Ethnic Reconciliation ~ 20200607 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
06/07 Obey Jesus; Go Global with The Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200607_global-gospel.mp3
We are disciples of Jesus who obey everything Jesus taught, who are called to make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught. In light of the deep divide that is tearing at our nation today, I want to look at what Jesus taught about ethnic divides.
A Syrophonecian Gentile Canaanite Woman
I want to start with a troubling story from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Jesus had fed 5,000, and Pharisees and Scribes had come from Jerusalem to criticize his ministry. After confronting and offending them, pointing to their heart issues that make them unclean, it says
Jesus went away and withdrew. Mark tells us that Jesus ‘entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden’ (Mk.7:24). Jesus is attempting to withdraw with his disciples, to get out of the spotlight so he can invest in them.
Mark records that this ‘woman was a Gentile, a Syrophonecian by birth’ (Mk.7:26). The Gentile Canaanites were one of the peoples God commanded his people to drive out under Joshua as they went in to possess the land, lest they be ensnared by their worship practices;
This woman was descended from some of those people that Israel failed to drive out, that became ‘a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes’ (Josh.23:13). This ethnic divide ran deep, and understand, it was an ethnic divide that God himself created when he chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his own people.
This woman is crying out to him for mercy, and he is silent. But she is persistent. His ignoring her becomes so awkward, that his disciples attempt to intervene.
Jesus continues to ignore her and answers his own disciples. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Remember Zacchaeus, the filthy tax collector?
Jesus described his own mission as ‘to seek and to save the lost. And Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham. He was one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
When Jesus had sent out his twelve back in Matthew 10, he instructed them:
This Canaanite Gentile is outside the scope of his mission. He was not sent to her. But he had come into Gentile territory. He was there. And something we can’t see through the text is his facial expression. We can’t hear his tone. It’s like reading a text message. Be careful not to misinterpret the words.
And pay attention to what he does not do. He does not send her away, as his disciples suggested. It is not clear whether they meant to send her away with or without the miracle she requested. They may have wanted him to just give her what she asked to get rid of her. They were clearly annoyed and didn’t really care about her.
But Jesus cares deeply about people. He is having this conversation in front of her. He makes her feel that she is outside. He did not come for her. But he is not only pushing her, he is pushing his own disciples to deeper understanding.
She will not relent. She has a need, her daughter. His words didn’t drive her away, rather they drew her closer. He was sent to sheep, lost sheep. She is willing to humble herself, to come close to him and kneel. She originally addressed him from a distance as ‘O Lord, Son of David,’ but she has no claim to access him as the Davidic king, so she simply addresses him as Lord, ‘Lord, help me.’
Ouch! This sounds so harsh. It comes across as if he is calling her a dog. But something that doesn’t come through clearly in our English translation is that he uses the diminutive form of the word ‘dog’ in the original, which softens the blow. It is still a blow, but it is softened. He uses the word ‘little dog’ or puppy. Most dogs in Israel were wild scavenging mangy street dogs, but his reference is to a house dog that is part of the family. And he is answering her in a parable. The children are God’s chosen people. The bread is the blessings and provision of God for his people. She understands his parable and offers no objection. She agrees. But even the house dogs in their turn are fed.
Jesus said that it would not be right to deprive the children in order to feed the dog. She agrees, but argues that there is no deprivation with Jesus, but rather excess. The table he sets is full and overflows. She meets his diminutive ‘little dogs’ with her own diminutive ‘little crumbs. Little crumbs for little dogs. She implies that the casting out of a demon and the healing of the sick was for Jesus merely a little crumb, something small from his overflowing surplus, that took nothing away from the children. She would be content with a little nothing of a miracle.
Jesus not only healed her daughter from a distance, but also commended her faith. This Canaanite Gentile believed in Jesus to a greater extent than so many of his own people.
A Roman Centurion
This story is parallel to Matthew 8, where another Gentile, a Roman Centurion came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. It would be Roman soldiers under the direction of a centurion who would nail him to the cross. We are not told the ethnicity of the servant, but Jesus does not object; he offers to come to his house to heal him.
‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’ This centurion was also willing to humble himself. He willingly acknowledged his own unworthiness, as well as the omnipotent power of Jesus’ word. He believed in him.
The only two people commended in Matthew for their great faith were a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman. And Jesus goes so far as to say that the unbelieving sons of the kingdom will be thrown out to make room for those coming from the east and the west who will eat at the table in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus pictures an ethnically diverse crowd of those who truly believe in him seated together around his table.
House of Prayer for All The Nations
The thing that stirred Jesus to anger, that stirred him to drive people out of the temple with a whip was that his ‘house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers’ (Mk.11:17). Jesus passionately opened access to every nation to seek the Lord in prayer.
Any who come to Jesus must acknowledge that they have no right to him. We must humble ourselves and ask for his mercy, a good gift we don’t deserve. We don’t demand or presume, we plead. Lord be merciful to me a sinner! Lord, please do not give me what I deserve! I humbly ask for mercy, a good gift that is the opposite of what I have earned.
Jesus was sent first to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But his mission was bigger than that. He commissioned his disciples to
Jesus intended his original Jewish disciples to make disciples beginning in Jerusalem but extending to all nations, to the end of the earth. And his disciples followed this pattern, ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (Rom.1:16). Even Paul, who was commissioned to preach the good news to the Gentiles, started by reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue, but when the good news was rejected by them,
The good news of the Jewish Messiah was to be proclaimed to the Jew first, and then to the non-Jew.
Other Sheep Not of This Fold
In John 10, Jesus uses a different metaphor.
Jesus has sheep of another fold. But they are all just sheep. And what characterizes his sheep is that they listen to his voice. His diverse sheep included a Canaanite woman and a Roman centurion. And he intends for us to be one flock under one shepherd. He intends for us his sheep to be one.
Ethnic Reconciliation and Unity
The revelation worship song to the Lamb is this:
As it says in Ephesians 2
He has made us both one. In his own flesh he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross. He has killed the hostility. This is the good news. We must all humbly receive it as a gift we don’t deserve. How dare we try to resurrect ethnic hostility that he was crucified to abolish?
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org