Sunday, May 11, 2014

Feeding the Dogs [Part 2]

Do you ever feel like God isn’t listening? That’s what this woman had to deal with:
“Jesus … withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:21-24)
In my previous post, I wondered how the Lord’s delay in responding to the woman’s need — or even acknowledging her — was consistent with his character, and how it served the purposes of God.

I wondered: If the Lord responds to the woman immediately and grants her request, what’s the difference? What exactly is lost?

So I tried to point out yesterday that we lose an important lesson about the priority of the Father’s will.

But we lose a couple of other things, I think.

The Importance of the Canaanite Woman’s Humility

Bear in mind they are near Tyre, a Canaanite region beyond the borders of Israel. Nowadays that would put them between 12 and 20 miles into Lebanon. Tyre’s most famous claim to fame, if we recall, is the use of its king as an illustration of the character and wickedness of Satan himself. Though the days of Tyre’s infamy and worldly glory are long past at this point, it is clear the Lord is very, very far from home. In any case — short version — the spirit of Tyre is the spirit of defiance, self-sufficiency and independence. Symbolically, at least, the Lord is explicitly in enemy territory (even more so than usual).

This is, needless to say, the opposite of what we see in this Canaanite woman. When we meet her, she is begging. But one can ask for help without truly having hit bottom.

And if the Lord does not delay his response to the woman, neither we nor the disciples get to see that this is the case. Much more importantly, the woman herself needs to realize she has come to the end of her options. It’s the point we all need to come to with respect to the Lord. There is no other way.     

Many people call on God, but only insofar as they consider him one of a number of options. Naaman was like this. Confronted with bathing in the Jordan to be healed of his leprosy, he suddenly thought of all the other possibilities he’d prefer to explore first.

Not this woman. She was at the end of her rope:
“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:25-28)
When the Lord, in effect, calls the Canaanite woman a “dog”, a person with even a shred of dignity and independence to draw on would bristle with offence. But far from being insulted, she takes the metaphor and runs with it. “Yes, Lord,” she replies, in two words conceding her agreement and acknowledging his position.

If the Lord does not delay his response to the woman’s need, we miss the opportunity to see her come to the place we all need to arrive at in order for the Lord to work in our lives.

When we come to the Lord, no residue of Tyre-ish independence can be left intact: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

The Importance of Understanding God’s Character

When she first began begging, it is evident that the Canaanite woman understood that the Lord Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel. She calls him “Son of David”, so that much is clear. But as the Lord told the disciples, that in itself was not going to help her since he was there only for the “lost sheep of Israel”.

And if the Lord does not delay his response to her, we don’t find out how much deeper her faith is than that.

Because, by faith, the woman then appeals to the Lord, not as Israel’s Messiah, but as the representative of a God who blesses ALL who truly seek him, Jew or Gentile. She says, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”.

How much did she know of the history of God’s dealings with Gentiles? Quite possibly next to nothing. But her faith spoke for her. And if I can (massively) paraphrase, I think it said something like this:

“I’m not here to appeal to the Messiah of Israel. I don’t want anything that belongs to the people of God. I’m not here to appeal to THAT God. I’m here to appeal to the God of Rahab, the God of Naaman, the God of Ruth. I’m here to appeal to the God of the Gibeonites. I’m here to appeal to a God who loves his enemies, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. I’m appealing to a God who lets the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table. I’m appealing to a God who’s been feeding the dogs throughout all of history. THAT’s who I’m appealing to!”

Faith can be quite eloquent that way. It says things we don’t know and can’t verbalize.

And seeing her faith, the Lord effectively responds, “Well, in THAT case ...” The woman’s daughter is not just healed, but instantly healed.

So what do we miss if the Lord does not delay his response to this woman?

I think we miss a lot. We miss the importance of the Father’s will. We miss the importance of humility. And we miss the importance of understanding God’s character.

And we miss the spirit of Mephibosheth who, confronted with provision, blessing and a position of honour instead of certain execution, said to King David, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

It is good to remember that we are all the beneficiaries of the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.

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