Sunday, 20 August 2017

Crumbs for Dogs

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.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.‘ And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15.21-28)
If stories about Jesus were tweets, this might be the one that got deleted later...

Remember the other week when I was criticising a ridiculous Independent article that said the existence of Canaanite DNA proved the Bible was wrong when it said the Hebrews had killed them all? Well, here's a living, breathing Canaanite woman talking to Jesus.  Long after the Hebrews had any means of wiping them out. In the actual Bible. The one that Ian Johnston, the Independent's "science"correspondent, said was wrong because it said the Canaanites were all wiped out. If only the Independent's "science" correspondent understood the concept of research and looking for evidence.

Anyway, did I mention she's a Canaanite?

So this woman is a descendant of the race that Jesus's race set out to destroy, over 1,000 years ago. And to rub salt in, Jesus's name is the equivalent of the Hebrew "Joshua". That first Joshua - the name means "The Lord Saves" - was pretty specifically there for the Hebrews. His job, after Moses died, was simple. To go into the Promised Land and commit genocide in the name of the Lord.

In these days, we'd probably pull down his statue.

Robert Edward Lee Statue Lee Park Charlottesville
A statue that is no longer there

But since he's in the Bible we instead put him into stained glass windows.

In our defence, the vast majority of us no longer advocate wiping out other tribes as a means of consolidating power.

The vast majority, at any rate.

So the woman knows that Jesus is one of her race's historical enemies. A man who should see her as an enemy; as unclean. And she's a woman. And he's got his mates with him. A really embarrassing, really tricky situation. Because she's not going to want to go in there and ask him for a favour, is she?

But she does, because her daughter is ill. Of course she does. Which parent wouldn't?

And Jesus refers to her as a "dog".

Shocking words for us. Maybe less so for the disciples. They're good Jews, they know that the Gentiles are - if not still the enemy - at least not right. They worship strange gods. They eat the wrong things. They don't have Abraham as their ancestor. It's a working description and illustration - Jesus the Messiah has come for the Jews, God's family. Not for the others, the ones who don't even have the scriptures.

You know what dogs are like at meal times. They don't know they're different. They know everybody else is sitting round the table, and they're on the floor, but that won't stop them demanding what they want. The desire for food, in dogs, is more urgent than the fear of looking ridiculous.

And so they beg. And they scrape around hoping the kids will drop some scrap, or that dad will be sympathetic seeing those big, sad, brown, begging eyes. And so they stick at it.

And that's exactly what the woman does. With her urgent need, her refusal to give up - and her quick wit. " Even the dogs get the crumbs. And her conception of God's love is so great, she knows even the scraps of it will do for her child.

And Jesus is amazed. And Jesus responds in love. And God's love does for her what her heart's desire was. And a wall - put up a millennium earlier - is broken down.

It took a time for the message to sink in properly with the Church. And, being human, we keep forgetting it.

There is a constant temptation to think that others are not as good. That others are the enemy. That something they are; or something they do; makes them too different. We do it ourselves, in small ways. We do it instinctively. We shouldn't. Because small fears and exclusions lead to large ones.

The right-wing marchers at Charlottesville chanted "Jews will not replace us." Well, here's the news. Jews will not replace them. Jews included them. A Jew, Jesus Christ, died for them. That Jewish man is enthroned in heaven and prays for them. His Jewish mum prays for them to him. The Jews, Peter and Paul and Thomas and all the rest, spread the Good News.

And they spread the Good News of a Messiah who wasn't just for Jews. Who could heal a Canaanite child after all those long years of hatred. Who could pray for the Romans who killed him. Who reaches out his arms to all those - scattered through the world, and through all time - who will recognise in him the world's saviour and their own peace. Even for Jews. Even for Canaanites. Even for Samaritans. Even for us.

1 comment :

  1. I remember Debbie spotting that the word for dog in this passage is the diminutive - perhaps even puppies rather than dogs. Plus she also wondered others was a connection between this text and the word for worship - proskuneo. A likely etymology for the verb is that it literally means to approach like a dog would to lick its owners hand. Not sure where that gets us, but it seemed interesting.


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