Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"A Crumby Story"

Romans 3:27-31

Matthew 15:21-18

      One of the things I personally find most appealing about the historical Jesus is how open He

was to people; to all kinds of people.  Will Rogers once stated that he never met a man he didn’t

like.  It seems Jesus never met a person He didn’t love.  People from every imaginable situation

and circumstances found themselves comfortable in Jesus’ presence.  Although He spoke with

remarkable power and authority, Jesus didn’t come across as stuffy, or pretentious, or arrogant.

     There’s a story of a priest who served a small parish in the hills of Kentucky.  He was invited to

supper by one of the new families in his church.  He was received cordially by everyone, except

the youngest daughter who was about seven years old.  She stared at him unblinkingly through-

out the meal.  The priest started feeling a little uncomfortable, so he tried to put the little girl at

ease.  “Is my clerical collar what you’re staring at?” he asked as he removed it and held it up. 

When he did so, he noticed the cleaning instructions on the inside of the collar. To make conver-

sation, he asked the girl, “Do you know what it says here?”  “Sure,” she responded.  “It says, ‘Kills

ticks and fleas for six months.’”  It’s not a stretch for me to imagine Jesus telling such a joke on

himself.  People who are secure in themselves don’t need to put on airs.  Because Jesus was so

open, and genuine, and down-to-earth, people of all sorts – even those who were at first unsure

– gravitated toward Him.

      Our Scripture lesson this morning is about one particular woman who gravitated toward Je-

sus.  On this day, she came to Him for help; not for herself, but for her daughter.  There is a con-

text to this story we need to be aware of.  According to Matthew’s chronology, Jesus had just

been engaged in what was likely a heated and exhausting exchange with a bunch of Pharisees

and scribes regarding the “tradition of the elders,” which His disciples were accused of violating.

After Jesus sharply criticized the religious leaders’ mindless adherence to hollow ritual, He “left”

Gennesaret “and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.”  It would be safe to assume that

Jesus was pooped, and quite frankly, He needed to get away from folk for a spell.  No sooner did

He sit down to rest His head when a Gentile woman – specifically a Canaanite woman – burst in

frantically crying out for help for her demon-possessed daughter.  The fact that Jesus “did not

answer her at all” may suggest that He was too fatigued to deal with this right then.  Let’s keep 

in mind that Jesus was not only fully God, but fully human.  Like any of us, He got tired, and

maybe even a little cranky from time-to-time.

        The disciples find her to be a nuisance, and beg Jesus to send her away.  They had just finished getting an ear-beating from the religious leaders for their transgression of the Jewish

Law, and here come this foreign woman defiling them with her very presence.  We can imagine

the disciples’ embarrassment and uncertainty regarding how to deal with this unwelcome visitor.

      Jesus was in something of an uncomfortable position Himself.  This woman was a Canaanite.

Jesus’ mission was specifically to the Jews as He Himself said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of

the house of Israel.”  Rather than discourage the woman, this reply only fortified her resolve. 

She then knelt at His feet and pleaded, “Lord, help me.”  Then Jesus responds in what seems to

be a very uncharacteristic way:  “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the

dogs.”  At this juncture, we have to wonder.  Is Jesus saying this somehow for the benefit of His

disciples, who may have been as shocked as we are by Jesus’ words?  Was he testing the woman

to see the strength of her resolve and depth of her need?  Was He stating in vivid language that

at the present time, He was sent exclusively as Messiah to the Jewish nation?  Was he seeking, in

His wisdom, to elicit a response from the woman which would at that very moment widen the

scope is His mission?  At any rate, she speaks words that seem to melt Jesus’ heart:  “Yes, Lord,

yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Cut to the heart as He

was, we can almost imagine Jesus’ weary eyes welling up with tears.  He saw this woman’s spirit.

He was touched by her genuineness and sincerity.  Suddenly, it mattered not a whit that she was

Canaanite, or Gentile, or anything else.  Jesus recognized in her a soul in desperate need, and a

heart inclined toward the Kingdom of God, whatever her particular religious beliefs may or may

not have been.  Then Jesus exclaimed for all to hear: “’Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done

for you as you wish.’  And her daughter was healed instantly.” 

      What a crumby story!  And what does it have to do with us?  May I suggest that there are

three important lessons we might glean from this brief encounter.  First, people are people, 

regardless of the label they wear.  How often do we find ourselves judging folks by labels; by
appearances; by categories?  For many of our generation, Archie Bunker defines that prejudicial

eye which never gets beyond the surface and the superficial.  There is an episode from the first

season of All in the Family, in which the Bunker family has received a flyer describing a team of

candidates in an upcoming local election.  As Archie looks it over, he exclaims:  “Feldman, O’Reilly,

Salvatore and Nelson; a Jew, an Irishman, an Italian, and a regular American there.  That’s what I

call a balanced ticket.”  “What do you mean?” Archie’s son-in-law Mike asks in disgust.  “Well,”

Archie replies, “You’ve got Feldman.  Everyone knows those people know how to handle money. 

Then you got O’Reilly.  He can see that the graft is equally spread around.  You got Salvatore.  He

can keep an eye on the other two.  Let me tell you something about the Italians.  When you find an

honest one, you really got something there.  Then there’s Nelson.  He’s good for TV appearances;

make the rest of them look legitimate.” 

      This sort of labeling and superficial judgment is a danger we all face to some degree.  I think

we’ve all got a little Archie Bunker in us.  It’s so easy to pigeon-hole people into categories of

desirable and undesirable on the basis of their ethnic background, or skin color, or religious or 

political affiliation, or neighborhood in which they live, or vocation, or sexual orientation, or the

clothes or tattoos they wear, or the car they drive.  In this day of widespread profiling, we’re even

more likely to view people – especially those different from us – with a jaundiced eye, making little

if any effort to find out who they really are inside, where it counts.  And usually, we don’t even

know we’re doing this.  For most of us, it’s such a deeply ingrained thing.

      Two little neighbor girls about the same age, one Christian and one Jewish, were constant com-

panions.  After one Easter holiday, the grandfather of the Christian girl asked her what her friend

had received for Easter.  The girl looked at her grandfather in surprise and said, “But grandpa, you

should know that Becky is Jewish, and she wouldn’t get anything for Easter.”  Then she went on to

explain with the wisdom of a child:  “You see, I’m Easter and she’s Passover.  I’m Christmas and

she’s Hanukkah.”  With a big smile, she added: “But I’m sure glad both of us are Halloween!”

Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman reveals the deep divisions between peoples that are

still tearing our world apart today.  When we get to know one another beneath the surface and

beyond superficialities, as Jesus got to know the woman in this brief encounter, we see that

people are people, whatever label or collar they may wear.

      Second, faith is faith wherever we may encounter it.  This story from Matthew lends credence

to the belief that the faith many have is more than subscription to a certain set of doctrines.

Faith is fundamentally a condition of the heart.  Otherwise, Jesus would not have declared this

woman; this Canaanite; this Gentile; this person labeled ‘outside the covenant community of God,’

to be a person of great faith.

      Do you know how the FBI trains its agents to spot counterfeit bills?  They do it not with phony

bills, but with real ones.  The FBI schools agents by training them to see all the characteristics and

nuances of bona fide currency.  They deal only with the genuine article.  The agent learns to recog-

nize authentic 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills until his or her appraisal of them becomes se cond nature and virtually instinctual.  This way, when FBI agents come across counterfeit bills,

they immediately recognize them as such.  Their minds aren’t cluttered with what might be wrong,

or what usually is left off, or mistakes that are commonly made.  They know what they’re looking

for.  They are specialists in the real thing.  False bills become glaringly apparent to them. 

      Jesus was a specialist in identifying the real thing.  It was in Jesus’ nature to unerringly spot one

whose faith was real, and genuine, and sincere.  Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, it is important

to note that he spent far less time and energy identifying phonies.  He invested Himself in those

who were real, despite the label they wore.  So a Roman centurion finds his servant restored;

not in spite of his Pagan religious affiliation, but because of his faith.  A tax collector is called to be

a disciple; not in spite of his vocation, but because of his faith.  A woman caught in adultery finds

divine forgiveness; not in spite of her sinful occupation, but because of her faith.  And in this

morning’s passage, a woman’s daughter is healed on the basis of nothing but her mom’s faith.  It

was the inclination of their hearts that Jesus was interested in.  He was quick to point out faith as

faith, wherever and in whomever He encountered it.

       Finally, Jesus’ heart can be touched and moved.  And by theological extension, God’s heart can  

be touched and moved.  That’s not the same thing as saying God’s mind can be changed, for the

eternal plans which reside in the mind of an eternal God are in themselves perfect in justice and

righteousness.  That’s what we mean when we speak of the omniscience and immutability of God. 

Even so, God reveals in and through Jesus Christ that within God’s self is the capacity to be

affected by that which affects us; to be touched by that which touches us; to take into God’s heart

the pain we feel, and the pain we inflict.  And on the other side, God rejoices when we rejoice;

celebrates when we celebrate.  That’s what we mean when we speak of the omnipresence and

availability of God.

      Jesus made His heart available to this woman as he took her through a series of difficult sayings

which at first blush appear callous, but in the long view revealed the true posture of this woman’s

heart, and brought healing into her life and that of her daughter.  We see much the same revela-

tion of God’s heart in Jesus’ emotional reaction – God’s emotional reaction – to the death of Laza-

rus, and the grief of his two sisters.  You’ll recall that “Jesus wept.”  Jesus heart was so moved in

His encounter with the Canaanite woman that He rejoiced: “Woman, great is your faith!”  May

we understand that our heartfelt prayers, pleas, and intercessions move the heart of the Lord. 

God in and through Jesus makes God’s heart available to all of us.

      So three things we take from this odd little story in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel.  People

are people regardless of the label they wear.  Let’s not judge, then, on the basis of the surface and

the superficial.  Faith is faith wherever we may encounter it.  Rather than be on the hunt for and

lamenting counterfeit faith, let’s be about searching for and rejoicing in genuine faith.  Jesus’

heart can be moved.  Let’s not be hesitant to bring the deepest things of our hearts before the

Lord, for in response and in exchange, the Lord will make available to us the deepest things of His

heart.  This is the good news of Jesus Christ as preached on this Lord’s Day.  Amen.

 

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102