Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
“Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.”
“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
In reply to Jesus, the Canaanite woman speaks from below, and gives voice to the Word of God. To the Son of Mary-Son of God, the woman says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In accepting the Lord’s dictum (“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”), the woman subverts him who is Subversion itself. He who “humbled himself taking the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” the One who is Humility himself, the Source of all service, finds himself both humbled and served by a woman more humble and servile than himself—a gentile woman with no claim to the treasury of God’s promises. The Rabbi demeans her, yet she devours his demeaning crumbs. She tastes in them her daughter’s health, the food of salvation, all the riches of heaven, Israel’s hope now extended to all the gentile world in the crucified arms of Christ.
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” We feel the bite in these vicious words. They attack with the violence of a rabid dog. Yet, the demeaning and dismissive words are true: it is not fair to give away Israel’s inheritance to non-Jews. God has promised gifts (here characterized as “food”) to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Israel, the Jews—promised to Israel and none other. Of the Jews, his own people, the Apostle writes in Romans 9, “…to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ.”
It’s shocking to hear Jesus speak as a first century Jew. He addresses the Canaanite woman as a Jewish man, according to the flesh. The woman pleads for mercy, but receives derision . She says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” In reply, Jesus sounds more like Benjamin Netanyahu than the merciful savior we take for granted. A first century Jew, Jesus sounds like a 21st century Israeli general overrunning Gaza: he juxtaposes “the children” with “the dogs.” He identifies with the figurative household, citizen-heirs over and against animals, domestic beasts, serving as first century floor-washers and garbage collectors.
We speak of “Incarnation” in abstracted, theoretical terms, as though Mary’s child, the Son of God, didn’t sweat, know the body’s stink, the stench of defecation, the confusion of puberty, the pain of loneliness, the ugliness of racial and ethnic slurs, the bitterness of human brutality, the morbid weariness of thirst, nausea, vomit, and loss—the sickness unto death. But it cannot be so.
When the Creed says “he became truly human,” it means all this and more. The enfleshment of Christ as Jesus of Nazareth completely involves everything it means to be human, including all the distasteful, painful, and ugly things associated with our alienation and death. That Christ was “without sin,” cannot mean that Jesus was always nice, or that he never stank, or that he didn’t enjoy a bit of cheap, distasteful, and inappropriate fun at the expense of someone else, someone different from himself—and especially at the expense of gentiles, women, and particularly religious people. If there’s anything clear about Jesus, he irritated religious people. It was necessary that he do so. Otherwise, the religious people wouldn’t have wanted him dead. It’s necessary for Jesus to offend us that he might save us. God puts us to death in order to raise us, makes us “dogs” in order to make us truly human. If Jesus doesn’t irritate us, if he doesn’t get under our skin, we cannot partake of his skin, his flesh and blood, the crumbs of his salvation falling from his table for us and for all the gentile world. There is, after all, a gentile world.
Last month, my wife and I took our daughter and her family—here husband, and their two children (Helena, and Cyrus) out to dinner at Halong Bay on Willy Street. Filled to capacity and overflowing with good food, the place was noisy: conversation filled the room as folks from across the ethic spectrum talked and exchanged views on all sorts of stuff. A table next to ours buzzed with argument about Israel/Palestine or, perhaps, I should say, about Palestine/Israel. In any case, interspersed between dissertations of heated opinion, we overheard phrases like “the Islamic world,” “the Jewish question,” “Zionist zealots,” and “Islamo-fascists.” Toward the end of the meal, our grandchildren grew restless and, while Marcia paid the bill, I took Helena for a walk. At three and a half, she’s fascinated by trees and flowers; she tries to name everything that catches her eye. Suddenly, while identifying a hosta, she turned and asked, “Grandpa, what is the Islamic world? Do you understand the Islamic world?” I told her I did not understand it, but that such words separate us from our neighbors. Disinterested in my speech, Helena turned back to her hostas even before I got completely lost failing to understand the Islamic world.
Before God there is only one world. But in our minds there are many, each bearing testimony to countless exclusive claims: the Lutheran Church, White Privilege, the Black Community, Gay Pride, the Jewish State, Sharia law, Male Dominance. These name but a few of our persistent means of separating ourselves from the others we are not. Yet, for the Church, only one distinction holds: the Jews, the original people of God. Here alone, primacy means first among equals, and all on account of Christ.
A first century Jew, the man, a human being of his own time, is the timeless Person for all people, all times, all communities. Even in error, prejudice, and pride, he bears God’s mercy for all. By him—even by his wrongness—we and all other non-Jews receive access to the irrevocable gifts God has promised to the Jews—and now to us gentiles. Christ is all for all, but always at his own expense. It’s true: even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Therefore, we pray, “Lord, give us these crumbs; that all might receive them,” in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.