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Edward F. Markquart

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Yelping Puppies, The Canaanite Woman

Pentecost 13A     Matthew 15:21-28 

Pentecost 14B     Mark 7:24-37

The wheels from the car screeched. The mother’s heart stopped. The child screamed. The mother ran to the street out in front of the house as fast as she could. She was scared spitless when she saw the tricycle and her daughter lying on the pavement.

That’s the way mothers are. That’s the way fathers are. Anytime your child is injured and anytime your child is sick, you become very, very upset, especially if the child is seriously ill or injured. That is just the way God wired us as mothers and fathers.

You can tell your stories and I can tell my stories about illnesses and injuries. For example, when our child Anne was little, maybe three years old. I came home one afternoon and you could feel the tension in the house as you opened the front door. A dog had bit my daughter right across the face. It was ugly. We rushed off to the doctor as fast as we could. We were totally upset. The doctor stitched her face up as she way lying there in a straight jacket. It was not a fun afternoon. This nasty event feels like it occurred just like yesterday but it happened more than two decades ago.

Or the time our little boy fell off the swing and had a huge cut under his chin and we were off to the doctor again. Totally upset.

Or the time that the same little boy grew up and was driving a car and had a car accident. The police called and said that our son was in the emergency ward. The police didn’t tell how bad he was other than we should get there real fast.

As parents, all of us are deeply and profoundly upset when our children are injured or are seriously sick. It is very upsetting for all of us who are parents.

Most recently in our parish, there was a young girl by the name of Julie Vraspir, in her young twenties. She was involved in a car accident, a nasty accident. They had to bring in the “iron claws” and rip open the car to get her out. They had to bring in the chopper and fly her down to Harborview Hospital. Meanwhile, for three hours, the family didn’t know if she was living or dying. It was absolutely petrifying. I was with the family on the ride down to the hospital. I know what this family was feeling simply because I am a parent.

Anytime one of our children is seriously injured or ill, we are deeply upset.

Therefore we can really understand the story for today because we find a woman who was very upset that her daughter is very, very sick. The Bible tells us that she was severely possessed by a demon. In those days, during Biblical times, they did not have concepts of viruses and demon possession was a common diagnosis by doctors. There is another story in the Bible about another child who was reported to be severely possessed by a demon and then the Bible author later called it epilepsy.

Can you imagine during Biblical times and your child goes into convulsions? You don’t know what causes it. Can you imagine living with convulsions within your child and not knowing the cause of it?

So you go see the local doctor by the name of Dr. Abrahamson and he says, “Well, your child has a bad demon. What did your child do that was so bad or what did you do that was so bad she got a demon living inside?” That wasn’t very nice but happened again and again in Biblical days.

Or, you go to the local Ladies Aid, and your friends at the local Ladies Aid said, “Whatever will be will be. It is the will of God that your child is sick. You just have to learn to live with those convulsions. You just have to learn to live with it. That’s the way it is.”

Well, this woman, in spite of the so-called help from her doctor and her friends at the Ladies Aid, decided that she would go and find this Jesus of Nazareth who happened to be in town that day. Jesus was now up north, north of the borders of Israel, the first time he had traveled outside of Israel. Jesus was a small town country boy who never traveled much. He never got out of town very often. But at this time in his life, Jesus traveled north to the city of Tyre and met a Canaanite woman, a non-Jewish woman who had a very sick kid.

She comes up to Jesus and kneels before him and says, “Jesus, Son of David, would you please heal my child?” 

What does Jesus do? He turns his back on her and gives her the silent treatment. That doesn’t seem very nice to me.

So she goes and talks to the disciples and begs the disciples, “Would you talk to your master and ask him to heal my daughter?” His disciples approached Jesus and he said to them, “Listen, I am going to heal the Jewish people first and I won’t get around to the Greeks until later.”

The woman is a Greek person. She has a sick kid. She is not intimidated by silence. The resistance of Jesus and his disciples does not intimidate her.

So he falls down at Jesus’ feet. This is her third attempt to get through to Jesus. She calls out, “Jesus, have mercy on me and heal my daughter.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, you are like a yelping puppy at a man’s table.”

And the woman, being quick witted, said, “Well, a master takes crumbs off the table and feeds his yelping puppy and shuts him up. You just heal my daughter and you will shut me up.”

Jesus looked at her and smiled and said, “Great is your faith, woman. Depart, your daughter is healed.” The woman went home and found her daughter well.

That’s the story. It is a wonderful story from the Gospel of Matthew and also the Gospel of Mark.

There are many things that can be found in this story but at the heart of this story is that this woman was not a Jew. The Bible is very explicit. She was a Canaanite. This is one of several examples from the New Testament where truth faith is found outside the organized religion of the day, where true faith is found outside the Jews, where true faith is found outside the Israelites, where true faith is found outside of organized religion.

Often, that is true. Often you find the greatest examples of faith in people outside the church, outside the Christian religion. For example, this past week was the eightieth birthday of Mother Teresa on August 27th. This past week, there was a wonderful film on Mother Teresa’s life. This film was shown several times on PBS this past week. In this film, it showed her as a young woman growing up in Yugoslavia. The movie showed that there were Hindus and Muslims and Christians all in the same town. Mother Teresa grew up with all these different religions. Years later, when Mother Teresa was on the streets of Calcutta and people were dying of starvation, she didn’t say, “O, God loves Buddhists more than he does Hindus more than he does Catholics.” It was her deeply felt belief that God loves all children of the earth and God does not have any favoritism for starving Jewish children over starving Muslim children. God loves all children of the earth.

Likewise, you don’t have to be a Christian and you don’t have to be a Lutheran and you don’t have to be part of the church to have deep faith in God. You just don’t.

This is one of the first things that Jesus is saying to us in this story. Here was a woman who was a Canaanite and she had deep, deep faith in God.

What is it that I like about this woman?

One thing I like about this woman is that she did not put up with the evil that was part of her life. She didn’t go along with the local Ladies Aid and say, “Whatever will be will be. Your daughter has these convulsions and that is just the way that life is. You just have to put up with it and live with it. That is your God given destiny. To live with that evil thing that is part of your life.” That woman said NO to such logic.

I read a book in preparation for this sermon by Robert Wallace. It is entitled, MIRACLES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. I don’t have many good books on the miracles of Jesus and this book is a good one. Wallace was a Scottish preacher. He says regarding this text that “nine out of ten times that the evil that is part of our life is not the will of God. It is the will of evil. It is the will of the devil.” Nine times out of ten. If you have an evil cinder that is part of your life, it is not the will of God. It is the will of evil or an evil part of life. We do everything to eradicate it just like this woman did. Therefore our attitude is not “whatever will be will be.”

You won’t catch me having the attitude, “It’s inevitable. There is going to be a nuclear war. Whatever will be will be. O, it’s inevitable, there is going to be a war in Iraq. Whatever will be will be. It’s inevitable. My daughter or my granddaughter or my son or my grandson are going to get a divorce. Whatever will be will be. O, the kid is on drugs. Whatever will be will be.” No. When there is evil that is part of your life, you go to work and try to eradicate it. Nine times out of ten it is not God’s will that this evil be part of your life.

Now, I am keenly aware that there are times in our lives where we need to surrender to the evil of life. Mother Teresa talked about the importance of surrendering to God and surrendering all of your life to God. I talked to this person this past week who has to surrender her mother to Alzheimer’s. Somebody else this past week has to surrender their house into bankruptcy. Another person has to surrender a spouse to the inevitability of a particular virulent cancer. But nine times out of ten, that is not true. Nine times out of ten in our lives, we are to rise up and fight against those things which are evil.

The local Ladies Aid and the local doctor and everybody said, “Whatever will be will be” And this woman said, “Nosiree.” I am going to fight against this evil in my life.

The other thing that I like about this woman is the way she prayed. She prayed in such a way that she was constantly bugging God. I love that passage where she comes up to Jesus and says, “Jesus, heal my child.” Jesus gives her the silent treatment. (Doesn’t that sometimes happen to us when we pray to God? It seems all we get is silence.) But this woman wasn’t intimidated by silence. She wasn’t intimated by the silence of Jesus.

So she goes and asks the disciples, “Tell your master to heal me.” And they say, “He’s busy with other things. He has to heal the Jews first and then the Greeks.” This woman is not intimated by the disciples’ response either.

For a third time she tries. She comes to Jesus and says, “Heal my child. Please.” And Jesus replied, “Woman you are like a barking dog, like a yelping puppy underneath the table at lunch time.” She quickly replied, “But even a master feeds a barking dog and he shuts up.  Feed me and I’ll be fine. Heal my daughter and I’ll be quiet.” It was the persistence of this woman in prayer. The moral of this story is that is the way that God wants us to pray. God wants us to pray with that kind of bugging, nagging persistence.

For example, I have an eleven year old at our house. Nathan is his name. What I am going to describe has gone on for has gone on for years now, in one form or another. I am not sure why it is, but outside of our house there always seems to be a bicycle with a flat tire. So Nathan will say to me at 6:30 in the morning, “Dad, will you fix the flat tire.” Before he leaves for school, he will again say, “Dad, will you fix the flat tire?”

It’s summer time and noon and I am for lunch and he again says, “Dad, will you fix the flat tire?” Yes, yes, yes, you can count on me. Evening dinner comes around, “Dad, will you fix the flat tire?” Yes, yes, yes, you can count on me. The next morning he is up at 4:30 and again asking, “Dad, will you fix the flat tire?” Pestering, persistent, unrelenting. Do you have any children like that?  (Yes, I know I am to fix the tire.)

God says, “That is the way we are to pray.” We are constantly to be bugging God, coming after God and asking these things.

This past week, I was talking to a woman who had been praying for her daughter to get a job. Her daughter did not have the kind of job that she needed for a long time and it was very, very stressful for both this daughter and mother. This past week, the daughter got a job. The mother was so elated. The mother said to me, “I would bug God about this job always. And God would say to me, ‘O, it’s you again.’” God may have thought at times, “I am getting tired of this lady.”

It is that kind of persistence that is needed in our prayer life. Where we go to God constantly, asking God to overcome those things which are evil in our lives. We go and ask God for that evil to be eliminated, for that healing to occur.

Now, for some of us, God is so busy with the big issues of life that he doesn’t have time for my little petty concerns. God is in charge of the laws of nature, the laws of thermodynamics, the laws and physics and God is running around taking care of all the big laws of the world and God does not have time for me and my little problems. That is NOT what Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches that God is concerned about our cancer, that God is concerned about our bankruptcy, that God is concerned about our drug or drinking problem, that God is concerned about our marriage which is having problems, that God is concerned about all these things which for us are not petty at all. God wants us to come and persistently ask him in prayer.

Well, I love that story about this woman. I can see this woman coming up to Jesus and saying, “Heal my child.” And Jesus gives her the silent treatment. How often do we get silence from God. But silence is not to intimidate us.

And so she says again, “Jesus, please heal my child.” Jesus replies, “I am busy healing the Jews first. The Greeks come later.” She said, “I need help now.” She was not intimidated by the apparent busyness of Jesus.

She again persisted, “Please, heal my child.” Jesus replied, “Woman, you are like a yelping puppy. Yelp. Yelp. Yelp. Yelp. Yelp. You are like a yelping puppy under my table.”

The woman laughed and said, “Well, you feed a yelping dog and you shut him up. How about me?”

Jesus said, “Great is your faith. Your daughter is healed.”

That is the way we ought to pray.


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