More Than Mere Bread Crumbs For Dogs

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

She was a dog.  Worse than a mere lap dog, but one of those yippy dogs that circles your feet eagerly looking for attention and crumbs of food; the kind that that incessantly jumps up and down clawing your leg; the kind that you just want to kick. Yes, this woman who came to Jesus and the disciples in our Gospel reading from today was loud.  She came before Jesus shouting and crying out to Him.  She croaked flamboyantly like a raven, shrieked with an ongoing annoyance, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  Yes, she was not only a showy irritation, but she had serious family problems as well, for her daughter was tormented by a demon. 

There are two equal and opposite errors into which we can fall in regard to demons and the devil.  “One is to disbelieve in their existence; the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.  They [demons] are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”[1]  In other words, we are to be babes in evil.  We don’t go around looking for evil.  However, even though we are to be babes in evil, we are very conscience that evil does in fact exist.  What this means is that demon possession and things of evil are no light matter to us.  While scripture is clear that no one will snatch us from the Lord’s hand,[2] we also know that demons rarely come uninvited into one’s life or family.  For example, “We dangle our fingers in shark infested waters with every sin.  To open the internet to a porn site is to open a portal for the demons to come into your home.”[3]  To dabble in the occult, whether it is calling demonic spirits through a Ouija Board or dabbling in television and music media that embraces occultism is definitely something to be alarmed by.  Furthermore, to harden your conscience so that you can enjoy a particular pet sin, knowing that you will repent later, is to invite evil into your life as well.  Indeed, sin not only has eternal consequences, but sin also wreaks havoc in the now.  Indeed, the evil one is intent on killing, stealing, and destroying you and your faith.

The particular woman, in our Gospel reading from today, has definitely experienced the mayhem of sin in her life.  Her daughter was tormented by a demon and she was desperate for reprieve as shown by her dramatic pleading for help towards Jesus.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” she cried.

She certainly had no strategy to fix her predicament; no plan; no particular action strategy that Jesus needed to follow.  She simply was before Jesus; laid bear with her hellish circumstances.

The disciples though, are neither impressed nor the least bit interested in her or her story.  She is a Canaanite woman who is not of the sheep of Israel, she is very loud, and it seems that the disciples are uncomfortable with the amount of attention she is bringing about.   Thus, the disciples urged Jesus to simply give her what she requested, so that they could be rid of her.  Yes, they wanted this ongoing annoyance gone, away from their presence. 

‘Jesus, give her what she wants, so that she will shut up!’

In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus said that He came for the lost sheep of Israel, thus implying that He was not some wandering miracle worker who traveled from problem to problem, but rather the Messiah of Israel who was on a mission of redemption for all mankind.  Indeed, Jesus certainly did not heal and fix every single problem during His ministry, for if He would have, He would never have gotten to the cross of salvation. 

Overhearing Jesus’ response, the woman nevertheless is driven to further desperation.  Dropping to her knees she resorts to the simple plea, “Lord, help me!”  To which Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

A lot of ink has been spilt trying to discern Jesus’ words of, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Was Jesus testing the woman?  Was He trying to see if she really knows His identity?  Was He attempting to confront the disciples’ judgmental opinion of her?  Was He making a theological point?  While we could indeed spend many hours attempting to discern Jesus’ response to her, the greater importance for us to take note of is how this woman responds to Jesus. 

How did the woman respond then?  How did she react to what seems to be this trash-talking going on right in front of her face? “Did she tuck tail and leave?  Did she shrug her shoulders and go away, seeking out a different cure from a different source?  ‘Oh well.  I tried.  I’ll try something else.  This Jesus-guy is a jerk who doesn’t want to help.’ Did she do what many of us would do and tear into Jesus, giving Him a piece of her mind?  ‘Now see here, you arrogant, self-righteous”[4] Messiah. Who do you think you are?  You don’t know me and what I’ve been through.  How dare you judge me!’

“My brothers and sisters in Christ: these are things we would do.  These are things we have done and still do.  [For example], many self-professed Christians are just looking for an excuse—any excuse—to not come to the one place where Christ calls them to be on a Sunday morning to feed them and nourish them with His life-giving Word and Sacrament.”[5]  Indeed, there are times where we want to be offended by the Lord and by His church so that we can excuse ourselves from the Lord’s presence.  ‘I’m offended; therefore, I won’t attend church.  I’m offended by a Jesus that doesn’t bolster my self-esteem; therefore, I will find a different representation of Jesus that will put my conscience at ease.’ 

“How did this Canaanite woman respond [though]?  Take careful note: the woman does not get discouraged, but instead acknowledges her sinful condition and speaks back Christ’s own words, boldly holding Him to His eternal promise of mercy, deliverance, and providence for all.  She doesn’t deny her sinful reality or try to justify herself.  She owns up to all of it.  ‘Yes, Lord, you’re absolutely right.  I’m a lowly dog who deserves nothing.  But even lowly dogs are recipients of good and gracious masters, who feed the dogs with the table scraps.’”[6]  

My friends, the woman does not use her setbacks to victimize herself; she doesn’t excuse her sin and the predicament of her child being tormented by evil.  She accepts the fact that she is a ‘nobody;’ she accepts that she is a dog underneath the table.  She accepts the fact that she is a beggar.  There were no phrases like: ‘yeah but’ or ‘that sounds intolerant’ or ‘gee that is not a loving thing to say.’  Rather, she accepted the classification.

Like the woman, are we not driven to the same place each and every Sunday morning at the Divine Service?  Each and every Sunday do we not confess at the beginning of our service that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that we do not deserve a seat at the table, but rather are dogs under the table?  Indeed, dear saints, we confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  Truly, in our confession of sin at the beginning of the service we are not excusing and justifying ourselves, we are not rebuking the Lord, but we are rightly taking the blame for our sin.  We are confessing that God would be perfect just to damn us for our sins.  We are confessing that He is the Lord and that we are not. 

In our confession of sin we are confessing that we have indeed played with fire in our own lives in the past week.  We are confessing that we have put our marriage, family, and lives at risk with deeds of darkness by abusing our own body with neglect of health, excess use of food, drink, and drugs; using our ears and eyes to incite cravings for the body of one who is not our spouse; injuring our neighbor through murderous words; perverting the Lord’s name, a name placed upon us at baptism, when we use it as a cuss word; and ultimately exulting the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I’—believing the lies that our sin is good and that righteousness is evil. 

“Repent, my friends.  Throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ.  Not only can He save you, [just as He saved the Canaanite woman], but He has.  He has taken your sins upon Himself.  He has suffered the punishment you deserved, in your place, as your scape goat.  He has declared you righteous and placed His name upon you.  He will hold you to His promises”[7] because He cares—for you.

“For in Him, you are not a Gentile, nor are you a dog.  You are His bride.  You are His chosen one declared immaculate and radiant, worthy of His love,” [8] because He is indeed rich in mercy—for you.

Because the Lord does not reject you who have a broken spirit and a contrite heart; because He does not despise and vile you who have been crippled, wreaked, crushed, and torn down—you can call Him Son of David and ‘My’ Lord. 

Furthermore, since He has pulled you and me out of hell and death unto Himself, He gives us so much more than mere bread crumbs.  He gives you His risen body and blood, which is poured into your mouths and set upon your tongue, making you a part of Him.  He heard the woman’s cry for help, gave Himself to her, thus resulting in the desertion of the demons.  So, it is with you as well.  He gives to you, to your soul, and sends all sin away, declaring you righteous for His name sake.    

Dear Saints, you are not left with evil and the devil has no power over you.  You are not left in your helpless cries, for the Lord has answered you in His Word—it is finished.  You belong to Jesus.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. (page and publisher data is unknown).

[2] See John 10:22-30.

[3] David H. Peterson, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons (Fort Wayne, IN; Emmanuel Press, 2012), 49.

[4] Jason Zirbel. “A Lesson in Blind Love”_ (16 August 2014).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Peterson, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons, 50.

[8] Ibid.

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