Summary: When Martin Luther died, they found a piece of paper in his pocket that read: "This is true. We are beggars." He is right. Before God, we are beggars, like the Canaanite woman.
There is something about a sibling that can bring out the worst in us. We might not mind losing, but when it is to a brother or sister, then it’s an entirely different story. We might become more competitive than we normally are. Our patience can seem to be even less with them. They also seem easier to fight with. Jealousy can creep up much easier with them too. Perhaps that is why Proverbs says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Martin Luther learned this saying quite well as the last act before he died was being sent to settle a fight between two brothers. While he was successful in settling the feud, he died a few days later. As they were going through his possessions, they found a scrap of paper in his pocket that read these words: “This is true. We are beggars.”
It is interesting to think that of all the things that Luther wrote about and did throughout his life, that this thought was on his mind before he died. This is probably because he saw how true it was as he wrote and preached about God’s grace. God’s grace helped him to see that before Him, he truly was just an undeserving, pitiful, and poor beggar. He had nothing in him that would have God desire or listen to him. As we look at the Gospel reading today, we see how Luther’s observation is entirely true. We are beggars before God.
Jesus begins our text by withdrawing and going into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. Just previously, He had offended and upset the scribes and Pharisees with His words, and found it best to leave and lay low for awhile. As Jesus is in this Gentile land, He is approached by a woman with a request. This was woman was a Canaanite. The Canaanites were an idolatrous people that were Israel’s ancient enemies. They did not believe His Word nor follow His Laws. When the people of Israel entered into the Promised Land, they were supposed to wipe them out because of their idol worship. A Canaanite would certainly have no claim on God when compared to a Jew.
But this woman is rather unique. She gives Jesus an unlikely address as a Canaanite. She calls Him, “Lord,” acknowledging His Divinity and believing Him to be God. She also calls Him, “Son of David,” believing Him to be the Promised Messiah and Savior of Israel. But she can’t possibly believe this, right? She can’t possibly mean this. Perhaps she is echoing something she heard about Jesus. It seems highly unlikely that an idolatrous Canaanite woman would confess something like this.
With this address, she makes her request. She begs, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” She asks Jesus to help her poor daughter. Her daughter is horribly oppressed and afflicted by a demon. What a helpless and hopeless situation. When your child has a cold, you can give them medicine, or take them to the doctor. You can make them rest, or feed them foods like soup to help them heal. But what do you do with demon possession? Can you even do anything? You really can’t. She goes to the only person that can help, Jesus.
Matthew records what happens next. He says, “But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus hears this lady begging for help, but doesn’t do a thing. She pleads for her daughter, her pride and joy, to the only One that can help, and He doesn’t say a thing. He doesn’t even say a word to acknowledge what she said. He is silent!
How would you respond in her place? Would you yell at Him in anger? Would you throw up your hands in frustration, and turn around? Would you grab His robe, and continue to plead with Him? Might you try to persuade Him with some cash or promises?
How would your faith be in this? Would you lose heart? Would you no longer believe in Him? Or would you keep your trust in Him?
The woman in the text seems to do the latter and keeps begging Jesus to help her daughter. She is making a scene and won’t stop crying out. She does it so much that the disciples beg Jesus to do something. They say, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” They want Jesus to heal her daughter so that she can leave them alone. They don’t want to hear her anymore.
Jesus responds with these words: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He essentially says, “No. I only came to help and save God’s covenant people. I only came to save those of Israel.” What crushing words. Hearing “no” is never an easy thing, especially when it comes from God.