Matthew 15:22-23 Just 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." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
We live in a special place, a polite and friendly place. People wave when they meet on the road. If someone didn’t say Hi, to another when they saw each other on the street. There would be 5 people who saw it, and in 15 minutes, the grapevine would be buzzing with stories of unacceptable behavior. Now, gossip is never a good thing, but as we do not want to be the subject of gossip, we try to behave well. There are large cities, not far away, where people are neither polite nor very friendly, people in a neighborhood may be friendlier to their neighbors – but sometimes in apartments, people don’t even know who their neighbor is. If we define community as the people with relate to, it may be that in rural America we know and relate to more people, than some people in cities. If someone is your neighbor, part of your community, you can find time to talk, and to listen to each other.
This is important because in our Gospel lesson, Jesus, a Galilean Israelite male, can identify his community pretty easy. If you were outside the community, there was not much obligation, and very little duty, even to listen. So, imagine if you will that Jesus is on vacation, and the phone keeps ringing time after time, and it’s the same telemarketer, what do you do? Leave the phone off the hook? Threaten to call the police? Or do we listen politely for a moment, and say thank you, I’m not interested, please stop calling me.
If someone in our community needs help, its not mercy to help them – it is rather part of our obligation as a member of that community. If someone outside our community needs help, and we have been blessed so that we have more than enough, its still not mercy to help them – it may be compassion, and it may be a sense of stewardship of God’s gifts – but is not mercy.
Mercy, is when something good is done for someone who has no right to expect it, and no claim of deserving it, and no way of repaying it. The women in the story cries for mercy persistently, not for herself, but for her daughter. She admits she does not deserve it, cannot repay it, has no claim on it, is completely unworthy of it (remember she does not object to being called a dog, but acknowledges that it is quite true, and persists in her plea for mercy.
Now the reason why this is important, is because when we confess our sins, we ask God to have MERCY on us. We have neither earned or deserved this, we cannot repay this – and God is in no way obligated to grant it. It is important because there are a lot of people, who do not understand what mercy is, and would not be inclined to persistently ask, even while they are ignored.
But just as Jesus has mercy on the woman of our story – so it is, that God also has mercy on us – and not only does he have mercy, but he forgives our sins and pays our debts, and gives us eternal life. God didn’t owe us any of this. But God does this out of love. That is what is at the heart of this story – God does have mercy.
Our response to God’s love and mercy, comes out of the love God has put in our hearts, by grace through faith – so that as God has shown mercy to us – so we also show mercy to those in need – even if they are not part of our community – for the greatest mercy is to tell them about life in Christ – for the gospel which makes us a new creation – also makes all believers part of a world wide community we call the church, the body of Christ.