Sunday Readings: Isaiah 56.1, 6-7; Romans 11.13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15.21-28
“It is not faith to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus said, but the Canaanite women said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” – Matthew 15.26-27
In both Matthew’s and Mark’s version of this gospel, Jesus refuses to help a Gentile mother who asks him to free her daughter from a demon. Both gospels preserve Jesus’ refusal, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This saying insists Jesus’ mission is only to the Jewish people. In using the saying, Jesus not only refuses the woman’s request, his only refusal to help in the gospels, but he insults her. He uses an ethic slur. The saying makes her a dog.
How can Jesus, who everywhere else in the four gospels reaches out to sinners, lepers and crazy people, express such close-minded prejudice to this woman? This story reflects conflicts in Christian communities after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Christian must claim Jesus taught the saying, “Don’t throw the children’s food to the dogs.” In both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, the woman counters with the truth of her own experience. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” At her house both messy children and hungry dogs eat. Her comeback makes space for children and dogs at the same table, for Jews and Gentiles. Her quick wit challenges the meaning of the saying and shows exclusion is not Jesus’ teaching.
What practices today exclude you or fail to nourish you? What experiences have broadened whom you accept into your house or parish community?