Romans 11 / Proper 15A / 17 August 2014

On to chapter 11 in Romans and running along with it, a Canaanite woman who seeks the Lord’s mercy and gets treated like a dog.

The question on the rhetorical table for Paul is, “Has God rejected His people?” namely the Israelites, the blood descendants of Abraham by way of Isaac. And the answer is a resounding “No!” First of all, Paul himself is an Israelite, a card-carrying descendant of Abraham of the tribe of Benjamin. He’s an insider who became, by the grace of God, the apostle to the outsiders, the Gentiles.

Second, God always reserves a faithful remnant, seven thousand at the time of Elijah who was convinced he was the only faithful Israelite left on the face of the earth. Even then, at the height of Israel’s apostasy and unfaithfulness, God had His 7000.

Third, at the time of Paul, God still had His faithful remnant, all the believing Israelites who confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, including many priests and teachers of the Torah. And we might add in our own day by extension, all believing Jews today who confess Jesus to be the Ha Maschiach, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. There are plenty of them around. They are part of that faithful remnant of Israel that clings to the promise of God by faith and not by works, faith in Christ.

But what about the rest? What about all those descendants of Abraham through Isaac, those members of the tribe of Benjamin and the other eleven tribes? What about them? What about those who booted Paul out of the synagogue and had him arrested and beaten and jailed for preaching Jesus? What about the people who stoned Stephen or clamored for the death of James or who silenced, or attempted to silence, Peter and John from preaching the name of Jesus? What about those who cast out those who confessed Christ from their synagogues and cursed them?

Paul’s answer in Romans 11: “God gave them a spirit of stupor” (He gave them the spirit of stupidity), “eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” God didn’t cause their unbelief and rejection of Jesus. But God used their unbelief and rejection and responded to it. He hardened their hearts, closed their minds, blinded their eyes, and shut their ears as a warning to you and to me. Do not ever take the grace and mercy of God lightly. You may take it for granted, because it is an undeserved gift of grace. But you may never take it lightly. If someone rescues you from the rip tide, you do not go running back into the waters again so you can be hauled out on the beach a second time. If someone pulls you from a burning building, you do not run back into the building again because hey, that was a lot of fun being carried out by a fireman. If God rescues you from Sin, Death, and devil, from the Law and grants you the gift of faith, do you return to Sin, Death, and devil and the Law and destroy your faith? Of course not.

As St. Paul says, “Don’t be proud, you believers, but fear.” If God will do that to His own people, His own nation, don’t think He won’t do the same to you if you forsake the faith He has given you.

God uses everything in His plan of salvation. He uses the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and the rejection of His own people. Everything serves His purpose of salvation. He even takes unbelief and makes it an instrument of instruction and of mercy in His own hands and He makes an example of those who would reject His kindness.

So what does He do? Like a master gardener, God takes the pruning shears and cuts off the dead branches of Israel. He breaks off the dead and fruitless branches of the olive tree called Israel, and He grafts into that wound a wild shoot, an undomesticated breed, the nations, the goyim, the Gentiles, of whom that Canaanite with a sick daughter was one. You and I are part of that. We’re wild shoots. We’re an undomesticated breed of believer. We are not of God’s people by heritage. We are of God’s people by faith. We are the outsiders, the uncircumcised, the ones the Jews of Jesus’ day would have called “dirty dogs.”

Here’s the mystery. The hidden thing. A hardening has come upon part of Israel, a large part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. God has used the unbelief and rejection of the Jews to make room for the Gentiles in His Israel, His church, and to show the world that truly salvation is by grace through faith apart from works. You don’t deserve to be here. Nor do I. Nor does anyone. It is by grace you have been saved, a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. It is by grace that you are here this morning, by grace that you hear the Word of faith preached to you, by grace that you receive the sign of God’s grace in Christ in the Body and Blood.

Does the grafted branch have anything to boast about? No. It’s a wild branch grafted into another branch’s root. The church, God’s Israel of the end times, is a mixed group of Gentile and Israelite branches but the root stock is pure Israelite, digging down deep to the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob going all the way back to the first promise to Adam and to Eve of deliverance by the seed of the woman.

You and I are privileged beyond measure. We don’t appreciate nearly how privileged we are. The unbelief of Israel is the wound into which we have been grafted by the grace of God. And if God can do that with a wild, undomesticated pagan branch, with a people who were not His people and not loved, how much easier will it be to graft back in an Israelite branch? You know what this means? Never, ever give up on the Jewish people. Never. They are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs and the promise of God to Abraham. They are God’s elect people, selected from among all the peoples of the world to bring forth the Christ in the fullness of time. They are Jesus’ brothers and sisters according to the flesh. They are the natural branch that is so easily grafted back into their own tree. Never give up on them because God has never given up on them. That’s one of the abiding miracles in world history today, the continuation of the Jews. You cannot get rid of them because God has never given up on them.

You might say that God has taken care of them rather uniquely. Yes, the temple is destroyed and a mosque sits on its land. God is taking care of His people. That’s a blessing. God even uses the Muslims to do His work. God doesn’t want or need a temple in Jerusalem. The flesh of Christ is the true temple where He wishes to be worshiped. He’s scattered the Jewish people and they hold the land called “Israel” today with the most tenuous of grasps, held not by faith but with military might.

The gifts and the promises of God are irrevocable. God does not go back on His word. If they turn to Him, they will find a Savior in Jesus who has always been turned to them, who cries out to them with open arms saying, “Come to me, you who are burdened by the Law. I will give you rest.” He says, “Jersualem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” Don’t blame me, it’s your damn fault. Literally. You would not. He would. He wants His people.

You were disobedient apart from faith and you are disobedient apart from faith but you have received mercy. They are disobedient apart from faith, and now God calls them home to receive mercy, like a prodigal son coming to his father reeking of the pigpen of the Gentile. No deals, just grace and mercy and undeserved kindness and a forgiveness and a party they do not deserve. Nor do we.

“It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” How hard those words of Jesus must have sounded! How hard they must have been to hear! She’d been called a dog all her life by the Jews, this descendent of Cain the murderer of his brother, this outsider. And now this dog has the audacity to come up to Jesus (a woman coming up to a man in public, a Canaanite coming up to a Jew) and speak to Him as though she was a Jew. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” (Son of David is an Israelite way of speaking; she’s no Israelite. She’s a dog, a Canaanite dog, get it?) Her little girl was sick; she had a demon. She had no one else to turn to. She came to Jesus. She begged Him, “Have mercy, Son of David.” Jesus won’t even look at her. He doesn’t say a word to her.

And the disciples approve. In their narrow, bigoted, limited view of the mercies of God, as members of the Israelite country club that excluded everyone but the pedigree insiders, they approved. “Tell her to get out of her, she’s crying after us, she’s bugging us. Do something, Jesus.”

And Jesus seems to agree when He says to them, not to her. She hears it. He’s talking to the disciples. He won’t look at her. Will not acknowledge her existence. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She knows she’s been busted. He knows who and what she is. She has nothing, no claim on Him. And she simply kneels before Him like a beggar and says, “Lord, help me.” And even here, Jesus seems to kick her when she’s down. “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But wait! Jesus uses a funny word there. Kunarion. A diminutive. Little dog. House dog. Lap dog. Not the dirty dogs that roamed the garbage dump, the little pet dog. Dogs were part of the household. Little dogs. Did she catch that? Was there a glimmer of hope in that racial slur?

Her words reflect Jesus’ words to her. “Yes, Lord. But even the little house dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” They’re part of the house. She holds Jesus to His words and the thin shred of hope that He offers her in that little word kunarion, like a hungry dog under the table begging for scraps. But Jesus has much more than scraps to give her.

“O woman, great is your faith!” Faith that was not seen among His own people, even His own disciples. Faith that sees God’s “yes” inside of His “no” and clings to His word and won’t let go of it. She’s a wild branch grafted onto Israelite rootstock. A believing Canaanite. A true Israelite of faith. “Let it be done for you as you desire,” He says. And her daughter was healed and at peace from the demons that very hour.

A Canaanite with great faith! A grateful and believing little dog in the house of the Lord. It’s OK to be a dog in God’s house. It’s good to be a dog in the house of the Lord. The crumbs that fall from the master’s table are rich in mercy and grace and forgiveness and life. The outsider is an insider by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. That’s the good news for us Gentile dogs. We’re members of the household! And we ought to go and thank our Jewish friends. Thank them that their people brought forth the Messiah, the Savior of the world. We Gentile dogs owe them a debt of gratitude.

St. Paul ends chapter 11 with a whopper. It’s arguably one of the greatest verses in the Scriptures. I think it should be on everybody’s desktop, on their computer. I think it should be on everybody’s business card. I think it should be all over the place. On your doorposts. On your wrists. Bind them to your forehead. It summarizes in one sentence everything that Paul as said up to this point and brings this section of Romans to its completion: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.” Note the “all” – all are disobedient under the Law: the good, the bad, the Jew, the Gentile, the religious, the unreligious, you religious people, those unreligious people out there, all are disobedient under the Law and condemned. All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, all are condemned. In order that God may have mercy upon all. All are justified freely by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God has put forward as an atoning sacrifice by His blood, to be received by faith.

Under the Law, all have sinned and are disobedient. Under the Gospel, God has mercy upon all. The Jew, the Gentile, the Israelite, the Canaanite, the child of God’s house, the dogs in God’s house, you.

What else can you say in view of that except what Paul says:

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.”

In the Name of Jesus,