RCL Year A Proper 15 Alternate Readings
Isaiah 56:1 and 6-8, Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a and 29-32, Saint Matthew 15:21-28

The Gospel today, Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, endures as one of the most encouraging Gospels we have. For it is not often that a person contends with Jesus and wins. Her victory, however, comes within the bounds that Jewish exclusivism opens to admit Gentiles. And it comes within the bounds Christians have to welcome everyone. Remember our mission statement: “Serving Christ and others with open hearts, minds, and doors.”

You remember how Jesus expresses the Jewish exclusivism. The Canaanite woman asks him to heal her daughter, and he refuses. The disciples urge him to send her away—she keeps shouting after them. And Jesus gives the signature line of Jewish exclusivism, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[1]

She begs him again. He doubles down and says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”[2] I am sure you understand correctly. The “children’s food” is his ministry, and the “dogs” are the Canaanites and, more generally, the Gentiles.

It is her reply that wins the day and wins Jesus’ heart. She intrepidly says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”[3] In other words, she says to Jesus that even though he may have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, his ministry can benefit her—he can heal her daughter. Jesus replies, “Woman, great is your faith!”[4]

Jewish exclusivism was just so. You heard it in the Old Testament Lesson. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”[5] Anyone with the faith to do it can walk into the Temple and worship. Foreigners can do it. Canaanites can do it. And the Canaanite woman does it in the Gospel today. She insists on her right to be faithful, and Jesus relents and cures her daughter.

To enlarge this to our own experience is very easy. We need to remember that because everyone has a right to be faithful, we have no right to constrain anyone. Everyone has a right to be faithful, to pray, and to work out his or her salvation. It does not matter who she or he is, or what he or she has done. There is no litmus test before someone joins us in faith. We have no monopoly. The crumbs under our Master’s table give life to all.

[1] Saint Matthew 15:24.

[2] Saint Matthew 15:26.

[3] Saint Matthew 15:27.

[4] Saint Matthew 15:28.

[5] Isaiah 56:7.