Mongrels of the Master (Matthew 15:27)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14th, Year of Our + Lord 2011
In the Name of Jesus.
That was an odd song to sing today, “What is This Bread?,” odd to be singing a Lord’s Supper song on this non-communion Sunday. Or, perhaps it’s better to say this is an odd Sunday not to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Because the Canaanite woman would really get this song. The answers to each stanza’s first line, ‘What is this bread, What is this wine,’ ‘So who am I,’ ‘And is God here,’ and finally, ‘Is this for me,’ the answers to these questions would come quickly to her lips, her great faith joyfully singing the Good News of the Supper. And her grace-hungry mouth would eagerly receive the crumbs of life which the Son of David provides to us here, at this altar, whenever we kneel around His meal.
Yes, it is odd to not celebrate the Supper when we talk about the Canaanite woman, odd even though her story comes before the Supper was instituted, before the Sacrifice was made, before the Resurrection revealed the hope and promise Jesus gives in Holy Communion. Her story comes before Maundy Thursday, when Jesus gave us His Supper, and before Good Friday and Easter, when He fulfilled its promise, but the Canaanite woman’s faith is the same as every Christian’s faith, only stronger and bolder than most, certainly stronger and bolder than mine.
For she pursues Jesus and the saving power she knows He has, this foreign woman demonstrating her understanding and faith in the Messiah of Israel. Even though she can hardly know the details of how Jesus would complete and deliver the salvation of the world, even though she probably cannot yet confess the Crucifixion and Third Day Resurrection, still, she knows, with deep conviction, who this man Jesus is, and what He has come to do. She knows that she, and her daughter, need this Man, more than anyone else, more than anything else. For this Jesus is the Lord and at the same time the Son of David, the promised descendent of ancient King David who would come to be the glory of Israel and a light to all the nations. She knows this Man Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the promised Savior, who is in truth God Himself, the eternal Son of God entered into human flesh, in order to free Israel, and indeed the whole world, from the power of sin.
Her faith and conviction lead her to break all the cultural norms, to expose herself to abuse, ridicule, public embarrassment, all of these accepted by her, because she knows no one else can help her daughter, severely oppressed by a demon. God has broken into human history, and He has made Himself known to her, accessible to her. She believes He can do whatever it takes to save her daughter, and she would have no problem believing that Jesus could and would give His body and blood to His Church to eat and drink. Why couldn’t He, after all? Jesus is Lord.
Buddhists believe that god is truly present in every living thing. Mormons believe through dedicated service and clean living, the males of the species can begin the upward evolution into becoming gods themselves. But Christians, who confess that, in Jesus Christ, God became a man, appearing and acting in verifiable human history, Christians, who have more and better evidence to support the fundamental facts of their faith history than any other religion, still Christians struggle to believe that in the Supper we receive the true body and blood of Christ.
Why is this? Oh sure, the Real Presence is a mystery, contrary to what our eyes see, not rational according to human reason, but most Christians readily accept other mysteries, other teachings that depend solely on God’s Word, mysteries we accept in faith. What is it about the Supper that makes it so hard to believe?
Consider the insult. Very often it’s not so much believing in the unseen that causes us to doubt and qualify and deny the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper. Rather, we may recoil at the insult we think the Supper hurls at us. For what does the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper say about you? At one level, the Supper says “this is what it took, sinner, to save you. Your salvation required the innocent suffering and cruel death of Jesus Christ. Nothing else would do, no lesser sacrifice could take away the sin you’ve committed, that you are still committing.”
God might as well call you a dog, like Jesus does the Canaanite woman. After ignoring and rebuffing her pleas for mercy because she wasn’t an Israelite, Jesus then says worse. As she persists in her cries for mercy, Jesus puts her in her place: "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." You are not worthy, woman, sinner, dog, to receive such a high honor as to be fed at the table of the Christ.
What Jesus says to the woman about her unworthiness applies just as well to you and me, in our sinfulness. The Holiness of God is non-negotiable. Even if our sins were few and minor, which we all know isn’t true, even still, the least sin means we deserve to be cut off from God, like dogs. Hearing such an insult, we are tempted to anger, to fight back, to storm off from the table, and find some religion that doesn’t expose our sins quite so vividly, some savior who isn’t so coarse, so rude. How dare He say that to her? To me?
But wait. That’s not how the Canaanite woman hears Jesus, and in truth that is not the intent or final meaning of His words. Jesus, by rebuffing her and calling her a dog is in truth setting her up for the highest honor. Jesus, the Word made flesh, the hope of the world, the preacher of preachers, gives this woman the highest honor today. Jesus gives her the privilege of declaring the Gospel, allowing her to be the one who proclaims this good news: Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.
Did you hear that? In the Kingdom of Christ, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table, so I thrill to be called a dog by Jesus. For Jesus, in love toward God His Father, and in mercy toward you and me, took on Himself our sin, so that we sinful dogs might be declared Holy. As long as you know the Master, the Canaanite woman joyfully preaches, as long as you acknowledge your sinful need and seek crumbs from His table, you will be fed by the Lord God almighty, fed forgiveness and everlasting life, because that is who the Master is. Jesus Christ, Lord and Son of David, is the forgiveness and life of God, given to us sinners, to us dogs, so that we can live, with Him, both today, and forever and ever.
By some unreported miracle of His Word, this Canaanite woman has been brought to believe that it is the highest of compliments to be called a dog by Jesus. To be claimed as a mongrel of the Master the sweetest praise, the best of news. Great indeed is her faith, great because it knows that just a crumb from Jesus is all she needs, all her daughter needs, for Jesus is God our Savior, come to set sinners free from guilt and death and the power of the devil.
The people of Israel, the Jews of Jesus’ day, had in their self-pride codified the most common sin of mankind, which is the idea that the good life with God depends on me, on what I do, or who my parents are. Like so many Jews back then, who were sure they were doing what was required to save themselves, we Christians are susceptible to believing that the things we do in Church and life are earning God’s favor. There are many things to do in Church, and in life, but by none of these can you or I earn God’s favor, for we are sinners, tainting each attempted good deed with our pride, selfishness, lust, or laziness.
It is God who draws us here to hear His Word and do the things we do, but even our most pious actions do not win God’s favor. No, first God must and does come here to favor us, to give us what we need. And He does, because Jesus has won God’s eternal favor for us. Apart from God’s action on us, all our religious acts are empty. But because God in Christ does meet us whenever we gather in His name, because He comes to teach and forgive and feed us, because the Master is the one at work here, the simple things that happen here are holy, and filled with life and joy, for you.
Like the Canaanite woman, we have been blessed with the knowledge of who Jesus is. Even more, we are continually given access to Him in His Word and Sacraments. And because Jesus has suffered for the sins of the whole world, we can announce this gift to the world. We can tell our demon oppressed neighbors and friends, our demon oppressed sons and daughters. What’s that? You don’t think you know anyone who is oppressed by demons? Well, in our culture Satan is happy to keep his demons undercover, but remember, anyone who is not owned by the Master Jesus is by default owned by Satan. The Devil possesses every sinner who has not been rescued from his domain of darkness. But we have good news, for everyone, the strange gift of calling people dogs, in order that they, like us, can rejoice in being fed from the Master’s table.
God grant that in this life we, with the Canaanite woman, may always acknowledge that we are dogs, poor miserable sinners, acknowledging this truth, even as we eagerly seek the crumbs of Jesus, crumbs from His table that give life, by the blood bought forgiveness of all our sins. May we ever rejoice in being mongrels of the Master, Amen.