Summary: Mothers Day (Easter 5): Moms have the great privilege of raising the next generation of Christians. Moms are God’s soldiers on the front lines. As the exemplar, we look at Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman.
In 1994 our oldest son enlisted in the US Navy. When he graduated from boot camp, Sofi, our youngest son, a cousin and I took a road trip to Chicago to watch the graduation ceremonies. Our son was given liberty for a couple of days and so we decided to enjoy the sights of the city. So we took our little troop to downtown Chicago. My son, being a sailor right out of boot camp was wearing his uniform and looking every bit the young, green, sailor that he was. We were on Michigan Avenue and went into the Water Tower – one of the landmarks that you have to do when you visit Chicago. As we were getting ready to leave, our son took the lead. Right as we were making out way out of the Water Tower a particularly aggressive and big panhandler stood in front of my son and asked him for money. My son – looking a bit intimidated – reached into his pocket and pulled out what he had, a couple of quarters, and gave it to the man. The man looked at his hand, looked at my son and said, “This ain’t enough. Give me more.” Well, this really made our son uncomfortable and you could see it. Before you could blink an eye, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, that little woman, Sofi – all 5 foot 1 inch of her, in shoes – was between our son and the panhandler. And she tore into the man, waving her finger in his face and said, “Leave my son alone. Get out of here.” And the man – whom by that time I was feeling a bit sorry for – just sort of skulked away and blended into the scenery. He wanted none of that angry mother stuff that had fallen upon him.
Now I want you to fast-forward about twelve years – November 2006. Our youngest son is getting married. And we are at the reception and it is time for the speeches. Our youngest son has the opportunity to talk about most anything that he has experienced in his twenty-eight years of life. And what does he zero in on? The event that occurred at the Water Tower in Chicago as his mom took on the big, aggressive panhandler. Moms, Christian women of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, let me ask you: Do you think that you have the ability to make a life-long, profound impression on your children and on those whom God has given you to influence?
We have in the Gospel of Matthew an account of a woman – a mom – who put herself on the line. She risked embarrassment, rejection and outright shame in order to help her daughter. Let’s read about this: "Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour." (Matthew 15.21-28)
At first blush, it would appear that Jesus was unnecessarily harsh to this pleading mother. Jesus’ words, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” seems so unlike our Savior, who time and again demonstrated his love for all people. So what’s going on? Some commentators try to reduce the impact of the Lord’s words by saying that the word “dog” in the original language really referred to the pet dogs, maybe even puppies, that were kept in people’s homes. I don’t know about you, but being compared to a dog, pet or not doesn’t sound too gentle – and yet our Lord said that to this woman. Some commentators try to say that what Jesus was doing was demonstrating his faithfulness to the people of Israel even though they were not faithful to Him. Maybe, but it still doesn’t sooth the heart – a mother who was pleading for her daughter was still compared to a dog – puppy or otherwise. What was Jesus trying to do?
No, no – Jesus was no misogynist. I think that there is a bit more to this incident than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the disciples. We are told that as soon as Jesus and the disciples went into the area of Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman came to them. She was very persistent, crying out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” (v 22)