Love for the World – Including You! (Matthew 15:21-28)
Rev. James Barton

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). The text for our meditation is the Gospel lesson, Matthew 15:21-28.

As our Gospel lesson begins, Jesus does something very unusual. Only a few times in His public ministry did He go outside of the Land of Israel, and this is one of those times. Very surprisingly, He goes north to the area of Tyre and Sidon, where many Canaanites lived. 

When the children of Israel entered into the Promised Land, the land called Canaan, God told the Israelites to “clear away” a number of nations, including the Canaanites. And why? It was one simple reason. God said, “They would turn away your sons from following Me to serve other Gods” (Deuteronomy 7:1-14). The Canaanites were a real danger to God’s people as Old Testament history shows. 

God knew the weakness of sinful human beings, including even Abraham and His chosen people of God. They were not chosen because they were greater and better than others, but simply by God’s grace and mercy. 

Moses reminded them: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6).

Yet, God in His wisdom simply chose to work through this stubborn nation of Israel to bring eventually through them the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus would be the Savior, not just for the Jews, but for all nations and peoples. 

This was often forgotten by God’s Old Testament people, with their focus too often just on themselves, but the Lord had said to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3, “I will bless you and make of you a great nation … and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And to emphasize this, God had Moses write down and repeat these same words three more times, between Genesis 18 and 26, “in you … in your offspring” (singular – one particular offspring to come) “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 18:18, 22:18, 26:4).

Jesus was, of course, the promised One. As we heard in the children’s sermon, in John 3:16, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, and Jesus, God the Son, knew His Father’s plan and what He had to do to earn salvation for us and for the whole world.

  • First, Jesus had to be a real human being, and be tempted as we are not yet not sin, as a perfect substitute for us, who so often fail to do what we should.
  • But the perfect life of Jesus wasn’t enough. He also had to take all our sins upon Himself and pay the penalty for them all. Peter wrote, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree… and by His wounds we have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). 

We are righteous and acceptable to God, not through anything we have done, but through what Jesus did for us. And “Christ died for all” (1 Timothy 2:6), the Scriptures say, and He did it “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

And on the third day, He rose from the dead and is “alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18), showing His victory, for us, over sin and the devil and death. 

All this is tremendously good news for all of us and for the world. And it is good news that needs to be shared. That is what Jesus is showing and teaching in our Gospel lesson. 

When a Canaanite woman from the Gentile area came and asked Jesus for mercy for her and for her daughter, oppressed by a demon, an evil spirit, the disciples may have been thinking that she, a non-Jew, and a Canaanite, wasn’t worthy of Jesus’ time and attention. They didn’t want to be bothered by her, either, as they had, on other occasions, tried to chase away others, including little children, as if Jesus didn’t have time for them. The disciples said, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us” (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus did not agree with the disciples. He could already see that the woman had some faith in Him. Three times she calls Him, “Lord.” (This same story is also recorded in Mark’s Gospel. And in Mark’s Gospel, this is the only time that any person calls Jesus “Lord,” as he really was and is.) The woman also called Jesus, “Son of David.” That was exactly right. Jesus was in the line of Abraham and of King David, and the term “Son of David” was a reference to Him as the promised Savior and Messiah. 

How did this woman know these things? Mark’s Gospel tells us that people came from as far away as Tyre and Sidon to hear Jesus preach and do miracles in northern Israel (Mark 3:7-8). Maybe this woman was one of those who came and even saw Jesus cast out evil spirits. That was the help she especially wanted from Jesus for her daughter. 

We know from other Scriptures that “faith comes from hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), centered in Christ – for faith is a gift of God to us. And somehow, through the Word, the beginnings of faith were in her. 

And Jesus always wanted to bring people to faith in Him or help their faith grow. That included that Canaanite woman, and His own disciples, who were watching what Jesus said and did. 

But then Jesus did what seems like a very surprising thing. The woman cries out for mercy and help, and we hear, “Jesus did not answer her a word.” He is silent. 

I suspect this has happened to all of us, at times. We pray very sincerely about something and think we are asking for the right things – and nothing happens. God seems to be silent. 

We can get discouraged and give up and sometimes might even be tempted to give up on God. 

Or this can be a way that God helps grow our faith, as we trust that, somehow, God is still working for our good. 

And so, we do what God says – to keep asking and seeking and knocking (Matthew 7:7), praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and calling upon God in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), trusting His ways, as God wishes. 

That is what the Canaanite woman did, in faith. The Greek text indicates that she kept on crying and crying for help and mercy, trusting that Jesus would still somehow help her and her daughter. 

Jesus finally speaks, but what He says does not sound so very helpful. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 

That was true, in the sense that the saving work, through His sacrifice on the cross, would happen within the land of Israel, according to prophecy and the plan of His heavenly Father. And then a primary responsibility was also to reach out to His fellow Jews with the Gospel. 

For God still loved His original chosen Jewish people, in spite of their stubbornness and rebellion and current opposition to Jesus, as lost sheep. Jesus wanted as many of His fellow Jews to be saved, too. And there was only one way to salvation, for Jews or non-Jews – and that way was through Jesus. Jesus Himself said it so clearly, “I am the Way and the truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, Acts 4:11-12). Jews needed and still need Jesus as Savior, even as everyone in the world does. 

The Canaanite woman then came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, help me.” She seems to understand that Jesus needed to help other lost sheep. But she prays, “As you help others, help me and my daughter, too.” And she asks in a humble way. 

Again, Jesus speaks and seems to say something very harsh. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Since Jews often looked down on all non-Jews, they called them dogs – using a term that meant a wild, stray dog of the streets and the country – a dog that could be mean and vicious and harmful. 

Jesus uses a word for a smaller dog that is a loved household pet and lives in the home, as part of the family. Jesus was really setting the Canaanite woman up for the next great statement she makes. He was using a proverbial statement, which means something like: “It is not right to take food our children need and starve them, so that we can feed dogs.”

The woman seems to understand where Jesus is leading her, and she quickly responds, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” In effect, she is saying, very humbly, “I know that I don’t deserve anything; but I do know that even a few crumbs of your mercy will be enough for me and my daughter.”

And Jesus said to her, right away, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. 

And remember, as one commentator, Franzmann, says about another parable of Jesus: This woman went home but only with the promise of Jesus in her pocket and a few words of His. But she went home in faith and found her daughter healed and the evil spirit gone. Crumbs from Jesus were enough. 

How comforting and encouraging this story is for us, too. God’s promises are for us, too, though we don’t deserve them, and they often come in small, non-dramatic ways. 

We’re talking about children today. They are part of this world that God so loved, and they are loved, too, in Christ. 

Think about baptism of an infant. It doesn’t look like much – just a little bit of water sprinkled on a child and a few words said. It may seem like crumbs, and some churches say that’s all it is, just dedicating a child for something that might hopefully happen in the future. 

That’s not what God says in His Word. In baptism God’s Holy Spirit is creating faith in a little child and bringing him or her into God’s kingdom, with an eternal future of blessings ahead. And the child does nothing but receive the blessings. 

Then what you do as parents and as teachers is so important, when it is done in the name and love of Christ, and with the Word of God, as it is in a Lutheran setting, for children. It may seem like only crumbs added, day by day; but children grow and learn and God blesses. 

That can be said of so much else in our lives, too. Holy Communion doesn’t look like much – a tiny bit of bread and a little wine, and yet Christ Himself is also coming to us with His real Presence to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith, again and again. 

And even when we have times where troubles come and we think we have only crumbs left in our life, God’s crumbs, His blessings in Christ are enough to carry us through. I think of elderly people. They can’t hear, can’t see to read, and get confused. Yet God’s Word is planted in them, and crumbs are enough. 

God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, and He died for all. We know Jesus and we trust Him and that’s enough for each one of us, through His Word. 

Let us rise for prayer. Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts safe, in Christ our Savior (Philippians 4:7). Amen.