What Would Drive Her Into The Desert?
Nike has always had the best ads. When I was in the 8th grade I got a Nike calendar. And there was a dusty sunset. And in the middle of all this orange and red there was a road. And in the middle of the dirty and dusty road was a woman kicking up dust as she ran up the hill. And at the bottom of the picture were the words, “When the road calls, it screams.” Day after day I would pass by that picture. And I asked myself the question, “what would drive that woman to run so far in the middle of the desert?” So I looked closer. And on the back of the poster there was a biography answering my question. The woman was a smoker. And she had smoked so much that the doctor told her that she needed to stop smoking and started exercising. Otherwise she would die. So she started running and eventually ran marathons. But I had my answer. At least at the beginning, to avoid dying, she began running. This morning we meet a woman. And we ask the same question about her: What would drive her out into the desert? In Matthew 15, we read, “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.”” (Matthew 15:21–23 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Jesus goes way up north into the land of Tyre and Sidon. And we meet a woman who seeks Jesus out. And first of all, we notice the words that are used to describe her. She is called a Canaanite. You remember from Old Testament history that the Canaanites were so bad that the Lord sent the Hebrews up from Egypt to put all of them to death. What is strange about these words is that by the time Jesus speaks these words the Canaanites had been dead and gone for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, she is called a Canaanite. That’s like calling a person in Germany today a Nazi. So also, Sidon didn’t have a shining history as well. Chemosh was the god of the Sidonians. And you worshipped Chemosh by burning your children in the flames. This was a sinful woman from a long line of sinful people.
But what does she do? She seeks Jesus out. And when she finds him, in such desperation, she cries out. The word here isn’t a normal sort of cry. It’s an animal-like cry.1 She is not calm and composed. She was desperate and almost despairing. And you could hear it in her voice. But when she speaks everyone listens. Sure they listen because she won’t go away and just keeps crying out to Jesus.2 But they also listen to her because she does not speak like a Canaanite and a Sidonian. She uses Jewish words to speak to Jesus. She calls him, “Lord.”3 She even calls him that ever-so-important title, “Son of David.”4 That’s like someone showing up at our church from out of nowhere and then reciting from memory Luther’s Small Catechism.
So my dear friends in Christ, what drives her? What drives her away from her home to cry out for mercy? And, yes, part of the answer is her determination and desperation. Her daughter is being wickedly tortured by a demon.5 But there’s more going on here. She keeps following after Jesus, begging for mercy. And Jesus keeps walking and doesn’t even say one word to her. What happens next? “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.”” (Matthew 15:24–27 NIV11-GKE)
Finally, he turns around and speaks to her. he challenges he. He says that he was sent first and foremost to the lost sheep of Israel. What right does she have to ask for what belongs to someone else? Now here is where it gets amazing. I don’t know about you, but if I were there, that would be the part where, embarrassed and demoralized, I would just go back home. But she doesn’t. And what is it then that drives her to do so? She stays. And even more so, she responds to Jesus. She says, “Yes, that’s true. But even the little dogs get the crumbs.” Notice what she does. First she cries out for mercy. Second, she describes and even defends what God’s mercy is. For there’s some word-play going on here. There are two words for dogs in the New Testament. There’s the normal word for dogs.6 Those are the wild, feral, mangy dogs outside. That’s not the word Jesus uses here. He uses the word for “little dog.”7 That’s the word for the dogs that are inside the house, not outside. They are pets. Pets get to stay in the house. Pets get to even have crumbs that fall from the table. Pets may not be children. But they are still loved by the Father. This woman knows what mercy is. Mercy is this undeserved love that God has for us based on his love toward our pitiable, tragic, sad condition. And she doesn’t just know what it is, she takes her stand on it and even defends it. The little dog has no right to sit in the chair where the child sits. But it has every right to be in the house and get the scraps. But even that right does not come from the dog. It comes from the gracious master of the house.
We look at this woman and we ask that question: What drives her? What drives her not only to cry out for mercy but then to also defend that mercy? Finally then, at the end of these words we have our answer. We read: “Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:28 NIV11-GKE)
Faith—this massive and amazing gift of faith that Jesus gave to her. That is what drove her to cry out for mercy and then when that mercy was questioned she defended that mercy in front of the very one who was extending that mercy to her.
What an amazing faith. And yet, as we look into our own lives, we see that there have been times when we have been such spectacular failures. For we face such temptations and fail. We face tragedies and hardships and instead of crying out for and trusting in Jesus’ mercy, we don’t pray. We don’t pursue Jesus like this woman in the dusty desert. And if we do cry out for mercy and then receive it, when we are put in a place to stand on that mercy and even defend it, we fail. Years ago, I was at a gym on a treadmill running. And there was this guy who liked to find Christians and try to wear them down. He’d complain that God would be so evil as to send good people who had never ever done anything wrong to hell. Then he’d complain that God would allow such evil people into heaven. So finally, a little cranky and a lot out of breath, I said, “So God sends sinners to hell and he’s not kind; and God sends sinners to heaven and he’s not fair; if only [Bob] God had you up there in heaven to tell him what to do with all these sinners.” I was ready that day. And the reason I was ready that day was because there many other days before that when I was not. There will be those times in your life when God expects you not just to cry out for mercy but also to ready to defend that mercy. And we sin when we are not ready.
But look what our Savior Jesus does. Just as he gave a massive and mighty faith to this woman, he does the same to us. Through God’s word by itself or through God’s word combined with water in baptism, he created faith in our hearts. And through this gift of faith we cry out, “Lord, have mercy; Son of David, have mercy.” We cry out those words and trust in them for we know who it is that we’re crying out to. Through this faith we are content that we are in God’s house at all, not crying out for a better place as if we deserved one. But instead, through this gift of faith he gives us contentment to be in God’s house at all. And through this gift of faith he gives us the ability to not only take our stand on God’s mercy, but also to defend it. We defend it against our own sinful nature that is so offended that God would forgive us. And we defend God’s mercy against people out there who are so offended that God would led sinners into heaven. And at the end of the day, it’s not just this woman in the desert who is driven. Out of joy, the Holy Spirit drives us. He drives us to cry out to him for mercy. He drives us to defend that mercy. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲕⲣⲁⲩⲅⲁⲥⲉⲛ” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)
2 “ⲗⲉⲅⲟⲩⲥⲁ” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)
3 “ⲕ̅ⲉ̅” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)
5 “22 ⲕⲁⲕⲱⲥⲇⲁⲓⲙⲟⲛⲓⲍⲉⲧⲁⲓ 23” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)