Sunday, August 14, 2011

Offering the Crumbs (Matthew 15:21-28)

Jesus seems a little harsh here, doesn't he? He's telling a woman that he didn't come here on her behalf, equating her and her sick daughter to dogs...this Jesus seems more likely to dunk Peter than save him when the disciple tries to walk on water.

I've heard several explanations for this behavior. One suggests that Jesus, being a human being, had bad days and he got what the old folks would have called "a mite tetchous" now and again. Certainly understandable given the disciples, isn't it? They quarrel about status, they never seem to get what Jesus talks about, they don't understand his significance, and so on. They'd put most folks off their feed, and then when you add in the crowds that show up just to see the miracles and the religious leaders always looking for a way to dig at him, it's not hard to to imagine Jesus having a rough day now and again.

I'm not really sure about that idea, and anyway it doesn't help me much if it's true -- it just proves Jesus was human, and his death takes care of that pretty well.

I'm curious about this episode because it seems like Jesus does what the disciples ask, or tries to, anyway. She's following them around, asking for Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Being a Canaanite, she'll stay away from the Jewish Jesus and his disciples because she knows they'll flip out over the prospect of touching an unclean Gentile female. Which means she has to yell at them, and that makes her even more annoying. "Send her away!" they ask.

Interesting, don't you think? How many of them are there? Twelve, as I recall. And how many of her is she? One, I believe. So what do we hear from this even dozen of courageous Jewish manhood? "Teacher, make the girl leave us alone!"

But Jesus more or less does what they ask. "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel," he says. He tells the woman, "It's not right to give the children's food to the dogs."

Do you wonder if the disciples were a little shocked by the harshness of this? Did they think to themselves, "Whoa, Master, we didn't mean like that! 'Dogs?' Overkill much?" Perhaps they thought he would offer her a little blessing and send her on her way, or maybe tell her one of his parables and that would satisfy her. Or maybe he would think of some other nice way to tell her it was time to run along now, but dogs? Really?

But look at the reality of things. Whether Jesus had done some kind of "nice guy brushoff" or not, the impact would have been the same. Again, remember who these disciples are hanging around with and what they've seen him do -- feed multitudes, walk on water, heal the sick and, oddly appropriate given this woman's request, cast out evil spirits. They have seen him do amazing things, and if they had been able to pair their twos together to even the slightest degree, they might have thought that one way to get the yelling lady to go away and leave them alone was to do what she asked. After all, if her daughter didn't have a demon any more, she would probably go home.

They don't, though, and it seems it's as much because she's bugging them than whether or not she's really bugging Jesus. Because she's annoying them, they're willing to keep her from seeing Jesus. And when Jesus speaks so harshly, I wonder if he's not trying to show them just exactly what it is they want him to do and how awful it is.

I think we can see where we might have done similar things now and again. We hear a call from God to reach out to one of his people in some way or another, but for any one of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of reasons we don't do so. Or we hear about someone who's done something really wrong or who's a part of a group we don't like and we are quick as anything ready to turn our backs to them.

Because they annoy, offend or have wronged us, we are willing if not eager to be the ones who look at Jesus and say, "Send them away, Lord." No, not that, we may say. We would love for these people to know Christ or to learn that God reached into their lives. What we leave unsaid is that we don't love it quite enough to be the conduit for showing that love or to pray for someone we hear about whose done great wrong. It's like we somehow figure that the Pearly Gates and St. Peter aren't enough to properly screen who gets into Heaven so we set ourselves up as bouncers.

And make no mistake, no matter how mildly we may try to view it, that's exactly what we're doing, just as Jesus' reference to the woman and her daughter as dogs compared with the children of Israel was the same thing as the disciples wanting her sent away. I understand and sympathize with dislike of some people because they've done something wrong or because they're just plain dislikeable -- I do it myself. But I have to remember that even while I might even be exactly correct in my judgment of what they've done, I can't set myself up as an extra gatekeeper between them and God, either by pushing them away with an attitude and actions, or failing to pray for them. Because if I do, I might very well be right that I'm on the other side of the fence from them.

But I'll probably be wrong about which side is which.

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