Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you: look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
1 God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2 That your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad,
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase,
and God, our own God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
[Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’]
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:[10-20], 21-28
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 10
He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’
With these two verses we can see the transformation of a world view. This story confirms the elevated position the Jews felt they owned over against the peoples round about them – even the Canaanite woman acknowledged it! This food they enjoyed was not to be cast down to the dogs, those who did not sit at the table with them, that kosher table on which all the legal nourishment had been laid out. Those rules and regulations were most important, separating the Jew from Gentile. Dogs will eat anything, as we dog-owners know all too well, proof of which is given every time we walk the pleasant paths around the village.
Dogs are indiscriminate, everything will pass their lips. They eat with unbridled enthusiasm anything that attracts their nasal attention. Dogs are so very different to us, we prepare and keep our food just so. Food is never prepared from spoiled produce. It is always served on clean plates and eaten with a certain decorum.
The Jewish food laws make this very clear. A Jew can only eat when food is prepared and presented in a certain way. All food that passes a Jew’s lips is kosher. Today even we gentiles prefer those perfect dishes, don’t we? All the cookery shows prove that point, I think – everything is cooked just so and presented ever so nicely.
Here we are, then, at table, sharing our properly prepared food, keeping the dogs at bay, making sure they don’t put their muzzles on, and slobber all over, the table.
No one wants dogs at the table. They have their place on the floor away from our food. This is what Jesus is saying here. The Jews are at table and here is the manna being presented to them. Only they are worthy of this fine, kosher food. No one should cast this precious food to the dogs.
Jesus is here saying that he is presenting himself to the Jews for they are the children worthy of that divine nourishment which he is. Jesus is a good Jew, isn’t he? He knows the place of his people in the order of things, of the special relationship between the God of all creation and this remnant of a people which is faithful.
However, Jesus is castigated by a Canaanite woman even though she acknowledges the special place of the Jews. She tells Jesus in no uncertain terms “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall!” We don’t mind when the dogs lick up the floor, do we? I know that in my house anything that makes its way to the floor is lost, our mobile vacuum cleaners will make short work of it.
I don’t mind when they shoot in to gobble up the crumbs that fall. Why sometimes our dogs will jostle us as we prepare our food for their own benefit. But to cause us to drop food is unacceptable. We get rather upset at that – and rightly so. There is enough for all of us, so we should not be anxious and greedy. We assure the dogs that their bowls will get filled, don’t we?
Maybe that is what Jesus is acknowledging with this story. The gentiles will get their fill from the Lord’s table. The crumbs will fall when the children have taken their nourishment. I think this is the message Paul is proclaiming as well. Didn’t we read Paul’s letter where he says there is neither Jew nor Greek before God in faith? Isn’t Paul extending the nourishment of God’s Word to everyone?
The world had become a smaller place with the Roman Empire – and how much smaller is the world today with the expansion of this electronic web! The good news became a universal message. Jesus and Paul have both proclaimed that everyone will enjoy the bounty of the table of the Lord. It is up to us to share it.
These riches have nothing to do with incense, myrrh and gold, but everything to do with righteousness, justice and mercy. The message of the two commandments – the laws of love – is to be shared without constraint as the basis of a new world order.
We almost overturned the old order with lockdown, when we learned about the values of generosity toward, and care for, the other as we kept ourselves to ourselves for the past few months. But, alas, the old ways have crept back in again, bad habits have re-established themselves as we listen to the unthinking crowd, the selfish ‘they’ which determines how we act collectively.
But I digress. – This distribution of that excellent food from the high table of the Lord is what should exercise us, as it did that Canaanite woman. How are we to treat the dogs of our generation? What will we give them to eat? What will nourish their souls?
Why did Jesus not answer her at all when she cried out in her anguish for him to heal her daughter? She was shouting at him. Why did he not answer? He spoke to his disciples because they wanted her to be gone – they no longer wished to hear her vociferous petitions for his merciful treatment. However, instead of telling them to send her away, he tried to explain his silence and inaction – that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. The Jews were the target of his mission, those who were chosen by God from long ago.
He turns to that woman, that Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon and tells her that he is not going to feed dogs with what he has for “the children”. Yes, Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but now everything seems to change – now he expands his target, the world is to be nourished. The Canaanite woman has expanded the campaign. Whether this is a change of plan or just the final revelation of the universal message of salvation, is a matter for the theologians of every age. We do need to remember the hungry dogs roaming all around us, just like that poor Canaanite woman’s daughter tormented by demons whose mother shouted at the Lord.
We have to be like that Canaanite woman, I think. We have to raise a fuss because of the suffering all around us. We must shout aloud until everyone has been treated for their maladies, until even the dogs have tasted the crumbs from the table. Jesus proclaimed with this miracle that all the world is God’s creation, a creation which he will tend. This story tells us that we are all worthy now. Jesus’ spiritual nourishment will find its way somehow even to the dogs which were once considered unworthy of anything.