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God is Their God Too!
Mt. 15:21-28
Debbie in Bangor

Let me introduce myself, my name is Gabrielle, and I live in the land of Sidon. And I want to tell you a story. It is a story that is often told in my family, the story of the day my great-grandmother approached Jesus. Like most stories, memories are faded, parts have been embellished and parts have been left out. Sometimes I even wonder if it happened at all. But from the little I can remember of my great-grandmother, it does seem so like her, that boldness, that faith. She was like a dog with a bone, once she knew what she wanted, and how to get it, she sunk her teeth into it and didn’t let go until she got what she was after. I even remember vaguely her telling me this story, as I sat on her knee, about how Jesus saved my grandmother’s life, and that is why I was here today. Nana- that’s what we called her- Nana would hold me so tight and close, so I could smell her clothes, and her voice would soften as she told about Jesus. I was too young to remember the details of what she told me; mostly I remember just the way her eyes would light up from some inner source as she talked about him, and about that day. But the rest of the family tells the story to this day. It all started with my grandmother, my Nana’s daughter. She had been tormented by a demon, who caused her shout at times uncontrollably, to run out into the streets not knowing where she was going, and to sometimes try to hurt herself or others. My Nana did not know what to do; she had taken her to all the magic men and the different priest and priestess of the gods and goddess in the area; none of them could drive this demon away. My Nana ached to help her daughter, she loved her so much, and there seemed to be nothing she could do to ease her daughter’s pain. Night and day Nana tried to comfort her daughter, to spare her the pain she was feeling inside and the ridicule and shunning she experienced from those around her. Nana’ s husband even began to avoid his own daughter out of fear. It was especially bad with the small Jewish community in the area; they would not only call her unclean since she wasn’t Jewish, but would whisper behind their backs that they had brought it on themselves. Oh, the nights my Nana cried, hoping for some way run this evil spirit from her beloved daughter. Nana began to hear talk of a healer, a man from the Galilee area who was performing great signs and deeds among the people there. She wondered if perhaps she should travel there to see him; perhaps she should bring her daughter to this man. But he was a Jew, surely he would not help them. How long had the Canaanites and the Jewish people hated each other? Ever since the Jewish people had driven the Canaanites out of their homes, when the Jews were fleeing Egypt? No, this Jewish healer would not help them, for the Jews would not even associate with the Canaanites. They won’t even talk to ‘our kind” if it is at all possible. No, Nana decided; she would not make the journey for nothing would come of it. This Jew, this subject of the House of David, he would not help her. Besides, hadn’t she already tried the healer’s here? What good would going to yet another god do? But Nana continued to hear of this Jesus, this man from Galilee. Stories continued to filter in as traders came back and forth about how he had healed a Roman centurion’s child, without even seeing the child! How he cured the lame, and even had cured lepers. But more importantly, she heard of his teachings. How the first shall be last and the last shall be first. How the poor and the others that society looked down on were actually blessed by God. And he not only ate with those his Jewish religion told him were unclean, undesirable and therefore should be avoided, but he actually called them to be part of his inner circle, his disciples and trusted friends. Nana began to think that this Jesus was more than just another healer, another magic man; she began to believe that he was somehow different than all those she had sought help from. Then she remembered the conversations she had with her friend Ruth when she was little. Ruth was Jewish, so neither of their parents wanted them to associate with each other, but the two of them would sneak off and hide behind the marketplace and play and talk. Ruth told her that someday a great Messiah would come and save the Jewish people. He would be from the line of the great King David of Israel, and would be known as the Son of David. This Messiah would do great things, and would come to save the people of Israel, and through them, all the nations. Perhaps this Jesus was him, the Jewish Messiah? Oh how she wished Ruth was still there to ask, to check. But Ruth and she had grown apart, as they grew older and they became more involved with their own religions. Now, if she passed Ruth and her husband on the street, Ruth would not even acknowledge that she was there. So my grandmother tried to remember on her own, Then one day, the Jewish people around town became excited-Jesus was said to be coming! My Nana said she doesn’t know how or why, but right then and there she knew that this was the Son of David, this was the Messiah. And she says she knew that this was not only the Jewish Messiah, but that Jesus was also here Lord. So she resolved to meet him, to ask him for his help for her daughter. So as she watched, and saw him and his disciples draw closer to town and the crowds around him start to build. And she set off after him. Now some in my family said she was afraid and put on a false bravado; for what if Jesus wouldn’t help her, wouldn’t drive this demon from her daughter and grant them all peace. Others say she was just being her usual brash self, going after what she wanted, and with gusto. In either case, she approached Jesus, shouting “Lord Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a devil” Whether he could not hear her over the others or if he chose to ignore her, Jesus did not answer. So she began crying again and again “Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a devil” His disciples began to try to shoo her away, but my Nana would not leave. They finally turned to Jesus, and asked him to tell her to go away. Then I am told that Jesus answered his disciples cryptically. He didn’t tell them to send her away; but he said “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. My great-grandmother heard this; it is said that she immediately quieted down, and at the same time was able to reach Jesus. She prostrated herself before Jesus, asking simply “Lord, help me” It was the cry, the prayer of a mother who was desperate for her daughter, desperate for she now knew that this was the only source of help. All the gods and goddesses she had prayed to and made offerings to before were false idols. Here stood the Son of David, the Son of God, the only true God. She lay all her hope and her faith that God, through Jesus, would free her daughter from this pain. Here is where the story starts to be told differently. All agree that Jesus answered her ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” Now some of my family say that when Jesus said this it was with compassion, perhaps even regret in his voice, as if he wanted to help her, but because she wasn’t Jewish, he couldn’t. Others say Jesus spoke this with the contempt common of Jews to the Canaanites, that he was calling her nothing but a dog. And some say he said this almost emotionless and with an eyes to his disciples, to see how they would react. Ah, but no matter how he said it, my Nana was a smart and quick woman; and she had faith that Jesus not only could, but would drive this demon from her daughter. Twice she had been turned away, but my grandmother persisted. She KNEW Jesus was the Son of God, and she knew Jesus would help her, some how. And Jesus was right, he had come to save the chosen people of God, the people of the covenant at Mount Sinai and with Abraham. Even though she was not part of the covenanted people, even though Jesus was their Messiah and had to come to them so that all nations could be blessed through their light, my Nana had faith that Jesus would not abandon her. So Nana replied “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” For she knew that she could not ask for more than what could be given to the Jewish people. For at that time, it is said she knew that God was a faithful loving God, and God would no more break the promise to the Jewish people that they would be His people and that God would be their God. God would not abandon the Jews, and take their salvation away to give to others. But she also knew that God’s love had no limits, God’s mercy and grace no bounds- there was plenty there for her, and for all. So if all she could get were the crumbs, then fine, for the little bit that fell to her would be beyond what she could imagine. It was no longer merely about her daughter’s healing; it was about who Jesus was, and what it meant to her. And then Jesus’ whole tone changed- did she teach him something new? Had she passed some test of his? Or had he been trying to show his disciples that their prejudices, their preconceived notions about who God would save and help and who God wouldn’t had to be lost? I don’t know, as I said, the stories contradict and get fuzzy in this area. But that is not what is important to me. it is my Nana’s faith, her persistence in it. Jesus called to her affectionately and said “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish!” And my grandmother, Nana’s daughter was instantly freed, freed from the demon who had ravaged her for so long. No longer would my grandmother run out into the street screaming, or be driven to try to beat her head against a rock. My Nana’s faith was well-founded. Jesus is the Son of God, and through him, my grandmother was healed. And that one act, that one act of faith, has affected my family to this day. Of course there is the obvious that I would not be here if my grandmother had not been healed. But something more important happened. Through the telling of this story, through the reliving of that day, members of my family have been granted that faith also, that assurance that Jesus is their Savior, and that God is their God. The light that came to bless that Jewish people has blessed my family. And today, today I tell this story, for I know that faith in God is not misplaced, it is rewarded. Oh not always as directly as my Nana experienced. But even she would have told you that the healing of her daughter was an extra, not the reward or the benefit of her faith in Jesus that day. It was when she knelt down before him, and asked so simply “Lord help me” that she was given the most important gift, the gift of blessed assurance that God loved her, even though she was called unclean by the Jews, even though she supposedly wasn’t part of the covenanted people, she was still one of God’s children. So I share Nana’s story with you, not to give you some historical account of what happened- for as I said, memories can get fuzzy, and people can see things differently. But I tell you the story, the story of faith so that maybe you too will join us, and find out that God loves us all, even those of us that you might consider dogs.