Matthew 15: 21 – 28 Check Your Ego at the Door August 30, 2020

Here is the sermon:


And the words:


Check Your Ego at the Door

Matthew 15: 21 – 28


(preached on August 30, 2020)



What do the popular singers Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Bolton have in common?  They were all brought together some years ago by a man named Quincy Jones.  Jones is one of the most respected personalities in the world of entertainment.  He’s a composer, promoter, performer, producer, and director: truly a man of many talents.


Jones has become known for his amazing ability to bring together superstars of the entertainment industry. He’s perhaps best known for the production of the hit recording “We Are the World.” That recording raised millions of dollars for aid in Africa.  Superstars aren’t generally the most humble people, but Jones convinced them to work together as a team.  How did he do this?  It was something very simple really.  At the entrance to the recording studio, he posted a sign that said, “Check your ego at the door!”


In our gospel passage for today, from Matthew, we find a woman who does something similar.  This woman makes a bold appeal to Jesus, but she has checked her ego at the door.  We don’t even know her name.  All we know is that she is desperate to find help for her daughter.  When she sees Jesus walking into her town, she runs up to him and cries, “Son of David, help me!  My daughter is suffering terribly.”


People listening to this story in Jesus’ day would have known from the get-go that this woman comes from a very different world.  She’s a Canaanite, which means she’s a gentile.  She doesn’t belong to Jesus’ community, the Jewish people.  In her religion, she worships idols, graven images Jews have long been forbidden to worship.  She follows rituals that Jews find strange, even offensive.  She feeds her family foods no self-respecting Jew would eat.


Jesus didn’t consider Canaanites like this woman to be part of his mission.  When she bows down at his feet, and begs him to help her, he puts her off.  He says, “I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  When she begs for help again, he puts her off even more. “Let the children be fed first,” he says,  “for it isn’t fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”


Now it helps to have a little background here:  Jesus is speaking in metaphors. The children he refers to are the Jewish people, the people Jesus has been ministering to up until now, his people.  And the dogs…well, the dogs are the gentiles, the people who aren’t Jewish.  People like the woman kneeling before him.  Jesus almost seems to be saying that, if he helps her, his ministry will be going to the dogs.  And in those days dogs were not the cuddly companions we know and love today.  To call someone a dog was a serious insult.

Does this sound like the kind and gentle Jesus we have heard proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of goodness and love?  Is this the Jesus who shared meals with outcasts from polite society?  What’s going on here?


At the beginning of this passage, Matthew is careful to tell us that Jesus has journeyed outside Jewish territory.  He has come to the region of Tyre, which today is the country of Lebanon.  Matthew doesn’t tell us the reason for the trip, but it’s not hard to imagine that Jesus went to that seaside town for a vacation.  He might well have needed a break.


Crowds were constantly following him.  The Pharisees were always pestering him, critizing him because he didn’t follow strict religious laws.  Even the disciples were bugging him all the time, asking him to explain his parables.


But no sooner has Jesus found a quiet place to stay, a place where no one will know him, than this woman finds him.  Her behavior is outrageous for that time.  She comes in and kneels at his feet.  Then, in an incredibly forward way, she, a woman, starts the conversation!  It was unheard of in those days for a decent woman to speak directly to a man she didn’t know.  Yet this woman makes the first move; she approaches Jesus; she’s the one to speak first.  “Please, sir, my daughter is tormented by a terrible demon.  The whole family is at our wits’ end.  Please heal her.”


No wonder Jesus is caught off-guard.  No wonder his initial reaction is a rebuff.  No wonder he puts her off by saying, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”


I think, if I had been that woman, I would have given up at that point.  How could I stand to be insulted in that way?  I would have gone off in a huff.  But this woman doesn’t do that.  She’s not about to take no for an answer.  Instead she turns his argument around in her favor:  “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” This woman couldn’t care less about keeping her pride intact.  She has checked her ego at the door.  She’s so determined that her daughter be healed that, if the great healer compares her to a dog, so be it.  Her reputation may be ruined, but if that’s what it takes to get Jesus’ help, she’s OK with it.


Her persistence makes a strong impression on Jesus.  Her persistence is so great, that it seems to drive out any doubt he might have had.  He sees in her a faith that won’t give up.  She may be strange to him, with odd ways of dressing and odd beliefs, but her persistence moves Jesus from annoyance to willingness to help.  He responds, “For saying that, you can go – your daughter has been healed.”  Something in her persistence, something in her faith, makes him change his mind.


Long ago, in a city far from here, a woman refused to take no for an answer.  In her time, she might have been called uppity, disrespectful, or worse.  But she put aside any fear of losing her reputation. She refused to let pride get in the way of healing for her daughter.  Instead of acting on pride, she acted on faith.  She had a faith that wouldn’t give up. A faith that won’t give up can do amazing things. A faith that won’t give up can truly work miracles.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 14

Meditation Music:

“All Things Bright and Beautiful”
John Rutter
Maria Ferrante, Soprano 


Organ Music:

“Joy in the Morning”
Natalie Sleeth