Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Crumbs For Dogs
Matthew 15:21-28
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 15–Sunday between August 13 and 20 Inclusive)
analysis by Shane Pierce

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

DIAGNOSIS: Eating Dust

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Demonized
This is a woman with a problem. Several problems in fact. She’s a Canaanite, way outside the boundaries of good Jewish folk. Her daughter is possessed (and possession tended to point to problems at home). And she is a woman in a time when gender egalitarianism was not in vogue. And not just any woman, but one with a nagging personality. She’s used up her three strikes — she is way out of her league in coming to Jesus and his company.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Denied
As if she didn’t get the message from her demonic problems, she is denied entry into the inner circle with Jesus. The disciples have her already branded as one to be “sent away.” And the response of Jesus has been disconcerting to later eavesdroppers to the story. He ignores her; or worse, when he does speak to her, he confirms that she is justly denied entrance to his favor: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Her whole being is denied as “being.” And the disciples (then and perhaps now) mistakenly may smile at her being put in her place. But the problem of being denied can run deeper than far off regions. It may be closer to home as well, even for the disciples.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Dogs
With her final appeal comes the most stinging words: words that remind her that she is a “dog,” an outcast not only to Jewish society, but more importantly, to God. There is no hope. There is no appeal. And even the smugness of so-called insiders might be overvalued in the final analysis. There is no winning this argument. Only losing.

PROGNOSIS: Eating Crumbs

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Dog’s God
But even in losing, this dog senses that there are a few new tricks (emphasis on “new”) that come from the company she is keeping. “Yes, Lord,” she affirms, conceding that she is without right and honor — that she is, in fact, a dog. But she goes on, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Now she has appealed to the last trump card, a card which she herself does not hold–only the master holds that card. Yet she knows (by faith) that this Lord, this Master, will let her have this last word, because it is His Last Word for all dogs. Dogged lives get godly, get made divine, by the “crumbs,” the benefits, of the Master in their midst. For this Master is the God of the dogs.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Great Faith
Still, what Jesus attributes to this woman — far from leaving her being denied — is her “great faith.” Her faith makes her precious in his sight. And most importantly, it makes her precious in the eyes of God, binding her into the promising tradition. In fact, it is the only sure hope that she has — one of which the disciples should take note as the real key to the
kingdom, turning dogs into gods (note the word inversion, the subversion of faith).

Step 6- Final Prognosis: Healing Presence
And as if that is not enough, this great faith makes of the woman not a problem presence, but a healing presence. Her past history and present dilemmas are recast as signs of promise. Note that once her faith is now recognized as “great” that great things begin to happen: her daughter is healed instantly. To be sure, faith’s object (the dog god) has something to do with that remedy. But don’t discount this vocal, Canaanite woman with a shaky past as herself now an agent of the kingdom coming — to Tyre and Sidon and to the ends of the earth.


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