Sermon Notes — August 17, 2008
On Matthew 15:21-28: Jesus Heals the Canaanite Woman’s Daughter
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt. 13:44)
Sometimes one needs to undertake a treasure hunt to find the treasure in the Gospel story. Where is the good news in a story where Jesus basically calls a woman a “dog”? So let’s go on a treasure hunt.
Clue #1: In Mark’s version of this story, this woman’s ethnic heritage is called “Syrophoenician” (Mark 7:26). In Matthew, she is called “Canaanite,” which is out of the time frame. It’s like calling a modern Norwegian person a Viking.
- Why Canaanite? What time would that go back to? Answer the time of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.
- And keep in mind two things:
- “Joshua” and “Jesus” are the same name in the Hebrew;
- that conquest we might call today a “genocide” — one of the more uneasy places for us in the Bible.
- So is Matthew trying to bring us back to that time of conquest with this new Joshua (Jesus)?
Clue #2: In the remainder of Matthew 15, Jesus (Joshua) heals people and miraculously feeds another crowd (the first feeding was in Matthew 14). In Matthew 15:31, Matthew comments, “And they praised the God of Israel.” Does this mean that Jesus (Joshua) is now in Gentile country? Why else would he specify “God of Israel” if it wasn’t foreigners praising another people’s God?
Clue #3: Playing the numbers game is a common way to leave clues or ciphers. In the first feeding of the five thousand, Jesus (Joshua) takes five loaves and two fish and twelve baskets are left over. In the second feeding, of four thousand this time (Matthew 15:29-39), Jesus takes seven loaves and a few fish and seven loaves are left over. Seven has become the significant number. Why seven? Twelve is significant for the twelve tribes of Israel. Why is seven significant? Let’s go back to the time of conquest (genocide) of Canaan. Moses is speaking to the twelve tribes of Israel as Joshua is about to lead them into the Promised Land, and says:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you — and when the LORD your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. (Deut. 7:1-2)
We’ve found the treasure! Haven’t we? Jesus, the second Joshua, has come into the land of Canaanites to again conquer, but this time with mercy. He heals and feeds. He begins this conquest of mercy by letting the Canaanite woman of faith conquer him in conversation so that her faith might be revealed and her daughter healed.
A quote from Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change (pp. 158-59):
If Jesus’ first feeding miracle and its twelve-basket surplus suggest a reconstitution of the twelve tribes being led through the wilderness with a new kind of manna, then this second feeding miracle suggests a new kind of conquest — not with swords and spears, but with bread and fish; not to destroy, but to serve and heal. Jesus seizes the old narrative, shakes it, turns it inside out, and offers a new story that reframes a future radically different from the past.
Of course, his cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal. As we’ve seen, Rome uses crosses to expose and pronounce a death sentence on rebels; Jesus uses the cross to expose Roman violence and religious complicity with it, while pronouncing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. His cross doesn’t represent a “shock and awe” display of power as Roman crucifixions were intended to do, but rather represents a “reverence and awe” display of God’s willingness to accept rejection and mistreatment, and then respond with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants.
. . . If in the violent narratives of Rome the victorious are blessed — which means that the most heavily armed, the most willing to kill, and the most aggressive and dominant are blessed — then in the framing story of the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are willing to suffer for doing good. . . .
To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus’ peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God’s own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.
To repent, to believe, to follow . . . together, these mean nothing less than defecting from Caesar’s campaign of violence to join Jesus’ divine peace insurgency.
America is the superpower of today, blessed with the most powerful military and abundance of wealth. Are there ways in which we might ‘conquer’ through the sharing of our medicine and food? Can we ‘conquer’ by healing and feeding?