Mercy is Better Than What I Deserve - Sunday of the Canaanite Woman

Though I have a tendency to push limits and resist authority initially, I‘m much more of a rule follower than not. I’m not saying I am happy about being under authority, but I usually honor it.

I also have (believe it or not) a real respect for the authority of process. Generally speaking, I understand that entry-level employees will have to work to get higher paying and better positions. This is just how it works.

There was one time, however, that I personally violated this rule. Before I came to work for Y2AM and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I worked for a social service agency as a case manager. I grew tired of my work since I’m trained as a clinician, and instead I asked if I could be considered for a promotion, despite being relatively new at the company and not even having a license (yet) to practice in Arizona.

Amazingly, the company agreed.

Even though I left the company shortly after that to come work for Y2AM, the situation struck me: maybe there are some things we need to press against.

Now, I think there is a difference between being entitled and the kind of social resistance I’m talking about here.  There’s a difference between thinking you deserve special treatment, and asking for mercy.

When I went to the powers-that-be at the company and asked them to make all kinds of exceptions for me, I realized that I was asking from a position of utter undeserving.

I hadn’t put in my time.

I hadn’t even been that great of a case manager.

I just went before them knowing what I wanted, asking for them to be gracious with me.

And it worked.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading has always baffled me, because it seems like Christ is being difficult with someone who really needs His help, and asks so persistently.

At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed 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 after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
And he answered, "It is not fair 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 master's 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 15:21-28)

This is one of those readings where, if you didn’t know Jesus was likely “up to something,” it might be really easy to get frustrated with Him.

Every time I read Him say, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” I can’t help but think, “How rude! Jesus! This woman needs you, and you’re calling her a dog?”

Even more amazing, however, is the fact that the woman doesn’t get upset by it. She actually kind of rolls with it. It might be easy to assume that this woman has some serious self-esteem issues, letting Jesus call her a dog and all, but there’s actually more going on here.

This woman is a Gentile, coming to ask the Jewish Messiah for a miracle. He responds that He is there for the people of Israel, the chosen People of God.

And the Canaanite woman doesn’t argue or object.  She willingly takes a posture of active humility, accepting her low status as a Gentile woman. She asks, not for a seat at the table, but for crumbs.

And that’s the point: her lowliness does not prevent her from asking the Lord to be gracious to her; it actually compels her implore the Lord repeatedly.

We seem to think that the Lord only really hears the prayers of the righteous, of those who have ascended the heights of holiness. This woman, however, demonstrates that holiness, and true humility, is revealed in lowliness.

​Declaring herself to be small, the Lord calls her faith great!

We may think that the Lord is only interested in what we have to say if we have devoted ourselves to prayer, fasting, and other ascetic work. And He may be, but if He is inclined to us, it is only because these labors have opened our eyes to perceive our own lowliness before Him.

The Lord is eager to be gracious to us; He desires to show mercy on sinners. The problem is that we are often too busy trying to look like we have it all together, too busy trying to earn promotions in the Kingdom of God.

Success in the Kingdom doesn’t look like success in the corporate world. We can’t “earn” our salvation in the way that we might earn a pay raise. We can’t confidently hand in a resume, satisfied that we’ve done all the right things to claim a new position.

Rather than reach for goals we believe we already deserve, we benefit by accepting our unworthiness before the Lord. We’re not high-powered executives marching into the boardroom; we’re dogs begging for scraps.

Not because we don’t have self-esteem, but because showing mercy on those who earned it would be nothing great. Instead, Christ’s love is so magnificent, and His grace so rich, because it is unearned. Because He bestows it upon the lowest of the low, those who meekly ask rather than forcefully claim, those who know they deserve nothing more than crumbs.

And yet, it is precisely those people that Christ hears, precisely those people that He lifts up off the ground and seats at His table.

It is mercy because it is undeserved.

Photo Credit:

Business: Charles Crosbie via Compfight cc

Dog: hodge via Compfight cc

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.