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Matthew 15:21-28

Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.

 “A Challenge is Another Opportunity!”

I want to start with something funny I found on an internet site: A new department store opened in New York City. It’s called the Husband Store. It is a place where women can shop for a husband. The store has seven floors, each with different qualities of a husband. The higher the floor, the better the husband. If women wanted better qualities, they would go to the next floor. But there was a restriction saying that once you go to another floor, you have to settle for that man; you cannot go back down to the previous floor.

One Woman arrived at the first floor. A sign said that the men on this floor had a job. She thought to herself that this was a quality of a husband she wanted to see, but she was curious to see what the next level held for her, so she decided to go to the 2nd floor. As she exited the elevator, a sign said, “The men on this floor have a job and love children.”  She thought this was even better, but she decided to go to the 3rd floor. As she got off the elevator on the 3rd floor, the sign said, “The men on this floor have a job, love children, and are good-looking.”  She thought this was even better! But curiosity got the best of her, and she could not resist going to the 4th floor. As she got off the elevator, the sign now says, “The men on this floor have a job, love children, are good-looking, and like to do housework.”  Wow, she thought, what more could a wife ask for? But she decided to go to the next level. The sign on the 5th floor read, “The men on this floor have a job, love children, are good-looking, like to do housework, and they are very romantic.”  She thought to herself, “How much better can this get?” But instead of selecting a man on this floor, she decided to go to the 6th floor. The 6th-floor sign says, “The men on this floor have a job, love children, are good-looking, like to do housework, are romantic, and love to shower their wives with luxurious gifts.”  She could not believe what this floor could offer her and could not think there could be anything better or hoped to imagine.

But…she could not pass up on going to the final floor. As the 7th-floor elevator opened, the sign now says, “There are no men on this floor. If you are reading this, please understand that some people can’t be pleased!”

Today, I want to talk about how “a challenge is another opportunity.” Everyone faces challenges, which make us grow in some ways. However, some challenges are harder for us to overcome, such as misunderstandings, ignorance, rejection, and being forsaken. When I think of these words, one person comes to my mind. Can you guess who it is? Yes, Jesus Christ.

He has experienced misunderstanding from the people in his hometown, ignorance from Pharisees and Religious leaders, rejection from the people he loved, and finally, God has even forsaken him on the cross. However, he has overcome all these challenges, even overcoming death. His biggest challenge was giving himself up to those who rejected him. However, his challenges show us how much he loves us. A challenge is another opportunity to pass over toward blessing.

In today’s scripture, a Canaanite woman is experiencing many challenges in her life. From a Jewish perspective, she is a gentile treated like a dog, not a person. She is a woman who was treated as someone’s possession and ignored her human rights socially, economically, and religiously. In addition, she had a daughter with a mental illness. At that time, people thought that someone with mental illness was demon-possessed. All circumstances around her led her to get worse and worse. She may have heard about Jesus Christ, who healed many weaknesses, sicknesses, and even demon possession. The news about Jesus spread out over the country.

Even though she had heard about Jesus, she could not reach out to Jesus. She did not have the chance to see him because of her circumstance, and her social status which blocked her from going to the Jewish land. However, she often thought about how to reach out to Jesus to get healing for her daughter. Finally, Jesus came into the gentile land. Verse 21 says, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” It is not usual, but Jesus intentionally went to the gentile land. “Just then,” as if the Woman waited for Jesus, she came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me.” She got a chance. She does not want to miss the great opportunity to see Jesus. She shouted, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” (v. 22). The amazing thing is that she called Jesus “Lord,” and she knows that Jesus is the descendant of David, which means “Messiah.” Jewish people believe that someday the Messiah will come to redeem them. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, the Messiah will come through David’s descendants (Isiah 11:1). She not only knows Jesus, but also confesses him as “the Lord and Messiah.”

However, despite her confessing, Jesus did not answer at all. In addition, the disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” How could the disciples say, “Send her away,” and not say, “Please help her?” The disciples were also in the typical Jewish mindset, in which she was just a gentile woman with a demon-possessed daughter who was never respected as a human being. As if Jesus knew their mindset, he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Because of this, some people misunderstand thinking that salvation is a Jewish privilege. Furthermore, salvation is the Christian’s privilege. I boldly say there is no privilege in God’s grace. Salvation is open to all God’s creatures. Romans 10: 13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Do not make the power of Jesus’ blood narrow down. Jesus died for everyone and rose for everyone. That is the divine grace of God for all. Therefore, we have hope in Jesus Christ.

Going back to the scripture. Even though she heard that Jesus was sent only for the chosen people, only the royal family, and only the privileged people, she did not give up. Instead, she came to Jesus closely and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” But Jesus still reject her request, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Wow, that is too much. I cannot imagine how she felt and how she could handle her emotions. Nowadays, we love our dogs like they are a part of our family. But at that time, the dogs lived outside and ate leftover food, which people threw out in the garbage cans. It is like the Jewish people who treated gentile people like dogs.

If you were in her shoes, what would you do? I guess that she is a mother before she is a gentile woman. Nothing is too shameful when it came to helping her daughter. She needs to get healing for her daughter. If she missed this chance, her daughter would never be healed. So, she challenged Jesus by saying, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She means that just a little piece of grace and mercy is enough to heal her daughter. Also, she accepts that she is like a being of dust before God. We all are God’s creatures. Before God, we are equal regardless of social, economic, and political privilege. In God’s grace and love, there isn’t any boundary. The apostle Paul confesses, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword? No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). Finally, she got the right answer from the Lord Jesus Christ, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed. She overcame many challenges by faith; Jesus is the Lord, Messiah, and the healer.

We are facing many challenges in our life. The challenges somehow lead us to God’s grace. If you give up in the face of these challenges, you lose the opportunity to receive God’s grace. Do not pay attention to the challenges, but see God’s grace beyond the challenges. Jesus teaches us, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29). “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). There is no exception in God’s grace. Even though you failed it once, it is okay. You can get a second chance soon. One day, God may say to you, “let it be done for you as you wish.”  Thanks be to God. Amen.