September 9, 2012
More than crumbs
In America, we like to think we live in a free nation, which welcomes people of all types, of all ethnicities, of all faiths. But this is not always true.
… About 15 years ago, I lived in a mixed community. It was not the worst neighborhood in the area, but I was glad my children were too old to have to attend the neighborhood school. Next door to me was a gay man who taught in the same school district where he grew up. He planted catnip in his yard for his cats and kept an eye on my cat Thankful when I needed to be away.
On the other side of me lived an African-American family, a grandmother and her grandchildren. An adult daughter was there once in a while. I got to know several of the children and had a good time with them. Although they were renters, they took good care of the house and property.
Across the street from me lived a white family, mother, father and their two children. The mom was a teacher in the community school system, but the children went to a private school. When I sold my house, the teacher-mom asked me about the buyer. “Can you tell me,” she wanted to know, “if they are white?”
… Pastor Rani is a Palestinian Christian living and serving in Dearborn, Michigan, where 40% of the population is of Arab descent. They are Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Somali. Originally, they came to work in the auto industry. Today, many own their own businesses, operated in both English and Arabic. Mike and I often traveled to Dearborn to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant until the company built one in our neighborhood.
Pastor Rani has started and grown a congregation of Arab Christians, and works diligently to educate the Southeast Michigan region about Arab people. He shows up occasionally on the evening news, most recently a couple of weeks ago after windows at the church were broken. He said, “As a Christian Arab and Middle Eastern congregation, we have sensed the profiling in more ways than one,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate that racial profiling, bigotry and racism continues to exist and flourish in our beloved country, as we live under a Constitution that supports freedom, justice and equality for all.”
… When Jesus traveled northwest out of Galilee he entered Gentile, Canaanite, territory. Like African Americans and Latinos and Arabs and gays in many parts of America, he was in unfriendly territory. While his life was not necessarily at risk, he was not welcome.
I think he went to Tyre hoping that if he went where fewer people knew him, he might be able to get some rest and some time to pray. He was getting crabby, testy, and needed some peace.
But he was not going to get it even in Tyre. A woman with a sick daughter discovered he was there and begged him to cast the demon out of her. Jesus declines. Actually, he says testily, “It is not right to take the food from children and give it to the dogs.” The woman counters, “But even the dogs get the crumbs.”
Why, we wonder, did Jesus speak to the woman that way? We know how Jesus normally speaks to people, and this is strange.
To my neighbor who wanted to know the race of the buyer of my house, we expect that Jesus would have told the parable of the Good Samaritan. He might then have challenged her, “Who is your neighbor?”
To Pastor Rani and his community, we believe that Jesus would have said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus would have known that Rani and his neighbors needed words of hope and encouragement.
But when this foreign woman asks Jesus to do what he has done countless times for Jewish people, Jesus is vehement in his refusal. What is going on here? Scholars and parishioners have argued about this for centuries. Probably Jesus’ disciples argued about it, too.
Either Jesus is testing the woman’s faith or the woman is testing Jesus’ calling to save all people. I think it’s both. Jesus wants to hear that the woman believes in him and in the God who sent him. The woman wants to know that she is included in what Jesus is doing, even if she gets just the left-overs.
For us today, we learn once more that Jesus’ blessing and healing and loving and forgiving is not just for those who think of themselves as “in” but it’s also for those who are happy to get just the crumbs. This is not to say that we should be offering just the crumbs, just the left-overs to others. Jesus did not heal the daughter part-way; she was fully healed.
This week, I invite you to consider to whom you might give just the crumbs. Why do they deserve only the left-overs? Is that what Jesus wants for them? Is that what Jesus wants for you?
Please pray with me: We know that you came for everyone, but we forget. Help us to remember, and reach out to all with more than just our left-overs. Teach us to share the best of what we have, including your love, with everyone we encounter. Amen