SERMON OF THE WEEK
March 3, 2013
Next Sunday is the fourth Sunday of the Great Lend. On this day, Jesus heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman who was suffering from demon possession. Gospel reading is from St. Mathew 15:21-27.
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sideon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him,
saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed
with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying,
Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25 Then came she and worshiped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
In reading St. Mathew's gospel chapter 15, we see a trend of opposition to the movement of Jesus from the Jewish leaders as a result of the challenges Jesus made on their attempts to elevate
their teachings to the status of the Scripture. Their opposition might have turned Jesus into the Gentile population. Following that confrontation, Jesus went out the country to the region of Tyre and Sidon which were parts of the Lebanon-Syria region
Tyre and Sideon were the two cities on the north of Israel on the coast lying in the Lebanon-Syria region. This used to be the region of the Phoenicians, a loose Canaanite tribe. The word "Canaan" is the ancient name of the whole region before Abraham arrived. Because of the nearby seaports and corresponding trade, the Canaanite region was at one time a prosperous region. It was weakened tremendously by the Jewish conquest. It resisted the military challenges of Joshua and his successors. The Canaanites were pagan worshipers and their presence in the area was a strong threat to the purity of Israel's religion and morality. So there was a long history of spiritual and military conflicts between the Israelites and the Canaanites. King David and his successors managed to control them. Over the years the Canaanites were defeated and most of them fled the land to the north.There were people of various ethnic groups still living
in the region at the time of Jesus who were called "Canaanites", just like the people who live in North America are called "Americans".
Why did Jesus leave Israel?
Jesus perhaps decided to withdraw in order to get way from the conflicts with the Pharisees and Scribes and went to the Gentile territory some thirty to fifty files north. It might have been an
attempt to control the timing of things. He did not want people to make him king, and did not want confrontation with his enemies. Jewish leaders were rejecting Jesus and so Jesus decided to let the conflict settle a bit.
Jesus meets with the Canaanite woman:
The story in the gospel is built around the conversation between the woman and Jesus.
Jesus came to the region and entered into a house and did not want anyone to know about it.
The woman heard about him and came looking for him. She was a Canaanite woman, the region that was under the control of the Greeks during the time of Jesus.
The conversation between Jesus and the woman gives the impression that Jesus was not willing to answer her request because she was a Canaanite. It is clear that the woman did not want to give up, but kept pleading. Jesus recognized both her Canaanite background
and her faith. In Israel, Jesus was trying to convince people that he was the Messiah, and was being challenged to prove it with a sing. But here in the Gentile territory, Jesus met a woman who was convinced he was Messiah. His attempt to put her off was therefore could have been a test. Her faith must have been gratifying to Jesus.
By looking at the historical conflicts between the Canaanites and Israelites must give us an insight into the imagery of "dogs" used in the conversasion. The woman would not stop pleading her case. She knelt before him and begged, "Lord, , help me." Jesus pushed her a
little further, reminding her of the historic distinction between the cursed Canaanites and the blessed Israelites. Jesus saying the Jews are "Children" and the Gentiles are the "dogs".
In the conversation, she accepts Israel's historical privilege over the Gentiles and she did not pose any threat in her request for grace. The woman's answer is, " even the dogs eat the crumbs
that the children drop.
Jesus honored her faith that was seeking mercy from him. It is the setting and her words that prompted the disciples, and then Jesus, to respond the way they did. .At first Jesus was silent.
Jesus said, "I am only sent to the lost sheep of Israel". His answer focuses on his primary mission in the world. He was the promised Jewish Messiah who came to his own, but when his own rejected him, he turned to the Gentiles. His own mission was primarily to Israel. The
mission to the Gentiles will be to go to the world.
Jesus went to the Gentile territory and did the miracle for a Gentile woman who had greater faith than the Jews who were rejecting and challenging him. . It teaches about the faith of people who are in need, and the coming of the kingdom of God to the whole Gentile world as well.
It teaches us that it is the Lord's desire that all people, no matter where they live or who they are, have an equal opportunity to receive the grace of God.
The conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman has to be understood in its historical setting to capture fully what Jesus was doing there. He was extending mercy to all who would believe in him.
Prepared by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil