Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.
Everywhere Jesus went people besieged Him, demanding attention. They didn’t belong to crowds that came to hear His words. They weren’t part of His inner circle. They had no business with the lawyers and teachers who habitually turned up to criticize Him. They were mostly misfits pushed into society’s margins by disease, prejudice, or religious stigma. They had problems that urgently required Jesus’s help and when they found Him, they didn’t wait their turn or ask Him for a private audience after the sermon. They barreled past the multitudes. They created scenes. They disrupted the proceedings. Patience and good manners were luxuries they couldn’t afford. They needed Jesus to know about their trouble, and they needed Him to fix it right away.
Matthew 15 provides a vivid example of this. After another of Jesus’s grueling encounters with religious leaders, He and the disciples head into pagan territory to find rest from His critics. Almost immediately they meet a local woman demanding Jesus’s attention. A demon is tormenting her daughter and she wants Him to intervene. He ignores her initially, but she trails behind Him, crying loudly and constantly for His help. The disciples ask Jesus to send her away. What occurs next is first disconcerting, then amazing.
Jesus tells the woman as a Gentile, she shouldn’t expect Him to help her daughter. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” He says. Still, she doesn’t give up. She falls to her knees, pleading, “Lord, help me!” Jesus’s response to her desperation sounds brutally indifferent—totally contrary to everything He taught. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” He says. “That’s true,” she answers, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” It seems unlikely that it was possible to catch Jesus off-guard, as His divinity endowed Him with all knowledge. But if ever a moment took Him by surprise, this is it. “Woman, you have great faith!” He exclaims. “Your request is granted.” The demon instantly leaves her daughter.
This story has tremendous significance for anyone who’s been told they’re unfit to sit at the Master’s table and eat the children’s bread. Before exploring that, though, perhaps we should clear away the P.C. clouds looming overhead. Without observing the dynamic between Christ and the woman, His reaction to her does indeed seem indifferent, possibly even biased. Yet if we compare her case to other “outcast miracles”—the hemorrhaging woman who presses through the crowd to touch Jesus’s cloak, or the palsied man who reaches Him by being lowered through a roof—we notice a pattern. These miracles happen when faith triumphs over practical challenges. Clearly, Jesus could have taken care of the woman’s crisis right away. Instead, He tries her confidence that He will answer her request. Like the other outcast examples, this one finishes with Jesus extolling her faith. Faith drives her persistence. It compels her to humble herself, to compare herself to a dog snapping up morsels. It ends her daughter’s torment.
Until the church ends its indifference and prejudice toward GLBT people, many of us stubbornly refuse to practice our belief. But it’s exactly what pagan woman teaches us to do. We have urgent needs that only Christ can fill. Reaching Him poses many practical challenges, yet we commit to whatever it takes—crying out, falling to our knees, and humbling ourselves—to do it. The proving of our faith is the key to receiving what we need. At times, it feels like we’re begging for crumbs. But like the pagan woman, once we reach the Master’s table we discover no one settles for morsels. Everyone’s needs are fully met.
Reaching Christ requires faith and effort. Yet, as the pagan woman learned, once we overcome our challenges, our belief and persistence are fully rewarded.
(Tomorrow: This Is the Day)