Crumbs for the dogs – Matthew 15: 21-28

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen

When Jesus dismisses a Canaanite women with this abrupt phrase – ‘it is not fit to throw the children’s food to the dogs…’ – what went through your mind? It’s not what we’re used to hearing from Jesus, is it… Yet we are sympathetic, I think, as a society, if not as individuals. We are still being conditioned to thing that there is, in the natural order of things, ordinary and necessary divisions of power, influence and importance; to say “the cream rises to the top” is more than just a statement about the physical properties of dairy products. It has come to indicate that we assume some people (some cultures / some religions / some ideologies etc) are NATURALLY better than others, and that only the best should be considered. Sure, there are some ideas that are better, some people who are more gifted, and some cultures which have a great deal to teach humanity in general – but is it possible that Jesus was so exclusionist in his thinking that he would dismiss the needs of this child of God? Is it possible that Jesus felt that some in his community (in his region) were not worth his time, or fit for the love and grace of God?

It is certainly true that there is plenty of this kind of thinking present in the world today. It is at the root of every conflict, every dispute – the notion that you have something that I want, and what’s more, I deserve it, and you do not. Such is the confused state of thinking where human (and national) RIGHTS are concerned. Gaza, Russia, Syria, Iraq – I could go on – each a place where currently one side is challenging the rights of the other to pursue policy (or even the right of one or the other to exist as a nation, as in the case of Israel/Gaza). Each one believes that they possess superiority or precedence of ideas or influence – there seems to be no end in sight – the result is that rights of all to peace and justice and safety of person are trampled by violence.

These problems were not new even when Jesus ventured into “foreign” territory and was challenged by the Canaanite woman. He had been healing and teaching of the love of God in the north of Israel (a country under occupation, lets remember) – and is drawn away from the shores of the sea of Galilee, toward what is now southern Lebanon. There is no practical reason for he and his disciples to make this trip – away from Jerusalem; away from the safe territory; away from the people whom Jesus says are his main concern – yet here they are in the region of Tyre and Sidon. This curious fact may help us understand an otherwise complicated story.

Jesus is the outsider in this moment. He is on ‘foreign soil’, and yet, he makes a statement of superiority. Is God’s grace so selective? Are the outsiders really no better than dogs waiting hungrily under the table? I think not; and this out-of-the-way trip suggests that Jesus was intentionally bringing the matter to the surface, so that the true nature of God’s grace might be revealed.

I want to believe that Jesus planned this trip to provoke this woman’s outburst. I want Jesus to be clever enough and subtle enough to have anticipated this encounter. Everything else he has said and done suggests that he knows that her worth (or anyone else, for that matter) is not determined by nationality, or gender, or birthright, or religious doctrine (or anything else, for that matter…)

Jesus knows (and admits) that she is equal in God’s sight to any one of them.

Most of our problems come from a mistaken belief that our rights should prevail – that our skin colour, our gender, our profitability, our religion or our nationality somehow privilege us beyond all others. This is a position of fear; based on ignorance; and institutionalized in every nation under the sun. Fear closes minds to new ideas and closes ears to the truth, but we are in a position to overcome that fear. Jesus models this fearlessness for us.

He travels outside his ‘comfort zone’; he engages the unwanted and the outcast of his time. He does not hesitate to debate theology with a foreign woman – unheard of in his culture – and he is confident that her faith is genuine, that her answer is superior to his.

This line of reasoning does not imply that Christianity is somehow superior to other religious habits. I will not even insist that you agree on my interpretation of this gospel lesson. I would simply suggest that the attitude taken by Jesus – his willingness to seek out those who were deemed different or dangerous by the culture of the day; his genuine interest in the opinion of this particular woman; and his apparent change of heart – all these things are offered as models for those who seek to follow Christ. The faith we profess is a faith of unity, not because it is superior, but because Jesus taught that everyone was equal in God’s coming kingdom. We are baptized in the one spirit, Paul reminds us – we one body with many members – and that kind of thinking makes it difficult to hold grudges, or start battles, or claim superiority.

Jesus proclaimed a peaceable kingdom – and that peace is far from us. But the means to peace – the path of peace – is not fear and trembling, but love and understanding. We have a long way to go in our pursuit of Jesus example, but the way is still open to us, thanks to the Love of God that brought life from death on that first Easter morning. May we, by God’s good grace, find ourselves faithful to the power of that love, made known to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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