Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Second Lesson Romans 11:2a, 13-15, 28-32
Gospel Lesson Matthew 15:21-28
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Matthew 15:21-28]
It’s one of the great questions of our age; and it’s brought forth deep intellectually stimulating debate among theologians. It’s a question, more often than not, posed by a young child: Do dogs go to heaven?
Our Gospel lesson gives us insight into the answer to this question; or at least taken out of context it seems to give us an answer. When asked to show mercy on the daughter of a Canaanite woman, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”. But she persists and we hear: But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
A dog with faith …. If a dog has faith, how did it get that faith? We know that we’re saved by grace, through faith, apart from any works; so this faith the dog has must have been a gift from God; not through anything the dog did or didn’t do.
“Even the dogs” she says ….even a dog, indeed! You see, the Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs; or even worse, sometimes they called them stones. Stones are dead, lifeless, and not of much use. They’re a nuisance when you run into them in the field while you’re plowing, and you can’t do much with them.
And dogs? This dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman does not take place in the Northwest. Dogs were not welcome here. In the villages of Palestine, dogs existed on scraps and they were among the lowliest creatures in the village. And for good reason too; they didn’t do much of anything useful like donkeys, oxen, or camels. They weren’t valued for their fur or wool like goats or sheep. People kicked them around and treated them like they were less than nothing.
As far as the Jews were concerned, Gentiles were much the same; they were outside of the lineage of Abraham, and so they were worthless, dead, and lifeless. And, without God, that’s what we’d be … whether stones or dogs, we’d be good for nothing, dead and lifeless.
So, the question takes on greater importance now doesn’t it? Do dogs go to heaven? We’d like to think all dogs go to heaven; but can we say that with confidence, with certainty? We can say with certainty that God would not have one sinner lost. We can read that in scripture. But that doesn’t mean we’ll all go to heaven.
How can I be sure this dog is going to heaven? Have I done enough to please my Master? Did I bring him his slippers whenever he wanted them? Did I bring him the paper? Did I jump up and down and bark when I heard his voice and did I always show him how much I loved him? Well, I think I did….but how can I be sure?
Did I tell other dogs about my Master? Did I care for my Master’s house and family while he was away? Did I encourage those others to come and meet him; or did I chase strangers away with my ferocious snarl as I did my best to keep my Master’s house safe?
Living a dog’s life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It requires a lot of patience and the ability to push yourself to the limits at just the right time. It takes a lot of wagging. It takes a lot of enthusiasm; and showing that enthusiasm in a very open way.
And what happens when you age? What happens when you become that older dog? Can you still be certain about going to heaven? The young dogs are all full of vim and vigor for the Master. They’ve got the routine down … just like you used to, but now … it’s hard to jump that high. It’s hard to jump at all. It’s hard to wag your tail that enthusiastically all the time. And it’s hard to bring those slippers and the newspaper like you used to (and besides, the younger dogs beat you to it most of the time).
No, the older you get, the less certain a dog can be that he or she is doing enough to make the Master happy. And so, based on what a dog can do, the older you get, the less certain a dog can be that he’s done enough to go to heaven; if that dog’s salvation depends on what he does or doesn’t do.
Is that the way it is? How can we know for sure? Listen to the words of Jesus: Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” What did this woman, this dog, do that aroused such compassion in Jesus? All she said was, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” That’s all she was asking for: the crumbs from the Master’s table.
I’d hardly call Jesus ‘the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’, yet even a sprinkling of God’s grace, even just the crumbs from his table, is sufficient for us. Our salvation does not depend on what we do or don’t do. You may be a Gentile dog, but God sent his Son for you. God showers his grace, his mercy on you; mercies that are new every morning. Daily bread that’s sufficient to make you his for all eternity.
God sent his Son for you; to take your place in everything he did, and to do it all perfectly, for you. God sent his Son, living the perfect life for you, and then, taking your sins, your failures, your best efforts that still fell short of perfection, he nailed them to his cross. And as he died, saying to his Father, “It is finished.” He cast those sins of yours as far as the east is from the west, never to be seen again.
He did it all for you. He did it all for you dogs! And for you he rose again, showing all the world that, in him, death was forever conquered. Showing all the world the greatness of his mercy to all mankind; Jews and Gentiles alike.
We feast on the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table; but although they’re only crumbs, they’re sufficient for our salvation. When the body and blood of Christ, my Lord and Savior, is compared to crumbs; when the washing of regeneration that I received in the waters of Holy Baptism is compared to crumbs; when the mercies God showers down upon us, new every morning, are compared to crumbs, it can be upsetting … and yet, it doesn’t lessen their importance.
Those blessings are more than we can handle; and the fact that they’re only the crumbs of God’s grace only serves to show us how tiny a fraction of God’s grace and mercy our human minds can comprehend.
….. But then, why should that surprise us? …. We’re only dogs … Dogs who are going to heaven.
In Christ’s service,