In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“You dog!” Now, it wasn’t until the last few years that this could be considered a good greeting. These days, you have Randy Jackson calling American Idol contestants, “Dog!” and it is a nickname something like, “Dude.” There is even a sense of admiration for how cool or how sly someone has been when they are called “Dog.”
Not so in the past. Especially how Jesus uses the name in today’s Gospel. When this Syrophoenician woman, this Canaanite foreigner, comes to Jesus He appears to be sending her away. Matthew even tells us that He kept silent at first, as if He would not even speak with her. The Lord finally tells her that “it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
What? Did you hear that? Jesus just called her a “dog!” Isn’t that mean of Him? Isn’t that a sin?! Actually, no, He is teaching her. And He is teaching His disciples, as well.
Today we hear a woman at prayer. (We also hear the prayer of others on behalf of the deaf man, as Jesus responds to that prayer with a mighty, “Ephphatha!”) But before He declares the opening of the deaf man’s ears and mouth, Jesus declares the kingdom open to Gentiles, too.
Being called a “dog” is definitely hearing the Law from Christ! You don’t deserve help, He says. You are cut off in your sin, and worthless to God. Being called a “dog” cuts us down to size, and we don’t like that one bit.
We are raised to feel entitled. The Constitution says you are entitled to free speech, free press, and so on. The state says you are entitled to an education. Your parents tell you that you are entitled to be whatever you want when you grow up. The next thing you know, we end up with overgrown self-esteem that feels we can say or do whatever we please – no limits!
We cannot just walk right up to God and give Him a piece of our mind. Our lives, our thoughts, our words and deeds do not place us in a position to expect that He must aid us. No, we are not entitled to His help or mercy.
Jesus proclaims that harsh Law as He speaks of the “children” – Israel – the Old Testament Church. In contrast, she is told she is not a dear child, but a dog. This is not some cute little lap dog – not a sweet shi tzu cuddling with her master. This is a derogatory term, to be sure.
Still, the Holy Spirit has given faith. She persists. She continues praying to Jesus, face to face. Undeterred, she boldly notes that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She does not despair. She does not yell at Jesus like some angry guest on Jerry Springer. She confesses.
The woman confesses, “Yes, I am a dog. I am a Gentile. And what’s more, I am a poor, miserable sinner. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.” She knows and admits that there is nothing good in her, deserving of Jesus’ mercy, help, or goodness.
The disciples ran the risk of thinking they were better than her, though. They could easily have fallen into the trap of thinking “I’m a descendant of Abraham, I deserve special treatment from God.” And how about us? My great-great grandparents were charter members at the church I grew up in. Our opinion should count more at meetings, don’t you think? It’s easy for Lutherans, for some reason, to think we have a birthright to the Gospel – that simply because we are Lutheran, we have an insurance policy or ticket to heaven. As if you simply do some action or say some word to get a membership card and * poof * you deserve all sorts of great stuff.
Repent! Repent of attitudes that say “I deserve Jesus’ help.” “I was born into a membership with churchly privileges.” Repent of claiming entitlement.
Our dear Savior comes to you today and welcomes you, just as He did the Syrophoenician woman. He comforts you as He fulfills your needs. He tells you “You may go your way,” as He provides for your body and soul. The Holy Spirit has called you to faith, just as He did this woman. He grants you repentance, as He did with this woman. And He delivers Jesus’ forgiveness to you, just as He did this woman.
God gave her the gift of faith – faith whose object was our Lord Jesus. He gives that faith to you too – faith that does not look to itself, but is all about Jesus. Our Lord gave her this gift, and the gift to cry out in faith to Him. And He gives it – not because He has to, but because He wants to. He desires to give you His mercy!
Joyfully we join the woman in her cry of faith. She latches on to Jesus and she doesn’t let go. She grasps onto the Word and promise of God. She hangs on our Savior’s every word, and responds with a great, “Amen!”
Like the dog in the old RCA logo, she awaits His voice, and the words He speaks. Our Lord and Master does speak, as He preaches and teaches His Word, as He says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and as He declares, “This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you.” And then she barks a hearty, “Amen!”
Rejoice, dear friends in Christ, He speaks to you too! Our Master comes to you, and is declaring His forgiving Gospel in your ears. He is taking us undeserving dogs, and calling us by name – no longer marked by “You dog!” but the name of Christ.
Now He gathers us at His Table, where He delights to give us His crumbs – in fact more than crumbs – blessed fragments of His holy Body and a chalice full of His precious Blood. And wagging our grateful and joyful tails, we join in the canine chorus of barking “Amens!” which the Lord transforms and joins with the praise of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And all the while, He delights to give you Himself the Bread of Heaven, given for the life of the world!