#winning

Today’s Scripture:  Matthew 15:21-28

Matthew15The best I can tell, there is only one place in the gospels where someone wins an argument against Jesus.

Jesus has just been arguing with the Pharisees, besting them every time. He withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon, way up north on the Mediterranean coast. There he runs into a Canaanite woman who wants Jesus to heal her daughter. She annoys his disciples with her pestering. “Send her away!” they tell Jesus.

Instead, Jesus starts an argument with her.

“I’m only sent for Israel,” he says, in essence. The implication:  “I’m not sent for you.”  This woman is, after all, an outsider. She is not Jewish. She is also a she, which makes her a double-outsider of sorts.*

But she persists.  She keeps asking.

Then Jesus says something really mean: “It’s not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (15:26).

What? Did he just call her a dog? This is so unlike the Jesus we’ve read about in Matthew’s gospel up to this point – the Jesus who is always healing outsiders and talking with the unpopular.

One theory to explain these uncharacteristically harsh words is that Jesus is role-playing. He doesn’t really mean this, but he’s saying what his disciples are thinking in order to make a point. He’s acting as a living parable, so to speak. This argument feels kind of weak to me, honestly, until I consider what happens next:

The Canaanite woman wins.

This never happens. Jesus is consistently calm, cool, and collected in the face of verbal confrontation. He answers a tricky question with an even trickier question. He tells a story that leaves his opponent speechless. Jesus always wins.

But not here.

“Even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table,” the woman replies. Then Jesus affirms her by praising her faith and healing her daughter.

Is Jesus mean to the woman on purpose, to set this interaction up? Did he plan for her to win, with his disciples watching? Did he know that this moment would impress them so much that they would remember it and pass the story on to us?

This what Jesus’ ministry was all about.  Through his loss, outsiders like us are able to win.

Jesus died so that we could live.
Jesus lost so that we could win.

As Christ’s followers, we are called to continue this tradition.

We must lose
(our pride, our fear, our comfort zones…)
so that the outsiders may win.


* Many thanks to Delmer Chilton and John Fairless for their Lectionary Lab Commentary and its helpful insights that shaped this sermon.

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