silent. The Jesus that we know and want is a loving Jesus who hears us when we pray. He cares for us, sympathizes with us. But this Jesus seems cold and uncaring. It is as if he wants nothing to do with her.
Can you imagine how this woman must have felt, to be ignored by Jesus? But she is not just ignored by Jesus, the disciples are annoyed with her and want nothing more than to send her away. “And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”” (Matthew 15:23b) What she is feeling is what it feels like when we as the Church, the very bride of Christ, put labels on our neighbor and reject them. And this is why Jesus seems uncharacteristically quiet. He is teaching the disciples how to love the unlovable, how to care for the very ones who are an annoyance. He knows how easy it is for us to be judgmental and turn away those who do not fit our image of what a Christian should look like.
You see, the truth be told, we are all dogs. We are dogs and we live in a dog eat dog world. We bark at each other. We bite each other. And we devour each other. It is sad to say but we do this as both non-Christians and Christians alike. That old sinful nature within us still wants to be top dog; and so we attack even those who are weaker and in need. Now I know that none of us like being called a dog as I am sure that the Canaanite woman understood the term as an insult. But we cannot escape the reality that there is nothing good within us that would merit God’s favor. We are indeed dogs.
You and I bring nothing to the table except the baggage of sin that flows from our hearts. There is no one who is good and deep down we understand this even if we do not always want to admit it. Now I have to say that my grandchildren are truly beautiful and very precious. Yet, we came together to baptize my granddaughter because even the tiniest of them is a dog and a sinner apart from the merit and mercy of Christ. Yes, it is easy for us to see a newborn baby and see them as something special. And indeed they should be in our eyes. But before God they are born tainted with sin. Thus we should not see the attitude that Jesus has as something foreign. Jesus understands the judgment that stands against the world and He understands the judgment that is upon this Canaanite woman and her daughter. But what is more, He understands the judgment that is upon the disciples for not seeing the woman’s need for mercy.
Jesus has come to save the sinner. He has come to love the unlovable. And He has come to show mercy upon the unmerciful. Thus, we must recognize that Jesus is being patient with His disciples as He waits for that teachable moment to come forth. The disciples want Jesus to send the woman away and He now answers them with the words they want to hear and yet the truth of what He speaks is far more than what they comprehend. “He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”” (Matthew 15:24) The disciples hear these words in the political sense. It would be as if He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of them Lutherans.” But Jesus is the true Israel. He has not come to save a political nation; He has come to save His creation, the people of His house. Thus, the door is not shut for this Canaanite women; it is open wide even if she and the disciples do not totally understand it.
“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”” (Matthew 15:25) This is a woman in desperate need and she is not giving up hope that Jesus can and will save her daughter. But here are those words that cut us like a knife and seem to portray Jesus as arrogant and uncaring. “And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”” (Matthew 15:26) It is as if He is telling this woman that she is nothing more than a dog in His presence. But Jesus knows her. He knows her need and He hurts for her. And Jesus also knows the attitude of His disciples and He knows that the ministry to the lost sheep cannot move forward if His disciples only see people through political eyes, if they only see people based upon their outward appearance.
This Canaanite woman was an outcast from the perspective of an Israelite. But this outcast knows it and has accepted it. She doesn’t fight against the attitude that Jesus has expressed. She doesn’t deny it. She doesn’t try to defend herself in hope of making herself acceptable. She has come to embrace it as the truth. So now she speaks these words of faith. “She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”” (Matthew 15:27) In these simple words she describes the whole of humanity before God.
Have you ever notice how a dog hungers after crumbs? Our dog Killian is a wonderful dog. But it is amazing how much she will go through to get one little crumb of food. Every now and then I will grab a handful of peanuts as an afternoon snack. I usually eat them in my recliner. Well, there are times when one of those nuts gets away and falls between the cracks and makes its way to the floor underneath my chair. When Killian gets a whiff of that lone nut, she begins this routine where she starts off with a moan of discontent at she sniffs the floor by my chair. That moan soon turns into a groan of heartbreak as she cannot obtain that tasty feast hidden beneath the chair. It is not long after that the groan turns into grunts of disgust as I have failed to get up out of my chair and tilt it back so that she can finally eat that savory treat that is waiting there for her.
You and I may be dogs and we may live in a dog eat dog world. But the life we have been given is not a dog eat dog life; it is a dog eat God life. All this Canaanite woman needed was a crumb from Jesus. All she desired was just a crumb of Jesus’ mercy. A crumb of Jesus’ mercy would heal her daughter. She came moaning. Her moaning turned to groaning. And now with these final words she grunts. She knows that she is undeserving of Jesus. But she has seen His mercy and care for others and now she wants it for herself.
On the night when Jesus was betrayed He took bread. And when He had blessed it He gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” When we partake of the Lord’ Supper we partake of the very body of God given for us. When you look at it, it is nothing more than a crumb. But it is a crumb that gives forgiveness and life. It is a crumb that brings healing. It is a crumb that defeats the devil and releases us from the oppression he seeks to put us under. It is truly a dog eat God life that we live.
I cannot count all the times that I have accidentally transposed the letters when I have sought to write the word God and ended up with the word dog. There is that irritating reversal that takes place and the guilt comes over me as recognize that I have just broken the 2nd Commandment and misused the name of God. I have to stop, back up and retype it. But there is a wonderful picture that has come forth in the reversal of these two words. It is the picture of the great reversal that Christ has brought to us. Jesus, who is very God of very God, humbled Himself and became one with us dogs. He died the death we dogs deserved and in the process reversed our identity. We are no longer a child of a dog; we are a child of God. And it is not an accident. It is the will and plan of God!
The Canaanite woman confessed her identity and Jesus gave her a new one. When we read this story, in the end we do not see a dog; we see a woman of great faith. But let us not lose sight of how this woman of great faith hungered for the crumbs of God. May we follow her example and hunger and thirst for the very body and blood of Jesus Christ that brings life and salvation to not only us dogs, but also to those other annoying dogs that cross our paths. May we not be content to live a dog eat dog life, but may we hunger for the life that only God can give. It is truly a dog eat God life that we have. Let us feast upon the grace and mercy that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.