Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 14, 2011
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Matthew 15:27
If you’re a pet owner, you probably know the routine. The table is set, the meal is spread, and all canine family members gather at your feet with sad eyes and hopeful bellies. If you so much as make eye contact the whines begin soon rising to a cacophony of lamenting yips and barks. The pups are persistent, coveting every bite you put into your mouth. Hey, who can blame them? Kibble or human fare–there is simply no contest. They will pretty much take any crumb you throw their way.
In the south, where I grew up, we have a delectable and not-so-good-for-your-cholesterol morsel known as the “hushpuppy.” It’s basically corn meal doctored up with onion and perhaps some spices that is shaped into a ball or fritter and deep fried. Usually served with fried fish and potato fries for an artery-clogging triple play, its humble origin is attributed to an attempt to quiet noisy pups–hence the name “hushpuppy.” It also sounds a whole lot better than calling them “shut-up-dogs.”
Perhaps this week’s gospel lesson is a case of “heavenly hushpuppies.” A despised outsider, the Canaanite woman, challenges the polite religious order and begs for a few crumbs of grace from Jesus. The disciples, the insiders, urge Jesus to send her away. Is her dogged advocacy on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter embarrassing to them, are her cries just too annoying, or is it simply that she does not belong at their table that irks them?
It’s always useful to look at context. This story is sandwiched in between two feeding stories–the 5,000 and the 4,000. Immediately preceding the woman’s entrance is Jesus’ teaching about clean and unclean, what defiles a person comes from within not without. A look at this bigger picture should alert us to something important happening here.
Is it about faith? Is it about inclusion and exclusion? Is it about grace? Is it about healing and wholeness? Is it about persistence? Is it about our own condition before our Lord? In a word, “yes.” The point of the story is about all of these things.
Martin Luther is supposed to have said “We are beggars: this is true” as his last words. How true indeed! We are all of us the Canaanite woman begging for crumbs of grace, barking for heavenly hushpuppies. I would be willing to bet that most of us know what it feels like to be on the outside looking in, to not belong, and not be invited to the table.
We are also the insiders. Like the disciples we try to follow Jesus. We know the “rules” and “traditions” and how things work in our comfortable, familiar contexts. We are sometimes annoyed when our orderly way of doing things is disrupted. How many young parents, for example, have felt like outsiders when glares and grimaces have been shot in the direction of their squirming, noisy toddlers? How many guests have been confused by worship order or communion practice? How do we respond to the parishioner who “drives us crazy”?
We are simultaneously saint and sinner, fallen and redeemed, deeply flawed and fully loved. By crumbs of grace from God’s own son, we have been saved. My prayer is that we are never too sure of our selves, too proud and comfortable, to forget what it is like to be that outsider begging at the feet of Jesus. If a crumb of grace was enough to work a miracle for us, shouldn’t we be whipping up a batch of heavenly hushpuppies and setting an extra place at the table for all would come in?
Consider using this YouTube video of “Lord Have Mercy” for a meditation. The visuals are orthodox icons, including one of the Canaanite woman.
This would be a good Sunday to use some songs by Dakota Road for a youth-led worship. Consider “Kyrie Eleison,” “Mercy on this Fallen World,” “Mercy,” or “Bring Your Mercy.” Share the gospel lesson, communion, and light candles with prayer petitions for “crumbs of mercy.” Click here for a lyrics index.
A House of Prayer for all People
Consider using this paraphrase of the children’s finger game “Here’s the Church.” If you are not familiar with the basic game and motions, click here.
Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple
Open the doors and see all the people
God’s house is a house of prayer
For all people everywhere.
Let us fold our hands and pray
Lord, be with us here today.
Send us out, good news to share
And for our neighbor we will care.