11th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 15) LSB #849
Text – Matthew 15:21
Jesus went away from there & withdrew to the district of Tyre & Sidon.
TYRE & SIDON
Those names appear together in Bible verses 16 different times. The only more famous pairing in the Bible is Sodom & Gomorrah appearing together on 22 occasions. While Tyre & Sidon were not obliterated by fire & brimstone, they weren’t far behind in God’s condemnation of their wickedness. The prophet Jeremiah had some intriguing words for the enemies of God:
“So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand & made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it. …all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon… shall drink. Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk & vomit, fall & rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (25:17, 22, 26-27 ESV)
Tyre & Sidon were clearly not at the top of the list of God’s favorite cities. So when Matthew writes, “Jesus went away from there & withdrew to the district of Tyre & Sidon,” at 1st blush it seems rather strange. It’s like reading the headline, “Jesus Goes To Vegas.” It should make you wonder, “What’s going on?”
Well, Jesus had just finished another nasty confrontation with the Pharisees, where He called them out for being hypocrites. Jesus had wanted for some time to rest, but kept getting interrupted. His goal was thwarted by the people following Him who necessitated the feeding of the 5000. So after this conflict with the Pharisees Jesus sought rest in a different place.
He traveled to a place that had never been under the rule of the kings of Israel. The inhabitants of this region had been gross idolaters, serving especially Baal & Ashtoreth. The infamous queen Jezebel was the daughter of a king from Tyre & Sidon. These people were hated & detested by the Jews, so it was the perfect place for Jesus to find rest from the constant attacks of His Jewish opponents. He should be anonymous there since no one who opposed His ministry would dare to travel to such a pagan & godless land. Jesus should be able to pray to His Father & teach His disciples in peace. The Gospel of Matthew practically shouts from the rooftops:
“And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out & was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David…’” (15:22 ESV) So much for peace & quiet, for rest & relaxation; for a time away from the hustle & bustle of caring for the souls of the sheep. Even here in this pagan land of Tyre & Sidon there is a woman who knows exactly whom Jesus is.
“But [Jesus] did not answer her a word.” (15:23a ESV) You see, she was a Gentile & His earthly ministry was not about them. Yes, He came to save them, but that would play out through His body the Church, after Jesus had ascended to the right hand of God. For now, prior to His crucifixion, He is a Jew, born to a Jewish mother, & He is the Messiah of Israel.
Jesus’ entire life on earth is historical fact & it is grounded in His role as the perfect Son of God that the nation of Israel completely failed to be. His earthly identity is wrapped up in demonstrating to the Jews His role as Messiah. He does that through preaching & performing miracles. For now, the Gentiles simply are not part of the equation. They will be later.
So these are the words of Jesus to this Gentile woman from the region of the pagan cities of Tyre & Sidon: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs.” (15:24 & 26 ESV)
Jesus demonstrated His role as Messiah through preaching & performing miracles. Those blessings were also the means by which He fed the lost sheep of Israel. To understand Him you need to keep in mind that for Jesus, the words He quoted from Deuteronomy are definitive. He countered the temptation of the devil by saying:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of
God.” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) When He says, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs,” He’s not talking about literal bread, or even food, but about the words or blessings which come from the mouth of God. However, using bread as an illustration of Jesus’ ministry works perfectly well.
As this event unfolds, effectively, Jesus is referring to all Gentiles when He says in particular to the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs.” At that moment in time Jesus is calling her a dog. Being Gentiles, you & I are included in that description. Right there & then, His ministry, His miracles & preaching, were not for her.
Later, when Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus is talking about the fact that she is not offended when He calls her a dog. In spite of all evidence to the contrary – Jesus ignores her at 1st, then tells her He’s not on earth to help people like here, & finally calling her a dog – she still continues to have faith that Jesus will be a blessing to her daughter.
This is how Martin Luther described this text from Matthew 15:
“Look how Christ drives her faith deep into her heart that it becomes strong & firm. Is this the gracious & friendly Lord? He is silent as a stone; a severe blow when God shows Himself so serious, angry & distant, concealing His grace & help. We must also learn to cling alone to the Word, although God pretends to be different than what the Word says of Him.”
The Canaanite woman was declared to have great faith because she clung alone to Word of God no matter how Jesus treated her in person. There are times when it takes great humility to be a child of God, & doing so demonstrates great faith. The Bible tells us that God is love, but there are many, many times in our lives when He does not appear that way to us.
At those times, do we still believe in Jesus? Do we still believe that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God? After Jesus ignored her, refused to help her, & finally called her a dog – the Canaanite woman agreed with Jesus that she was a dog, & still believed that Jesus would be a blessing to her daughter: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:27 ESV) We could elaborate on the woman’s thoughts in this way:
“Yes, Lord! You are absolutely right! It would be bad indeed to deny or contradict God’s plan to save His ancient people Israel. You are Israel’s Messiah, & the bread You give belongs to the children. I agree & believe, & I don’t want the children’s bread, because when the children eat, the dogs also get to eat, don’t they? The bread of the Messiah is so abundant & so overflowing that parts of it fall from the table onto the floor. And the crumbs are enough for me & my daughter. We need nothing more than the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”
Along those same lines, here’s another quotation from Martin Luther: “Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner & not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness & didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, ‘to save sinners.’ Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.”
The Gospel reading for today is a lot like life. It leaves us with many questions. Why is Jesus silent? What is the disciples’ tone of voice? The emotional state of the woman? Does Jesus intend to insult her? Does she take offense? Lots of questions & no answers. This reading is a lot like life. The text does answer one question. What does great faith believe about Jesus?
It believes that Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so. Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Amen. LSB 849:1.
 Gibbs, J., Matthew 11:2-20:34, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 2010, p. 787.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet