A few years back my oldest daughter was getting married out in Jacksonville the weekend after Thanksgiving. We had made preparations to have out Thanksgiving meal out there. My wife, youngest daughter and soon to be in-laws were all gathering for our meal, which we had procured at Publix (weddings leave little time for holiday cooking). My youngest daughter (who shall remain nameless even though her name is Janelle) brought her dog, Zooey, on the trip.
At one point, while we were all setting up the table, my new son-in-law’s dad came out from the kitchen and announced, in a rather matter of fact way, that the dog was eating the turkey. I almost pushed him down to get past him and into the kitchen where I discovered, true to the description, Zooey with a large portion of the turkey on the floor. She had already consumed an entire drumstick…bone and all. No trace of it was left. Shooing the dog away, I hastily tried to straighten out the remaining turkey on the platter, looked at my brand new in-law and said with a smile, “Welcome to the family”.
Dogs wanna’ eat too. I tell that story because of what we’re going to be reading this Sunday as we return to our study in Matthew’s gospel. We’ll be picking up where we left off, reading Matt 15:21-28.
I am clearly the poster child for bad planning, because this is not the sort of passage one wants to resume a study with. And yet…here we are.
This is a distressing section of Scripture. We are confronted with a Jesus who seems strange to us; uncharacteristically distant and even apparently rude. He and his disciples have left Israel and are 50 miles north in the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, which is modern day Lebanon. What do you suppose they went to the coast for? Even Jesus knows there are times when you just need to escape to the beach.
While there, a local woman calls out for Jesus’ help on behalf of her demonized daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her, but remains silent.
Jesus’ response and statements about and to this woman are perplexing – they have been since he spoke them, I guess. We’ll look at that a bit more closely in our study – but for now, consider this woman. Have you ever had anyone give you the silent treatment? How did it make you feel? Have you ever felt like heaven was silent when you were calling out for help? What did you do in those times? What does this woman do?
When Jesus finally does interact with her, he uses an illustration that puts her in the same role as a dog. He doesn’t call her a dog, but that’s of little comfort when we consider the implications. Have you ever prayed and extended your faith for God’s help, only to find the situation get’s more difficult? How did this woman handle Jesus’ statement?
What lessons can we learn about faith – faith that’s not easy, exercised in a world that is not easy on us either. In what ways can she inspire us when we feel frustrated by God’s silence or by circumstances that seem to be against us?
This is a challenging section, and not a good one if we’re looking for easy answers. However, I think we’ll benefit from this story if we are willing to allow God to fine-tune our expectations and illuminate different avenues of grace. Hope to see you Sunday!