14 Pentecost Proper A15                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 15:21-28 Sermon
August 17, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
307 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
459 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
342 "In Christ There Is No East Or West"
415 "Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord"


TEXT (vs. 25-27): "The [Canaanite] woman came and knelt before [Jesus]. ‘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.'" 

            I don't know how many of you remember the old Miller and Paine department store (which is now Dillard's), but I certainly do.  There were some special things about Miller and Paine that you just don't see in department stores any more. 

            One special thing that Miller and Paine had was their bakery.  And for those of you who remember, it was quite a bakery indeed.  They had their famous Miller and Paine cinnamon rolls, the recipe of which has now been purchased by Runza Restaurants.  And they have been very successful in selling them too.

            Besides the cinnamon rolls, the one thing I fondly remember is something they called their crumb cookies (or biscuits if you prefer that term).  What they would do, is that they would scrape all of the baking pans and sheets and clean out the crumbs.  Then they would add any broken bits of bakery products, and whatever other crumbs they could accumulate.  Then they would add spices and other ingredients, and make a cookie dough out of it.  They would then bake these rather large, soft, chewy cookies which they called crumb cookies.  And were they ever good! 

            I got my first taste of crumb cookies when I was at my Aunt Elizabeth's house.  She worked for Miller and Paine, and had brought some home with her as a special treat.  Mind you, I never needed any special prodding to enjoy bakery products, but I was instantly hooked on these special cookies.  And when I got older and could get myself over to Miller and Paine, I rarely went into the store that I didn't buy at least one or two crumb cookies to eat, or if I had enough money, I'd also buy a few to take home with me.

            They were cookies made out of crumbs, out of the scraps from other bakery products.  Most bakeries wouldn't worry about the crumbs in their pans.  They would just wash them away when they cleaned up their pans and utensils.  But the bakers at Miller and Paine had a better idea.  They took these crumbs that others discarded and put them to good use.  They made these very special cookies.

            There's nothing wrong with crumbs, in fact crumbs are particles of very good food.  I can remember many times, even recently that I've taken a spatula or a spoon to a cake pan after the cake has been removed, and noshed on what I've been able to scrape out.   Or I've been known to fold a crease in a bag and shake the crumbs of whatever food was in there into my mouth.  There's definitely nothing wrong with crumbs, and I enjoy them.  I think you do too.

            The subject of crumbs is mentioned in our Gospel reading for this morning, and it's done so in a metaphorical sense.  Let's take a look at what was happening.

            Jesus and his disciples had been in Bethsaida, inland on the Sea of Galilee, where the feeding of the 5,000 took place, and where Jesus walked on the water. They had left that place, and were heading to the territory near Tyre and Sidon, out along the Mediterranean coast, a distance of 40 miles or so. And as they were walking along, this Canaanite woman from that region came up to them, and begged Jesus for help. She had a daughter who was demon-possessed, and was in dire need of Jesus' healing touch.

            It didn't take too long for the news to travel the 40 some odd miles and reach the ears of this Canaanite woman. And so we find this woman, approaching Jesus and his disciples, where she makes a general nuisance of herself-at least according to the disciples.

            "Lord, Son of David!" she cries, "Have mercy on me!" The disciples were rather indignant with all this, and so they begged Jesus to send her away, because as they say, "She is following us and making all this noise."

            This woman's faith begins to show itself immediately by the way she addresses Jesus. "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Now we may not think that this address is too much out of the ordinary; except we must remember that this woman was a Canaanite. Now a Canaanite was not an Israelite, not a Jew, and was therefore unclean as far as the Jews were concerned.

            To have understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of David, she would have had to be familiar with the prophecy in II Samuel 7, 13-14 where God promises that the Messiah would be from the lineage of David. We read: "He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son." For this woman to appreciate Messianic prophecy is very much out of the ordinary.

            Next, Jesus does something that may seem quite contrary to his ordinary behavior. First he just didn't say anything to her. He sort of ignored her. And when the disciples pressured him, Jesus says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," which is like him saying that he wasn't there for anybody else; that his ministry was to be only among the Jews. She then falls on her knees, and begs and pleads with him again, "Lord help me!" She is very persistent indeed.

            Then the response Jesus gives seems almost more shocking. He says, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." In effect, this is like him saying that the Israelites were God's true children, and that the Canaanites were nothing but dogs. It's like Jesus is telling her that God's love and God's power should only be reserved for the chosen people of Israel, and shouldn't be wasted on a Canaanite dog like her. Now why would Jesus say such a thing?

            It's a well known fact that this is the way the Jews saw the Canaanites. Now Jesus himself didn't think of her as being a worthless dog, getting the bread that should be given to the chosen children of Israel. But you see, society thought so; and the disciples thought so as well. And the woman herself knew that this is the way the Israelites looked at people like her also. Jesus simply repeats the disciples' thoughts, and the woman's thoughts about herself. Jesus says this not only to test this woman's faith, but to teach his disciples a lesson.

            The woman's response indeed confirms the faith she has. She says, "Yes Lord." She agrees with his statement. But then she says, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." She wasn't asking for something that belonged to somebody else or something that she didn't deserve. All she was after was a mere crumb of that love and power of God. That would be enough. That would be all that was needed to heal her daughter.

            A couple things need to be pointed out here.  First of all, let's look at that term "dog."  There are basically two different types of dogs we can picture.  When the Jews regarded the Canaanites as dogs, they were using terms that described the wild, feral dogs that had no owner that would roam around loose and forage for food amongst the garbage and waste of society.  These dogs were considered worthless scavengers without any redeeming value at all.

            However when Jesus uses the term "dog," he does so in reference to a beloved house pet.  This was like a member of the family that was well cared for and fed.  This type of dog, even though it was not in the same category as a human being, still had a strong attachment to the family with which it lived.

            Even though it might have gone right over the heads of the disciples, this Canaanite woman picks up on this difference right away.  She knew Jesus thought of her differently than the rest of the Jews.  And so she responds with the comment, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."

            This woman had a great faith indeed, and she knew that crumbs were indeed good food.  She knew that even though the crumbs might be small, they still had all of the properties of a great banquet.  She knew that whatever crumb Jesus would give her would be sufficient, and that her daughter would be healed.

            I mentioned that a couple things needed to be pointed out, so here is the second thing.  This story is one of the few instances in Scripture where Jesus himself goes out of his way to minister to a Gentile.  It's not that they weren't important or didn't have souls worth saving; it's just that the main thrust of Jesus' ministry was amongst the Jews, that he would show himself to them as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.  But this woman's faith made a strong impression on him, and so he goes out of his way to minister to her.  This would indeed be a good lesson for his disciples.

            As we look at ourselves in relationship to our Saviour, we know that sin has devastated us.  It has left us literally starving for the righteousness our Saviour has to offer.  And so we, like the Canaanite woman come looking for a crumb from our master's table.

            God himself gives us this faith to come to Jesus.  Satan has so completely possessed us that we are in desperate need of Jesus' healing touch.  And so he brings us by the hand to his table, where even a crumb will give us the food which will endure to eternal life.

            This is the Gospel that saves us and sustains us.  Through faith alone, Jesus becomes our Saviour and our healer.  And through faith, we know we'll dine at our father's table in eternity.

            As we gather as Christians on this earth, we can be thankful that our God feeds us and nourishes us crumb-by-crumb.  He does this through his Word, and through the Sacraments.  We continually feed on the crumbs from the Bread of Life himself.

            I am reminded of a daily devotional book I have on my shelf entitled "Crumbs."  It was written in 1914 by a Lutheran Pastor and Missionary by the name of Carl Manthey Zorn.  It was later translated by his son into English, and published by Concordia Publishing House. I just learned that it has been updated and reprinted, and is available once again today.

            It's a brilliant resource of 365 devotions.  They're concise and to the point.  They have a Bible passage, a short meditation, a prayer, and sometimes a hymn verse.  It is divided into three parts:  part one focuses upon the life of Jesus, part two follows Luther's Small Catechism, and part three focuses upon aspects of the Christian life.

            Dr. Zorn had our Gospel lesson in mind when he compiled his work.  It was his intention to provide crumbs from the master's table; crumbs from the Bread of Life to nourish us in our devotional life in our relationship with Jesus.  Dr. Zorn knew that crumbs are indeed good food, and he made it his task to organize these crumbs into a collective feast.

            At an early age, I learned that crumbs are good food.  I've cleaned out my share of cake pans, and munched on the residue at the bottom of a potato chip sack.  But I never realized how great crumbs could actually be until I had my first crumb cookie from the Miller and Paine bakery.  Those crumbs that others might have discarded were a real treat when they were put together this way.

            Jesus is the very Bread of Life, and we feed on him, one crumb at a time.  When we do this, we find ourselves forgiven, restored, and spiritually nourished.  Continually feeding on the Bread of Life keeps our faith strong as we continue on life's journey toward the feast our master's table in heaven.