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a sermon on Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28

The story of the Canaanite woman is one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament. Almost every sermon I have heard on this passage focuses on Jesus and why he reacted to the woman the way that he did. These sermons seek to answer questions like: If the gospel is for the whole world, why did Jesus say that he only came for the lost sheep of Israel? Why does Jesus seem to compare the Canaanite woman to a dog? And, why did Jesus ignore her cries for help at first? I understand why sermons on this passage seem to focus on Jesus’s actions. It is a confusing story in which Jesus doesn’t seem to behave in a very Jesus-like manner at first. Preachers preach on that part of the text because it is the part that is the hardest to understand. We grapple with it. We wrestle. We want to make sense of it. I’ve heard some pretty amazing sermons about this story and Jesus’s role in it, but I don’t want to focus on that today.

The last time I preached about this passage, I focused on the Canaanite woman and on her profound faith that the crumbs from Jesus’s table would be enough for her. She wasn’t deterred by being ignored. She didn’t give up when she didn’t immediately receive what she needed. She was courageous, determined, and full of vibrant faith. In my own walk with Jesus, I want to be more like the Canaanite woman. I want to shake off fear and disappointment and discouragement and reach out in faith. Her faith inspires my faith. 

But, if I’m honest, I’m often a lot more like the disciples in this story. The disciples only have one line in this story, but it is a telling one. After the woman shouts out to Jesus for help, the disciples say this, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Can’t you just hear them? “Please, Jesus. Make her stop. She keeps shouting and shouting, and we’re tired of it. Send her away.” Jesus answered them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” At first, I thought this was dismissive of Jesus. Why would he respond in this way? However, the more I read Jesus’s response, the more I thought about the feeding of the 5,000, a story that comes only one chapter before this in the Gospel of Matthew. 

In Matthew 14, Jesus tried to escape the crowds by going to a deserted place. Rather than being able to get away, the crowds followed Jesus. In verse 14 we read that Jesus “had compassion for them and cured their sick.” In spite of his exhaustion, Jesus continued meeting the needs of the crowds until it was evening. The disciples seemed exasperated with Jesus. They approached him and they said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Send them away. Sound familiar? The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd away, but instead Jesus told them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Don’t send them away. YOU feed them. The disciples weren’t sure how to accomplish this. They didn’t have enough money to feed everyone, and the fish and bread they have was definitely not enough to go around with such a big crowd. Yet, when they listened to Jesus and served the crowd, there was so much more than enough. They collected basketsful of leftovers.

When the Canaanite woman shouted out after Jesus and Jesus didn’t respond to her, I can almost hear him saying to his disciples, “You give her something to eat. You meet her needs.” The disciples didn’t think there was enough to go around. Even though they had witnessed the miracle of the feeding of the crowd, they were still trapped in a mindset of scarcity. They couldn’t see the reality of the abundance of God’s kingdom. They couldn’t accept that the good news wasn’t just for the people of Israel – and I think it is because they were afraid that if they shared it, there wouldn’t be enough leftover for them. Theologian and prolific author Walter Bruggemann writes that a mature faith should not “inhabit a world of scarce good. Rather it resides in a creation of God’s good abundance.” In other words, as we grow in our faith, we recognize there is enough for everyone. God’s good gifts are not limited. If we share them with others, we don’t lose the good gifts God has given to us. In God’s kingdom, sharing doesn’t subtract anything from us. When we share, we will find there is more than enough. There will be basketsful of leftovers.

This is why the Canaanite woman’s faith is so astounding. She hadn’t witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. She hadn’t seen the way the bread and the fishes more than fed the crowd. She hadn’t been an eyewitness, and yet she knew that what Jesus offered was more than enough. She knew that if she received even a crumb from Jesus’s table that it would be a feast of abundance and life. She called out to Jesus because she knew that he was not limited by the ways of this world. Where Jesus was, there was more than enough for everyone.

This week we are continuing our series “Looking Back, Moving Forward,” and today we are looking at abundance. When we look back before all of these difficult and trying times began, we may be tempted to think that we have less today than we did yesterday. We might look back longingly to when days were different and things were easier or fuller, “Back then, we had it made.” Let’s acknowledge our losses. They are real. We are each carrying different burdens, and some of them are heavy. But, as we look forward, let’s be encouraged and inspired that in the kingdom of God, there is more than enough. Where the world tells us there is scarcity, there is enough for everyone and some left over. Where the world says it is impossible, God says all things are possible.

This week as we glance back and move forward, name your struggles and your doubts. Where are you feeling uncertain or discouraged? The disciples didn’t think there was enough for everyone to eat, and they didn’t think Jesus’s news was enough to be good news for the whole world. They felt limited and afraid to share. Where are we feeling that way in our lives? What limitations are you running up against? What are you afraid to share?

When I was younger, I would invite friends to come home with me for dinner. I usually forgot to ask my mom until I had already invited my friend over. Now that I’m the one making the meals, I think about how stressful that would’ve been for me. What if there wasn’t enough food for everyone? And yet, growing up, my mom always just set another place at the table. I don’t know if she was stressing on the inside about having enough for everyone, but she didn’t say so out loud. When we invited someone over, she simply sat another plate and chair at the table. And it was amazing to me that there was always enough.

Who is God calling you to share with? And what is God calling you to share? It may not be food or money, or maybe it is, but I am confident God is calling you to share of God’s abundance with someone in your life. Maybe that abundance can be shared in the form of a kind note of appreciation. Perhaps that abundance can be shared through grace and patience, rather than frustration and anger. Perhaps that abundance can be shared by giving something or someone your full attention, rather than distracted and scattered attention. This week, dare to dream of ways God might be calling you to share. 

The disciples didn’t seem to get it. They saw Jesus’s miracles first hand, but they continued to doubt. Time and again, they saw that what Jesus offered was so much more than enough, and yet they remained afraid to open their hands and share these gifts with the world. The Canaanite woman came from the outside, but she could see the new thing God was doing in the world. Sometimes I think we are so close to Jesus’s miracles that we don’t see how miraculous they really are. Take some time this week to remember the amazing things you’ve seen God do in your life and in the lives of others. Maybe even write them down, if it helps. We need to remember the ways God has fed us and healed our brokenness. As we look back and remember, we will be urged forward to go and do likewise. We do not have to be afraid to share God’s goodness. There is so much more than enough for everyone.

In her book Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans wrote this: “We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, Got got up.” Today and in the days ahead, let’s look back at the way Jesus lived and at the ways he has shown up in our lives. And then, let’s move forward with the assurance that there is so much more than enough – we just need to let go of our fear and share what we have. We will be amazed as goodness – just like the loaves and fishes – is multiplied and there are basketsful left over.