Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Alfred Gorvie

Gone to the Dogs


Matthew 15:21-28
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Steven E. Albertin

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Dutch: Christus en de Kanaänitische vrouw – Willem van Oordt   –   From Wikimedia Commons

This woman will not give up. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus would not let such faith go to waste. It is precisely for such people that he has come. His whole life was about loving those at the end of their rope in the name of God. Jesus came to give his life for the dogs.

DIAGNOSIS: Gone to the Dogs

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Desperate and Hopeless

“Gone to the dogs.”  It is what we say when someone’s life has fallen apart. Such is the life of this Canaanite woman. She is desperate. She has no hope and little future. There is no mention of a husband or family. She is alone—except for a daughter who is sick, very sick, so sick that her life was no longer even hers. She was possessed by an unclean spirit, a demon.

This woman stands for all of us who have ever felt that our lives have “gone to the dogs.” When our lives are falling apart, when the one we promised to love “for better or for worse, in sickness and health, until death do us part” suddenly says “I am leaving you”; when we get that call at 3 a.m. (no good news ever comes at that time of night); when we are told that we no longer have the job that we thought was our dream job; when we are left out and uninvited to the party to which everyone else is going; when we feel that no one understands us or our pain. In all those kinds of places, we stand with the Canaanite woman, desperately begging for help.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Begging for Help~~”~~

Jesus responds with words that will never be memorized by children in Sunday School. “Let the children be fed first. For it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In Jesus’ world, dogs were not cuddly pets. Dogs were disgusting scavengers with which no decent person would ever want to associate. This is an insult and put-down. Jesus reminded her that she was nobody, a gentile, Canaanite, who had no place at the table or inside the city of God’s people. She did not belong. She was just another dog.

When Jesus insulted her, it must have been like a wrenching punch to the gut. Here, the very one to whom she came to beg for help, has rejected her. Jesus seems cold, indifferent, and even hostile. She could have given up. She could have begun to doubt and question herself. Maybe she really was unworthy and undeserving. Maybe there was some deep, dark sin in her past of which Jesus knew, which she had conveniently forgotten, and of which she should have been ashamed. Maybe she was no better than a dog.

We have all been there with her. We have all been haunted by the same doubts and fears when our life was going south. We cannot be sure that we do not deserve this fate. Maybe our life has gone to the dogs because of something we’ve done, and we have been too proud and too self-satisfied to realize it—until the roof falls in and the life we had so carefully planned crumbles. We feel like our life is possessed by some kind of evil or sickness beyond our control. All we can do is beg and cry for help.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Insulted and Rejected

The fear lurking in the heart of the Canaanite woman and all of us is that this cry will indeed go unanswered.  Even worse, we fear that it will be met by insults and rejection. Has God (Jesus) turned his back on the dogs? Have we been discarded like the crumbs under the table only to be ground to dust under the master’s feet? The awful truth is that this is indeed the fate of those who give up on God. God gives up on those who have given up on God. They/we are indeed dogs sent to scavenge for a few crumbs on the floor for eternity.


Heroines of the New Testament: The Canaanite – Jan Saenredam From Wikimedia Commons

PROGNOSIS: God Loves Even the Dogs

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): God for the Dogs

In spite of it all, this woman will not give up. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus would not let such faith go to waste. It is precisely for such people that he has come. His whole life was about loving those at the end of their rope in the name of God. Jesus came to give his life for the dogs.

Jesus ultimately defies social expectation and religious convention by eating and drinking with sinners and outcasts …  all the way to the cross. There on the cross even Jesus’ life “goes to the dogs.” There he acknowledges that he is no better than a dog, dying outside the city walls on Golgotha, in Gehenna, the ever-smoldering garbage dump, where the dogs scavenge. That is what love does. Loves goes all the way … even to death on a cross.

The marvel in all of this is that such love is at the heart of what God was always doing through Jesus. Therefore, on the “third day” God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s love does not run out of steam. There are plenty of crumbs left over, even more than 12 baskets full, enough to feed the world, and even those whose lives have “gone to the dogs.”

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Daring to Believe

This woman sounds a lot like Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, like Moses arguing with God over the fate of the Israelites when God was about to give up on them after God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, like King David pleading for mercy in Psalm 51 when Nathan had confronted him with his faithlessness.

She sounds like us coming to church on a Sunday morning, confessing our sin and daring to believe that God will forgive us. Repeatedly, God’s people have dared to believe in God’s merciful heart even in the face of God’s own anger.  Like so many before her, the faith of this Canaanite woman would not be disappointed. Jesus heals her daughter and frees her from the grip of the unclean spirit.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Spreading the Good News

Not only was her daughter healed, but this Canaanite woman could return to her life confident of her status before God and able to share that good news with the world. Likewise, when we feel that our life has “gone to the dogs,” when we feel forgotten and ignored, betrayed and humiliated, it is just for people like us, for all of us whose lives have “gone to the dogs,” that Jesus has something to say: “You are always welcome at my table.”

We cannot keep news like that to ourselves. This rejuvenated woman surely returned home with similar joy and hope, spreading the good news that God loves even the dogs!