I am going to share a story from Matthew’s gospel that is relevant for today’s news.
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then 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
Two questions come to me.
Was Jesus a racist?
Who am I in the story?
The story is a challenge to every Jewish man. A woman is coming to Jesus.
Not just any woman but a woman who came from a group of people who were despised by Jews. Her people and the Jews had been enemies for over a thousand years. Here she was coming with a request; “Have mercy on me!”
The disciples had an immediate reaction: “Send her away!” Apparently, they were irritated by her shouting as much as they were by who she was. You can almost imagine them patronizing her as well. “Just be quiet. Be patient. Be nice. If you wait long enough….”
Jesus joins the disciples: “I wasn’t sent to you and your people. I was sent to the Jews.”
She persists and kneels before Jesus: “Lord, help me.”
Jesus pulls out some folk knowledge. Apparently, it was a common saying among Jews: “it not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs?” The question is rhetorical. Of course, not. You don’t take food meant for children and give them to dogs. Remember, in Jesus’ time, in Jewish culture if you wanted to insult someone you called them “a dog.” Some scholars think that Jesus’ response was a test. Would she walk away or bear the insult?
The woman responded with an astute observation: “Even dogs get to eat the crumbs that all from their masters’ tables.” She is saying, “All I am asking is for a crumb of your mercy.”
Jesus grants her request.
Do you and I ever act like those disciples? Do we choose who we think should be able to approach Jesus? Do we have a list of people in mind that we doubt can receive God’s mercy? The disciples thought they were protecting Jesus from this woman. They were gatekeepers. I know churches that are filled with people who think Jesus needs protecting.
Do you and I ever feel that we are like this woman. We are on the outside looking in. We see the joy of God’s mercy and love. We exclude ourselves. We talk ourselves out of coming closer. We say things like, “I don’t have the right clothes. I come from the wrong people. I am not the right race. I come from the wrong family. My life is a mess. I have done terrible things.”
As much as the woman’s daughter needed a healing, the disciples needed healing.
Ronald Friesen © 2017