Fr. Larry Parrish
Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
These words must have cut like a knife to the heart of the mother who was desperately seeking help for her mentally ill daughter. How her child suffered, tormented by a broken mind. Even worse, her precious child was ostracized by the people of their town. They said she was demon possessed! For a fleeting moment, she had hope. A travelling teacher with a growing reputation as a healer and exorcist had unexpectedly shown up in their village. Maybe he could do something to relieve her daughter’s suffering!
She waited by the roadside with scores of other people as he approached. Finally he was in front of her! She shouted out to him, “My daughter has a demon!” He looked at her, no he looked through her, as if he hadn’t even heard, hadn’t even noticed her. She kept calling out to him, trotting alongside him. She could tell his travelling companions were upset. She could hear them urging him to tell her to get lost.
He stopped, and looking at his companions, said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The frantic mother’s heart sunk a little. She knew he was a Jew. She even intuited that he was someone special within that faith and race. But his words reminded her that she was not of his faith and race. In fact, she was of Canaanite stock, and the Canaanites had been the traditional enemies of Israel—and vice versa—for centuries! Who was she to ask anything of him? But she was a Canaanite mother and her child needed help, and she was not going to be ignored! She forced herself in front of him and knelt down, “Sir. My daughter is mentally ill. Seriously ill. Please help me. Please help her!”
That’s when the traveling preacher said those awful words: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This was much more than a sensible proverb. The imagery was unmistakable. The “children” were the Jewish people. The “food” was whatever the teacher’s mission and gifts were. And she, a Canaanite was one of the “dogs.” It was a terrible, hurtful insult! And the person who hurled it was named Jesus.
You know that there is more to the story. But let’s pause the story right here and do a little soul searching.
Is there any person, or any group of people, any ethnic group, any race, any faith group that you consider lower than a snake’s belly and undeserving of the gifts you have to give or help you have tagged to go only to your “own kind.” That they are,
in your eyes, sub human? Maybe you don’t have such a group, and God bless you for that, but there are folks around who do.
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists erupted in violence, seem to be part of a growing trend whereby folks who have a hatred of Jews and anyone who is non-white are moving out of the shadows of our society where they have dwelt for decades and boldly announcing their hate of anyone who is not like them. They claim membership in the Ku Klux Klan and/or openly adore Nazi principles and history.
How can this be in this time and place? The KKK held sway in the south for a hundred years, killing, beating, torturing, lynching, and generally terrorizing black folks and anyone who would stand up for them. I thought that their excesses of the sixties, with their bombing of churches and the kidnap and murder of white people trying to encourage black people to vote had finally made them persona non grata in our society. Now they seem to be getting a louder voice in the public sphere.
And the neo-Nazis! Didn’t we fight a world war to defeat the Nazi’s and their fanatical efforts to declare a pure race, while murdering millions of Jews and anyone else that tried to stand in their way? How dare the grandchildren of men who fought, and sometimes died fighting, to eliminate Nazis from the earth, openly stand up in public in America today and spew the same rubbish and hate, and ape the same actions, as the Nazis of Adolph Hitler’s Germany?!
Neither of these groups or any of their ilk have any problems identifying who the “dogs” are in their world! Since it isn’t uncommon for white supremacy groups to identify with Christianity or use Christian symbols or language, it is important for us who claim the name of Jesus in our faith to remember, and to tell others, that Christianity does not underwrite, condone or advance the agenda of these groups.
So, back to our story.
The mother might have felt insulted, but she wasn’t deterred. She looked up in Jesus’ eyes and—and I like to imagine there was a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her lips when she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” I would be willing to bet that Jesus threw back his head and roared with laughter when she said this! And then He said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. So what’s with Jesus’ harsh words to this mother seeking help for her child? Was he serious? Was he just messin’ with her? Was he trying to make a point?
We don’t know what the historical moment looked like. Jesus was God in our shape and form, but as fully human, He was a man of His times, so He could have been serious. What is important is to realize that whether He backed down from the quick witted Canaanite Woman, his mind changed, or set her up to make a point about the Kingdom of God, at that moment, His mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” now included the historic enemies of Israel also!
While God started out to bless the entire world through a particular people in a particular place (Abraham and Sarah and their descendants “the children of Israel” and “Israel”, His purpose was, and is, to draw all people into His Kingdom. This doesn’t mean we are all the same, it means that God is about drawing all people to Himself.
Of course, human nature being what it is, within a very short time after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His followers started seeing themselves as the “children” and their spiritual ancestors, the Jews, the “dogs.” St. Paul had to remind the members of the early churches that just because God, through Jesus, had included them, He hadn’t excluded His “chosen people.” “God has not rejected His people whom he foreknew. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”
That’s why it absolutely bumfuzzles me why anti-semitism is so stubbornly persistent. God started His work in the world through those who became known as Israel, and while He has expanded that work into other faiths and ethnic groups, He has not condemned or disowned the Jews. They remain the foundation of His work. Judaism is the foundation of our faith and of God’s work among us, as well.
That doesn’t mean that our distinctions as ethnic or faith groups are erased. Those distinctions, those unique qualities of race or faith, are honored by God. In the sayings of Jesus that precede the story we have just walked through, he refers to the Pharisees, good intentioned keepers of the faith, and how they judge people based on certain ritual practices. Jesus said that what is more important than ritual actions are the actions which “come from the heart.” God looks at the heart and the actions that come out of the heart, rather than the distinctiveness of religion or the skin color. Evil actions come from evil hearts. Good actions come from good hearts.
We can’t personally control the actions of those who claim superiority over others because of race or ethnicity. We cannot personally control those who preach hate or sow seeds of discord among people whom God chooses to include in all their diversity as His children. We can resist such evil when we encounter it, however. In the meantime we can guard our hearts from being poisoned by the poison of hate and bigotry and stop the spread of hate and disunity within our own spheres of influence.
What we see in the story of Jesus and the Canaanite mother is the heart of God in Jesus. Through the story we can see the heart of God, the intentions and passion of God, applied to a situation of human disunity. As God was in Jesus, sharing His heart with all of humankind, so through Jesus. we have the heart of God made available to us. All of us.
Through prayer. Through worship. Through acquainting ourselves with Scripture and the vast story of God in relationship with His creation. Through the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our encouragement of one another. Let the heart of God beat as one with our hearts.
Lord, turn our hearts towards love and away from hate. Work through our hearts to change the hearts of others in the same way.
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