Summary: "I'm A Dog" The Startling Confession of A Canaanite Christian A Crucial Confession for Canadian Christians
She may have once been a beauty queen but I doubt she was looking her best when she came to see Jesus. Care lines may have accentuated eyes bloodshot from crying, making her face look like wrapping paper used one too many times. Her once silken hair was probably prematurely grey and natty, hardly distinguishable from the twine she used to pull her hair back. Who had time to look good when your daughter, your beloved daughter was suffering from demon possession? Still, no self-respecting woman would have blurted out what this Canaanite woman did: “I’m a dog.” Yes, that’s what she acknowledged after Jesus himself called her that.
“Whoa. Wait a minute, Pastor! Did you just say that Jesus called a woman a dog?” Yes, and you heard it for yourself when I read the Gospel lesson earlier. What did Jesus mean by those words and the way in which he treated this desperate woman? Why would a woman say of herself: “I’m a dog”? It is the startling confession of a Canaanite Christian…but there’s more. “I’m a dog,” is also a crucial confession for Canadian Christians. Let’s find out why.
Our text takes place in the region of Tyre and Sidon, an area northwest of Galilee, outside of Israel. Jesus and his disciples had gone there to get away from the murderous pressure of the Jewish religious leaders. It didn’t take long for word to spread among the non-Jewish inhabitants that the miracle worker from Israel had come. Many must have sought Jesus’ healing touch but one woman in particular caught the attention of Matthew, the author of our text. He wrote: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to [Jesus], crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession’” (Matthew 15:22).
We don’t know much about this woman. We don’t know her age. We don’t know her name. We do know that she was a Canaanite – a descendant of the original inhabitants of the Promised Land. You may remember that the Old Testament Israelites were supposed to get rid of the Canaanites because of their putrid pagan practices. But many of them survived so that this woman could trace her ancestry back to them. She wasn’t like her ancestors, however. She didn’t worship the idol Baal and offer her children as human sacrifices as they had done. In fact she sounded more Jewish than Canaanite when she called Jesus, “Lord, Son of David.” It’s obvious from the rest of the text that she wasn’t just parroting something she had heard the disciples say. She really believed that Jesus was “Lord,” the Son of God. She honestly trusted that, as the “Son of David,” Jesus was the promised Messiah who had come to save the world from sin. How did she know this? We’re not told but it was obviously surprising to Matthew because he introduced the account of this woman with the un-translated exclamation: “Behold!”
Matthew may have been impressed with this Canaanite woman but Jesus didn’t seem to be. Not even her heart-rending plea on behalf of her demon possessed daughter elicited a response. According to Matthew, “Jesus didn’t answer a word” (Matthew 15:23a). What would you have done at this point? What have you done when Jesus has seemingly ignored your most ardent pleas for help? Give up in disgust? Conclude that Jesus must not really care? This woman didn’t quit. She continued to cry out to Jesus not ashamed to pour out her heart in front of at least twelve other men, the disciples who must have shifted uneasily on their feet confused at their master’s apparent continued callousness. Finally the disciples couldn’t take it anymore. Hadn’t Jesus recently fed over 5,000 people? Why couldn’t he do a simple miracle so that this woman would go away and leave them in peace? But Jesus solemnly informed them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
I guess Jesus never read the Canadian Charter of Rights. What blatant discrimination! What did he mean he had only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel? Didn’t God say otherwise in our Old Testament lesson this morning? “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him…7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer… for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:6a, 7). The Canaanite woman seemed to know Old Testament passages like this because she was not put off by Jesus’ words. In fact I wonder if she didn’t find comfort in them. If Jesus had come for the lost sheep of Israel – to those who had nonchalantly scorned the privilege of being God’s chosen people - if the Son of God was still concerned about such stubborn sinners, well, there was hope for her! Jesus was proof that God is indeed gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. No, this woman wasn’t put off by Jesus’ words, in fact they literally drew her closer to him as she threw herself at Jesus’ feet and exclaimed, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25b) Surely Jesus would now intervene. After all, hadn’t he recently saved Peter from drowning when that Christian had cried out with similar words? (Matthew 14:30)