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Jun 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 22, 2014 – Matthew 15:21-28

She Danced With Jesus

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Matthew 15:21-28

The brief encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is both disturbing and encouraging

Disturbing the the way he first treated her and encouraging in how the story resolves
– first we need to work our way through the disturbing part
• a woman came to Jesus for help and she was turned down
• not by the disciples (his would-be body guards), but by Jesus himself

It began when Jesus tried to take a break from the crowds and their constant demands
– notice his two-stage escape: he not only “went away” but also “withdrew”
• this is not redundant, but he went away so that he could withdraw from ministry for awhile
• Jesus assumed he’d be left alone if he crossed border into Gentile territory
– Mark tells us, “He wanted no one to know” (Mk. 7:24)
• he hoped to hide out for awhile
○ Jesus had to tend to his needs — although he had divine resources, they operated through his human body
○ he went away to get rest, restore his physical energy, and refresh his spirit
• Mark adds, “yet He could not escape notice”
○ there is little rest for people who enter the thick of human suffering
(ask anyone who’s been part of a medical relief team in a destitute part of the world)
○ the need is too great and it never takes a holiday

One of the local women came looking for him
– the same Greek verb recurs that was used of Jesus: he “went out” and she “came out”
• he left his territory to get away from people
• she left her neighborhood to get to him
– “Canaanite woman”
• she belonged to the world beyond Israel’s border
○ in a way, it was a dark space characterized by demon possession (cf. Mt. 8:28)
○ but she left her culture and its religion and exorcists for Jesus

The way she phrased her request sets up the dialogue that follows
– she makes a direct link between “Son of David” and “daughter of me”
• she finds something they have in common and hold dear; namely, family
• “Certainly You can relate to my situation. You are a son, I am a mother. You can feel empathy for me”

Vv. 23-24, Trying to get Jesus’ help, she runs into three obstacles

The first obstacle was his, silence — he didn’t respond to her at all, “not a word”
– we have experienced this — we’ve dialed God’s number and no one picked up
• the only answer to our cries has been silence

Joan Chittister described well the despair that drives us to cry out for God’s help, “There is no one who does not go down into the darkness where the waters do not flow and we starve for want of hope. Then life goes out of life and there is nothing left to do but simply follow routine, hoping down deep that we will not really have to go on much longer. It is a sad and barren time.”

– the most difficult part to accept at this point is that it is Jesus who ignores her
• it is out of character for him to withhold compassion from someone in need
– when Jesus gives someone the cold shoulder, does he want that person to give up? stop trying? of course not
• nevertheless, his actions become inscrutable — confusing
○ it is impossible to read his silence
○ it seems to confirm our suspicions:
1. regarding ourselves–that we’re not deserving of his love and attention
2. that he doesn’t really care or perhaps doesn’t even exist

The obstacle was his response to the disciples when they asked him to send her away–he slammed the door
– Israel was the one nation on earth that God had prepared for the coming of Jesus
• the one nation that had a covenant with God–a people who were chosen, who had the promises and prophecies
○ he had come for them and they were primed to recognize and receive him
○ he was only taking a brief vacation from them
– the Canaanite woman’s disqualification was that she was born and raised in the wrong zip code
• she had the wrong DNA

Vv. 25-26, The third obstacle: children and dogs

There’s a rhythm to the dialogue Jesus had with this woman (the NASB loses it at v. 26)
“But He answered … But she said … But He answered … But she said ….”
– I want to suggest that this is the dance of his playful dialogue — and she kept right in step with him
• but don’t get me wrong — the whole conversation and its outcome were extremely serious
– Jesus took up her theme of son and daughter
• “But you are not my daughter, you’re not even family. You don’t qualify for what I’m serving up”
– make no mistake, his use of “dogs” was insulting
• Jesus had to make her understand there was a context for his ministry and healing
○ he was not an international miracle worker
○ he was not a philanthropist handing out gifts to everyone
• to understand Jesus and his work requires an understanding of Israel’s entire history
○ there was a very specific meaning to all that Jesus was, all that he said and all that he did
○ he could not waste his work on people who missed its point

Vv. 27-28, With two words, she plowed through the three obstacles

“Yes, Lord”
With these two words, she surrendered herself to his word

“Yes, Lord, I accept these new terms. No, I am not a daughter of Israel and if You say so, I am a dog. Yes, Lord, You are right and I am wrong. But even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. All I’m asking from You is a dog’s portion.”

She played the game really well – and played it because she knew he was kind and compassionate
– she could have stayed home and struggled with the demon
• but if she had to struggle with someone, she chose instead to struggle with Jesus
○ like Jacob, wrestled with God for her blessing
• the great thing about struggling with Jesus is that even if we lose, we win

At that point, Jesus opened the doors of the kingdom of God to her
– “O woman, your faith is great”
• he complimented her “great” faith between two stories where addressed the disciples, “You men of little faith” (14:31; 16:8)
• in fact, he frequently commented on the smallness of their faith (6:30; 8:26; 17:20)
○ and he never told a disciple, “Your faith is great”
– Jesus revealed explicitly what he hoped to elicit from “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — faith
• and he found it here in a woman without Israel’s history, or Israel’s covenants, or Israel’s promises
• she was able to leap over all of that to give him exactly what he wanted from God’s people

Faith is a unique characteristic of the human personality
– it can be extremely stubborn
• suppose you become convinced of a fact because it’s been proven to you by scientific evidence or a logical argument
○ all you’ve added to psychological inventory is information
○ it may become a new belief, but it hasn’t reached the deeper level of faith
• we experience our inner belief system as if it were reality — and we rarely question it
○ our inner belief system is unshakable and cannot be swayed by logic
○ in fact, it controls the way we see, perceive, and interpret things
– beliefs in God do not add up to faith
• this is one reason Christians who appear strong sometimes collapse in crisis
○ what gives out is their beliefs, their theology
• this woman’s faith did not entail the truth of this or that doctrine
– how do we obtain a great faith like hers?
• I’m not sure there’s a “how to” – perhaps it is what we’re building every day as we walk with Jesus
• but my best guess is that it has something to do with Jesus’ statement about “becoming like children” (Mt. 18:3)

Conc: So what have we learned from this dance of faith?

We’ve learned that Jesus leaves the door open to great faith
– no other qualifications, education, or indoctrination is necessary
• we can jump right into his arms if we come to him in faith

The Lord may test our faith (he will test it)
– Jesus had the faith to play a risky game with this woman
• when she heard the word “dogs,” she could have turned her back on Jesus and walked away
○ then what? God would have come to her in some other way
– when he tests our faith, Jesus knows what he is doing

Years ago, while working with a crew excavating a hillside to create a drainage ditch, we ran into a patch of poison oak. Two of us were so allergic to it we had to be hospitalized. My family doctor was at a loss to know how to treat the large blisters on my swollen arms and side. I will spare you any further description of how the infection looked, but simply say that one afternoon I woke up to see two nurses standing at my door looking at me. One of them was nodding her head and saying, “I see what you mean.”
For five days in the hospital, my condition worsened. And then, in despair, my doctor sent a dermatologist to see me. He wore the gown that everyone had to wear that entered my room, but he didn’t bother to tie it or to slip the surgical mask over his nose and mouth that hung around his neck. It took him no more than five minutes to examine my arms and decisively inform me that he would have the staff give me a shot of cortisone and that for the next couple of weeks I would be taking it orally until it was tapered down to a normal level. He then told me, “Eight hours from now you will show improvement. By tomorrow morning you will be able to go home.”

– I have experienced this same competence, directness, and decisiveness from Jesus
• his visits have often been brief and stripped of any flowery speeches or deep wisdom
• Jesus knows what he’s doing, even when taking risks in testing our faith

And Jesus can be won over
– as for our part in the dance, just remember to say, “Yes, Lord”

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