Crumbs - Matthew 15:21-28
Crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs? Yet, here is a woman in great need, great distress, and deeply desperate to find help for her daughter, who seemingly needs greater things than we might ever hope for, willing to settle for crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs?
It is interesting to note that this fifteenth chapter of Matthew begins with a dispute over “the tradition of the elders.” Specifically, it is a dispute that occurs in households throughout modern America every day: washing one’s hands before meals. Evidently Jesus’ disciples were not washing their hands before every meal. It is equally interesting to note that Jesus does not defend the disciples, but rather attacks back at his questioners pointing to traditions they regularly ignore or find clever ways to get around and brands them hypocrites.
After some more back and forth with them about the traditions of the community of faith, Jesus decides to get away from it all and heads up the coast into Gentile territory. Surely no one will hassle him there. Wrong. Along comes this woman. She has no name in our text. That could be a result of male dominated discrimination on the part of those who managed the texts. Or, it could be the story intends for any one of us to be this woman, give her our own name, encouraging us to come to Jesus on our knees with our real needs: healing, salvation, and to be fed. We all, like her, seek to be fed, healed and saved.
The woman’s need is in fact on her daughter’s behalf, not so much her own. But then again, what mother, what parent, does not want their child to be made well and whole and safe? The daughter has a demon. We know about demons. We know how they can drive everyone crazy. She cries out, “Lord, have mercy on me and my daughter.”
The Lord of infinite mercy and compassion, the God of Love, ignores her. There is no getting around this. Perhaps if I don’t respond, he thinks, she will go away. We have all tried this strategy before. It rarely works. And, no doubt, we have all gone to the Lord with a plea and have felt ignored. We know what that feels like. It can make us sad, and it can make us angry with God. And that sadness and anger can spill over into everything else we do and say.
Then the disciples, that always means us, demand that Jesus send her away. She is interrupting their time alone with Jesus. So Jesus answers their plea, hoping I guess that she will hear his response to them, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” Translated that sounds to her something like, “People outside our community and outside our tradition need not apply. Unless you are just like us, bug off!” Which is a bit odd. He has specifically gone off to Gentile territory and is now complaining of being hassled by Gentiles. Now he adheres to tradition.
Her response is instructive. She gets on her knees and simply pleads, “Lord, help me.” She is on her knees. How often do we forget to get down on our knees? Only when all other solutions are found wanting and ineffective, when there is nowhere else to go, only then do we remember our knees. And that our Lord is the one Lord who gets on his knees and washes feet.
This woman is persistent. She will not take “no” for an answer. She has taken assertiveness training and learned the “broken record” strategy, and now has fallen on her knees on behalf of her poor demon possessed daughter. Being ignored and put down does not faze her. Her heart is undivided. She is, in a word, amazing! Awesome! A model for us all.
She does not allow her own hurt feelings to get in the way of her daughter’s need for healing. Yet, how does Jesus respond to her humble and persistent gesture: Jesus insults her further. He calls her a dog. He calls all her people, all Gentiles, dogs. Whenever people read this story, really really read this story, they cannot believe Jesus could be so cruel. There it is. “I cannot take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That has to hurt. But our woman’s heart remains undivided. When your heart is turned radically to the needs of others, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself.
And suddenly she has vision. For a single moment she has greater vision than Jesus himself. She can see crumbs under the table. She has seen children eat. There are always crumbs under the table. Crumbs are just tiny bits of something larger. Crumbs are insignificant. We often sweep them away. Crumbs are what most of us overlook, especially in the spiritual life. We are so busy looking for ways to grab the whole loaf.
She seems to be the only one in the room who has the vision to see that those crumbs are enough. She says, “OK, you can save the loaves for your family, your people, your children, and I’ll settle for just the crumbs. Even dogs like me get the crumbs that fall off the table.”
Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade! Wow! She is perhaps the most amazing person in the whole Bible. Maybe even the most important person in all of history!
Why? Because she changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to a new place. He let her in. He forgot about tradition for a moment and opened the door and gave her a place at the table. Suddenly he could see only her love for her daughter and the daughter’s need. He could not allow the law or the tradition to get in the way of love and need. He saw her faith. The daughter was healed. So was Jesus. Jesus was healed of being enslaved to the tradition, of bigotry and of blindness to the needs of all people.
Because of her perseverance, her undivided heart, her love and her daughter’s need, Jesus was moved, his mission was changed, and the world has never been the same. Because of the radical turning of her thoughts for others, Jesus radically turned his attention to the needs of others, all others. Because she could see great promise in just the crumbs, her daughter was healed, Jesus was moved to a new place. Gentiles were allowed to sit at the table. All because of the crumbs.
What a wonderful story! And it can be our story! It can be the church’s story, and it can be your story. It all begins with crumbs. When we are hungry enough the crumbs will do. And we will be fed, healed and saved.
Remember this woman in your prayers each day. Remember her heart. Remember her faith. Remember her vision. Remember her persistence. Remember your knees. Remember that when we radically turn our thoughts to the needs of others we have little time to feel sorry for
ourselves. Remember that little bits of grace will be more than enough to sustain us this day and every day. It all begins with crumbs. Amen.