Summary: This sermon is on the story of the woman who "outwits" Jesus. It emphasizes the generousity of God with we human beggars.
Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28
Ordinary 20-A / Pentecost +13-A
August 14, 2005
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, OSL
The famous one-time Catholic monk, Martin Luther, was legendary not just for nailing a piece of paper to the door of his home church citing 95 things that needed to be changed about it. He wrote and lectured extensively to his students at the university as well. Some of his students were very good learners, and others were not so good. But a few of his students realized that some of the most valuable instruction that Luther gave was not in the classroom, but was in the dining hall over a meal and a few drinks. His students began taking notes on what Luther told them in that relaxed atmosphere, and they eventually published these notes in what was known as Martin Luther’s Table Talks.
One such example of the profound insight and truth Luther gave his students happened one day after class in the dining hall and they were all sitting around eating their meal and talking on the subject of prayer. A student of Luther’s by the name of Viet Dietrich preserved Luther’s words for us:
“When Luther’s puppy, Tölpel, happened to be at the table, [he] looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, Luther said, ‘Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise, he has no thought, wish, or hope’” (Table Talks, May 18, 1532).
Martin Luther’s puppy reminds me of the woman in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew. Although this woman was a Gentile, from the region of Tyre and Sidon (modern day Lebanon), she couldn’t think about anything other than Jesus healing her daughter. This woman shouldn’t have even been talking to Jesus according to the cultural norms of her time. Women did not speak to men in public, and we can assume that she could have well been a single mother with no husband who could speak for her. But this woman is crying out repeatedly to Jesus, pleading for his mercy. And she won’t give up. The disciples try to tell Jesus to send her away. Jesus himself first ignores her. Can you imagine how crushing this must have been to the woman? But she won’t give up.
She continues to cry for his mercy and his healing touch for her daughter. Finally, Jesus acknowledges her, but instead of looking on her with sympathy, he tells her that he came for the “lost sheep of Israel” and that it would not be good for him to give the children’s food to the dogs, the prominent racial slur of the time. Not only did Jesus reject her pleas, he added insult to injury by calling her a dog! But she still isn’t fazed by this. I think we are more disturbed about Jesus’ racial slur than she was. But this poor Gentile woman outwits Jesus and tells him that even the dogs get the scraps from their master’s table. And Jesus healed her daughter right then and there.
My grandfather was an avid dog lover. We always had Basset Hounds. You know, the ones with the long ears and the droopy eyes. We had three: two named Dan and one named Blue. My grandfather found Blue shuffling down the sidewalk in front of the funeral home where he worked, and having a real soft spot for Bassets, he took him home. He eventually found the dog’s owners, but they saw how much my grandfather loved him and gave Blue to him then and there.
My grandmother wouldn’t let Frank, my grandfather, keep Blue in their city apartment, so he gave Blue to me out in the country where he could run free. Although Blue was my dog, Frank never stopped loving that dog. He was always thinking about Blue and what he could do for him. I remember one night we went out as a family to eat at Quincy’s Steakhouse. All the males in our family got steaks, and all the females got chicken. Frank liked fillet mignons but he would order a rib eye instead so that Blue could have more scraps.
I will never forget the sight of my grandfather, dressed in a suit and tie, parading around each table at Quincy’s, asking them, “Can I have your scraps for my basset hound?” The thing that really surprised me though was the fact that people didn’t hesitate to give this man everything from leftover baked potatoes to steak scraps. Maybe they were just so taken aback by such a strange request that they gave out of fear or just to get the strange man to leave them alone. Frank left the restaurant that night with five containers of aluminum foil filled with scraps for Blue.