The original title was “Encountering the Other”,
but I do believe “Sharing Our Crumbs” is more fitting.
Our scripture this Sunday morning is perhaps one of my favorite gospel accounts.
There is much discussion and debate about the story of this woman.
- There are questions about her tone of voice approaching Christ.
- There are questions about if Christ used this purely as a teaching moment.
- There are questions about if Christ had a change of mind and/or heart.
This story begins with Jesus trying to get away.
We have heard this before, Jesus worn from his ministry, teachings, and miracles needs time for rest and restoration. Jesus goes into a little household hoping (expecting) his moment of peace and quiet.
BUT, this woman shows up.
This is not only a woman, but a Gentile and Syrophoenician.
She is essentially the opposite of Christ and his disciples.
She is the “other” AND she had the nerve to crash his time for rest and restoration.
Jesus (harshly) tells this woman it would not be fair for him to heal her daughter from the demon because she is a Gentile, a non-Israelite and he has come for HIS people (Israelites), the “Chosen”. Thus, why would he give her the food (crumbs) from the table?
In Matthew’s gospel, she is a referred to as a Canaanite woman and this occurs after Jesus’ teaching moment with the disciples about how his message goes beyond Israel (as though this is a test for Jesus or his disciples). (See Pride and the Canaanite)
In Mark’s gospel, woman often indicate a change/shift, such as Jesus’ ministry embracing the non-Israelite persons.
This woman, however, has one of the most infamous lines in the gospel accounts:
“even the dogs get the crumbs from the table”.
The dog reference is not our domesticated companions, such as my Highlander, who lays next to my lap as I am eating. No, these “dogs” are the scavengers wandering on the street. In essence, Christ has referred to her as being the lowest of the low.
We do not know her tone.
Perhaps, she said it meekly as a beggar “yes…but…even…the dogs…get the crumbs”.
Perhaps, because I am feisty myself, I envision her with confidence and attitude:
“Yea, so what? Even the dogs get the crumbs [hand extended]. Give me what I ask for”.
This may sound odd to us, but we have heard God’s Word that, through the Holy Spirit, those boundaries we have created between “us” and “them” do not exist.
We have heard this lesson, but we may not be the best at living into it.
Martin Luther said we were all (unworthy) beggars before God, BUT we have heard God’s word and promise of grace (and forgiveness). And so, when we encounter our own moments of doubt regarding that promise, we are called to be like this woman to Christ saying “God, you made the promise and those crumbs of grace, mercy, compassion, and love belong even to me”.
At times, we can easily trick ourselves into thinking that those crumbs belong to “us” but not to the “other”.
Martin Luther HATED the Book of James and considered removing it from Scripture because of its emphasis on good works/merits, but yet, Luther himself could not deny that faith without works is dead… those works, however, are not a means to obtaining the crumbs but rather a response to having already received those crumbs.
I heard a story about a pastor who took a call to a new congregation. It was not a Lutheran congregation, for you all know who you hire; however, this congregation did not.
On the pastor’s first Sunday, the congregation looked around to find the new pastor. However, the congregation did not notice a new face with the exception of one man sitting in the back pew, dirty and rag-like clothes, and looking as though he had been sleeping on the streets. The congregation was staying away from this man.
It is time for the sermon and the congregation begins looking around again as the homeless looking man stands up, walks to the front of the church, and begins to preach. The mouths of the congregation hits the floor, as he begins to inform them that they essentially failed the test.
In our James text, we are warned about how we divide our attention between the poor man and the wealthy man. It is a warning (test) throughout the gospels and the whole of scripture, BUT it is a lesson we continue to struggle with today.
I hope that we will ponder throughout this week and beyond about our reactions to the “other” (in whatever way), do we cross the street or do we offer to share our crumbs?
May we ALWAYS offer our crumbs of grace, mercy, compassion,
and love with ALL who we encounter. Amen.