August 17, 2014 – The 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15A
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
© 2014 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon is available here.
American Beauty is one of those movies that a priest cannot recommend from the pulpit because of its salacious content, but, tucked in amidst all of its titillating scenes are several eye-opening moments of deep theological reflection. One of those comes near the beginning of the film when Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey, is fired from his job for clear insubordination. In the exchange with the human resources officer, Lester demands a lavish severance package, using extortion and unveiled threats of the basest sort. When the H. R. guy calls him a “sick [fellow],” Lester responds, “I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”
That’s the story of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel lesson—an ordinary woman with nothing to lose. She was from the region around Tyre and Sidon—an area north of Jewish territory. She was a Gentile, and Matthew labels her as a Canaanite to les us know that she came from a culture and religion that were not acceptable to faithful Jews like Jesus and his disciples. Normally, she would have nothing to do with Jesus just as he would have nothing to do with her. But her daughter was possessed by a demon, and, like most of the mothers I know, she was willing to do anything to help her child.
“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” the woman cried, but Jesus answered her not a word. Undeterred by his refusal to acknowledge her plea, the woman kept pestering the disciples, begging over and over for help. Finally, annoyed at her persistence, the disciples came and asked Jesus to send her away, but Jesus replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Still unwilling to accept defeat, the desperate mother flung herself at Jesus’ feet and implored him to heal her daughter. But Jesus looked down at her and said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”—a direct refusal of the harshest sort. But the woman did not give up. She had nothing to lose.
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Those are the words of a woman with nothing to lose. She knew that the only way her daughter would be healed was if Jesus would grant her request. Her faith was born from that place of desperation—the recognition that her only hope was Jesus. So she gave it her all. To her, humiliation meant nothing. The faith that she showed did not come from her ancestors. She had not learned about God in the synagogue. Instead, this Canaanite woman, who had no place among God’s people, demonstrated an unrivaled faith that was born from a desperate mother’s only hope.
Where does your faith come from? Is it something you inherited from your parents? Is it based on something you heard a preacher say? Or have you known the faith that comes from having nothing to lose? You might not feel as desperate as the Canaanite woman, and I hope you’re not as twisted as Lester Burnham. But we are all just ordinary people with nothing to lose. God alone offers you a love which can carry you through this life and beyond. God alone is your salvation. God alone can rescue you even from death itself. If the God who made us and loves us is our only hope, why wouldn’t we throw ourselves down at his feet, empty ourselves of all that we have, and give our lives to him completely? Amen.