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Sermon 20th August 2017: The Canaanite Woman

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August 27, 2017

This is the manuscript from a sermon I preached on the 20th August 2017 at Shepparton Baptist Church. Happy reading!

Bible reading  Matthew 15:1-28 New International Version (NIV)

15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death." 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 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.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Introduction to sermon

Once again I need to divert from the lectionary reading suggestion. The suggestion was to read from verse 10 to 28. This passage needs to have verses 1-9 included as well to gain a full picture of what Matthew is trying to say.

Have you ever done something a certain way just because that’s the way you were taught? Unfortunately Zac and Eric learnt something about that. Both Catherine and I are left handed. As the boys grew up, they began to want to learn how to ride bikes, scooters and skate boards. We had to show them how to do it. Well, when it came to scootering, we taught them how we do it. For them, that was the way it happened. It wasn’t until they began scootering with their friends that they found out they had learnt how to scooter left handed (of left footed).  It’s no wonder they found it hard to learn!!! Aren’t we all similar to that? We learn something, and that’s the way it has to be. A bit like the story about the woman who used to break the neck of the turkey when she baked it. When asked why she did it, she said, I don’t know…it’s just the way I was taught. When they researched it they discovered that her grandmother use to do it because her oven was so small that she had to do it just to make it fit. It had become a pointless exercise as the ovens the last was using allowed the turkey to fit without breaking the neck off.

Body

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that there was a suggestion that the structure of the Gospel of Matthew was set up in a certain literary way with a central pivotal point. If we read it like that, we can see that Jesus is content to focus on Israel in the beginning of his gospel. We then come to today’s passage and from this point, the reality of Jesus’ purpose becomes clear. 

Which is that Jesus is the light to the Gentiles as much as the Jews.  This can be a drastic departure from some more traditional interpretations which suggest that the Gospel of Matthew was very Jewish in his writing.  It may be that Matthew was writing to the Jews but the message that we can see throughout his Gospel is that the kingdom of God is for all people.

A couple of points to make on the type of people who are in this passage.  The Pharisees and Scribes are not just your everyday locals.  They come from Jerusalem!  They also seem to come with the sole intent of confronting Jesus.  It’s a bit like the big bosses coming to your work to find out why you have been going against company policy.  It’s not just a chance meeting, it’s full of intent and accusation!

The woman is a gentile.  I have no doubt that Jesus intended this gentile woman to be a great example to the Jews of the time.  In the eyes of the Jews, this woman was the lowest of the low.  Not only was she a woman but she was also a gentile.  You can see why she regards herself as a dog (that is to mean that she is less than human in the eyes of the Jews)!

To use school yard terms, the Pharisees go up to Jesus and pick a fight with him.  They accuse his disciples of breaking the rules or the “tradition of the Elders”.  Jesus is very quick in his response and it’s a great response.  The Pharisees attack him on a matter on rules and He attacks them on a command of God.  He gets really stuck into them.

You’ll notice that the Pharisees don’t attack Jesus’ actions directly but attack the actions of the disciples.  Jesus is the teacher of these disciples and the Pharisees would know that Jesus has been teaching against the laws they uphold.  It’s not the fact that the disciples may occasionally not wash their hands but the fact that they have been taught that it doesn’t matter.  

With this in mind, the fact that Jesus has upset the Pharisees with his teaching that we see in verse 10 that Jesus actually calls the crowd to Him and teaches exactly what the Pharisees are so upset about.  I’m pretty sure Jesus hadn’t read the book “how to win friends and influence people”.  It was a very confrontational action.

We then see Peter asking the question that most people probably had in their minds.  Jesus goes on to explain that what is more important is what comes out of you than what goes in.  I guess this message didn’t sink in too well because we see Peter have the same issues in Acts 10.  Where he does finally get it!  Jesus makes it very clear what makes a person unclean, the things that can come from the heart.

Jesus then moves on from the Jewish area to the Gentile area of Tyre and Sidon.  So it is not surprising that a woman from that area would come to Him.  His reputation has spread into these areas as well as around the Jewish towns.  

There is much debate about this conversation that Jesus has with this woman.  Jesus doesn’t seem at all willing to even engage her in conversation and seems to rebuke her for even asking for help.  From what we know of Jesus and have seen of him up until this point, it does seem strange that he would refuse to help her.  There are theologians that suggest that this discussion was very tongue in cheek.  I don’t know about that.  I do think that Jesus was always very careful about what he would say and who would hear it.  Other theologians think this whole conversation was directed by Jesus to teach the disciples a thing or two.  It’s a bit like an email, we can’t always get the emotions that were portrayed purely by the written word. What this passage suggests is that Jesus was willing to test this Canaanite woman. And she passes this test of faith. 

It makes you think about the whole open door theology that we often use. If we ask Jesus for some direction and the door doesn’t open, it’s not meant to be. A kind of Christian fatalism. If the Canaanite woman had done that, if she hadn’t argued with Jesus, she would not have received what she asked for.

What is clear, though, is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, Jesus is willing to heal if you have faith.  Faith in Him and not in laws of man or traditions.

I have heard it said that tradition can either be dead actions of living people or it can be living actions of dead people.  We cannot afford to lose what has happened over 2000 years of history in our church.  Now, I am not saying that we need to go back to bells and smells or enter into having idols around the place, what I am saying is that there are traditions from the past that are important to remember and are helpful in our worship of God today.    

The problem of tradition is when it becomes an automatic thing without thought and feeling, it becomes empty.  We are fortunate here that there are very few times (if any) that I have seen that happen with the things that we do.  We can change them if we see fit, but you know...I really quite like the way we do most of the things we do on a Sunday.  I love the fact that there are other people being involved in the service.  These things create an active participation in our worship that other churches can miss.  Being active in the service helps us to not become purely spectators watching a performance.  We become participants in worshipping God.

But when it all comes down to it, it really isn’t about tradition.  It’s not about how we do something.  I mean, does it really matter who prays?  Does it matter how many songs we sing? Does it really matter how may hymns are included? Does it really matter how we do things?  What is important is that we do the things that help us to engage in worshipping our God together.  

To me, this passage screams out to us that what really matters is our faith.  Where is our faith? Is it with the one who can truly save or is it with the things that are meant to help us direct our attention to Him?

Challenge

We need to consider our motivation for what we do.  Do we do things with a faith in Jesus (like Canaanite woman) or because we have a sense of duty to the laws that we have learnt?  How are we to take this away from here today and for it to make a difference to our lives and those around us?  

It comes down to our own awareness.  As we go about our normal life, we can consider our motives for what we do.  Do we read our bibles and pray every day because that’s what we are meant to do? Do we help out at the church because that’s what is expected of us?  Do we follow each other up because it’s our job as Christians to pastorally care for each other?  Do we share the good news of Jesus because we are meant to?  

If we do these things because that’s what is expected of us, we are coming dangerously close to the problem the Pharisees had, empty traditions of the elders.  Now, don’t get me wrong, each of those thing that i mentioned, we do need to do, but it needs to be our motivation to do it that we need to watch.  We do need to read our bibles as often as we can because we get to come close to the living God when we do that.  I can’t express how truly amazing it is to have the privilege to come into the presence of God.  To be able to read about what he has done, what he is doing and what he will do.  To be able to pray.  To figuratively sit at his feet and just worship him, to seek his guidance, his help and his comfort!  We need to help out at the church and to care for each other not because we are meant to but because we love to.  This love from God is bursting out of us so much that we cannot not do these things.  The same goes for sharing the Gospel.  If we do it because we need to see someone saved because that’s what we are commanded to do, we again miss the point.  We share the gospel because we have something that these people are missing out on.  They are missing out on the joy, the hope, the love of God in their lives.  Our motivation needs to be that we WANT them to share in that love, not because we are expected to do it.

Conclusion

As we conclude this morning and prepare ourselves we do need to assess our motives for what we do.  We do need to reconsider whether we do things to follow the laws of men or the commands of God.  But...as always...there is good news as we do that.  The good news can be seen in verse 28.  Because of the woman’s faith, her request was granted.  Her daughter was healed.  Jesus does listen and act.  He does it when people of faith come to Him.  He does it because of his great love for each one of us.  It doesn’t matter whether you are part of the chosen nation of Israel of the rest of us.  He loves each of us more than we can imagine and he loves each one of us the same amount!  We may fail and fall short, we may follow the laws of men but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.  We just need to come to him in humility and faith.

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