Sunday, October 26, 2008

Crumbs

Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

                        Matthew 15.27

Demanding Attention

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.

Great Faith

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. 

Practical Challenges

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)

4 comments:

Cuboid Master said...

Thank you for this, Tim. I love the devotion you have to building a strong connection between Jesus and humanity. Yes, every GLBT person is worthy of His love! I often feel we must humble ourselves before Him and His Father, and never presume His grace will be upon us, if only to prove our infinite love for His Person. His mercy is never-ending, and yet I feel I must prostrate myself before Him and ask, nay BEG for his Mercy. I want Him to know how much I value the gifts He has brought to my life and to the life of my children. It brings me tremendous hope and joy knowing my dear son is embraced by Christ Jesus, his sexual orientation immaterial next to the sincerity of his love for God. Christ is love; God is love; to even suggest that some person or group is not a recipient of this infinite Love is to question the ultimate authority of God. God makes beautiful things, among them his beautiful GLBT children. Praise the Lord!

Tim said...

CM, your comments triggered my memory of what James tells us: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. That's exactly what this woman did.

An ongoing concern of mine regarding the return of GLBT believers to the church is our potentially losing sight of whom we're returning to and what we're returning for. We're coming back to Christ, not members of His congregation; we're coming back to follow Him, not to advance our position in mainstream society. If we hold these objectives in mind, we will come humbly before Him and our needs will be met.

Umbrage often breeds arrogance and it's tempting to think that because many churches and believers once turned us away and condemned us, they now owe us something. In fact, I'm fairly confident that this desire for reparations of some sort is a big contributor to our side of the stand-off with the church. And if this were only a matter between humans, I would agree an apology--a truly felt show of regret--is in order. However, this is a matter between us and God, and them and God. We bow to Him and He deals with us according to His good will and pleasure. Those who have committed wrongs against us do the same.

Going back to our recent discussions on The Lord's Prayer, we forgive our debtors and He forgives us. There's no mention there--or anywhere else, for that matter--about our debtors' compensation to us. It is God Who repays. He makes us whole. If we allow pride to misguide us into holding out until those who've mistreated--in some cases, abused--us, we'll never be fully restored.

Among the many things I love about the "outcast miracles" is how they zero in on the person's intrinsic condition and need. The social and religious injustice they suffer becomes secondary; indeed, seldom is this even mentioned. Take the hemorrhaging woman, for example. The Bible doesn't explain that her sickness barred her from temple worship; yet the law strictly forbade a woman with menses from mingling among the congregation. It's implicit in her story and, in a sense, she defies the law when she enters the crowd encircling Christ. It's also implicit that her healing not only restores her health, it restores her standing with God's people. Her humility lifts her up.

As GLBT and other alienated believers do the same, we should expect the same. Our healing will bring about our acceptance. That's why we have to make the first move, pressing our way through the crowd and, like the pagan woman, crying out, "Lord, help me!"

Blessings to you, and as always, thanks for adding valuable substance to the discussion.

afeatheradrift said...

As always Tim, you state the truth so well. This is one of my favorite stories. Jesus turns the accepted behavior on its head as usual. Yet so many of our Christian brothers and sisters are unable to see the message. They are so often about exclusion at the table. I can never figure out quite why this is so. Jesus' words seem forgotten and people prefer it seems to place their own interpretations on pseudo-letters from Paul instead. I would think the Master's words come first wouldn't you?

Tim said...

Sherry, once again, you're spot-on. What Christ told us comes first and we turn to Paul for amplification and application. When believers use him as a "primary source," they're looking for trouble because much of what he wrote addressed specific concerns in each church and doesn't mean much for us today.

This business of "we have to believe and live by every word of the Bible as written" is what leads to its misuse as an exclusionary document. And Paul's statements (as well as Levitical law) get the worst of it. That's how his advice to the quarrelsome Corinthians that "women keep quiet in the church" turns into "only men can preach" and his warning Romans not to participate in idolatrous, pansexual orgies turns into "God hates gays."

But Paul himself warned us not to do this, telling Timothy to "properly handle word of truth." Oh, well, I guess that's what happens when some of us read the Word as Good News and others look at it as a tabloid.

Thanks for the thought!