|Photo copyrighted by esther_a|
On a recent morning as I was praying about Sunday’s sermon and making my way through email, snail mail, and returning telephone calls after a few days away from the office, a young woman came into the office. She was far from clean, her clothes tattered and torn, either vintage ‘70’s or found who knows where. I have never seen her before. I doubt I will again.
In a soft, shaky voice, she politely asked me if I could pray with her. Knowing she was not “like us” I told her no. I was busy with sermon preparation and other things. My job was to pray only with those who were members of our church. She asked if there was someone who would pray with her. I told her she might find someone in Huntsville that would. She left slowly, her shoulders hunched over; perhaps shaking, and I quickly began returning my very important phone calls.
Now that I have your attention, no this is not a real story. I would hope you would send me packing or at least fuss at me if it were true. It seems a stark reaction to being confronted with someone unfamiliar to us, someone who is an “other.” Yet that is what we see in today’s Gospel. Jesus at first tries to send away this courageous woman who pleads on behalf of her ill daughter. She is tenacious and does not give up when he tries to send her away.
This story has many layers and much to think about. Any way you look at it, this is a lively interchange between Jesus and the gentile woman. Perhaps it is even a debate about the mission of the Christian church. Remember until now Jesus’ ministry was based on ethnic boundaries. In this exchange he refers to the Jews as children and the gentiles as dogs. Many biblical scholars note the word used here is a racist label. No matter how we translate it, it is far from positive. And it is clear, at least at first, Jesus wants nothing to do with her.
This woman is what we might call a “mama tiger.” She will not be sent away, she will find healing for her sick child. And so she challenges Jesus. She challenges him to cross ethnic and gender boundaries to heal her child. She knows that God’s mercy extends beyond the Jewish people. My hunch is she knows Jesus know this as well.
This woman is painted as an “other,” an outsider, one not from around here. We are uncomfortable with the Jesus who tries to send this driven woman away in spite of the fact we often do so unknowingly (and sometimes not) ourselves. She comes begging for his help and he turns his back on her.
We see then that she knows something of the Messiah, the Son of David but she still remains an “other.” The tone of this interchange shows that she was thought to be the wrong religion, was not saved, and was likely damned.
Yet she had a boldness that gave her the willingness, the courage, to step beyond her status as a gentile woman begging a Jewish rabbi for help and even arguing with him when he tries to send her away.
We do not know what was going through Jesus’ head. Remember he had just had one of many interchanges with the Pharisees in which they reminded him of the “rules” of religion. Perhaps he was tired and frustrated with their lack of understanding. Wondering what it would take to get through to people that loving God is not about rules, but about relationship, about love.
And here comes this woman, this “other” who shows her faith and trust in him, in God’s grace and mercy. And she is indeed a mama tiger and won’t give up when he tries to send her away. Instead she humbly kneels at his feet and asks for crumbs, reminding him even dogs get the crumbs, so while she may be an “other”, she is worthy of crumbs.
This woman knew enough about Jesus to have hope. That hope gave her courage to fight for the child she loved so dearly she was willing to risk everything to have her healed. Status and power had nothing to do with her faith, she had none. In her world she was viewed as little more than the puppies running the streets. Hardly noticed, certainly not worthy. She knew enough that she followed that still, small voice, that said to find Jesus.
Do you know that place?
That place deep inside where you just “know” when something is good and right?
That place away from the distraction of people and things?
That place where you quietly “hear” God?
That place you can go to when the world beats you up?
That place you can go to with your fears, your doubts, and even your anger at God?
That place where it is safe to wrestle with the questions, even to wrestle with God?
We all have times when we need to vent, to yell, to be mad at God. And we all are able to go to that safe place to meet God. Even when it feels like God isn’t there, that God doesn’t show up. God is in that place.
“Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”
Crumbs. Broken and left over pieces. Bits discarded.
Often this is all we think we deserve of God’s love. Or how unworthy we are to receive even the crumbs. Left overs. Bits.
We think we are this woman, an “other,” unworthy, unlovable, unforgivable.
Yet these little bits are all God needs to heal us. Feed us. Remember the 5000? It was in fives loaves and two fish that many were fed and there was enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
And you know what, Jesus says, “Your faith has guts, boldness, I hear you, I love you, I am with you, and together we will walk through this. Let me carry your pain, hurts, fears, doubts, burdens for a while.”
In a few minutes we will come to the Master’s table. We will kneel or stand at this rail, lift our hands in supplication, and say, “Lord, give me the crumbs. Feed me. Fill me. Make me new again.”
Won’t you come to the table? Come and see, know that you are loved completely, fully, and forever.
You are beloved and you are God’s.