James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has a conversation with a foreign woman that surprises us. We know Jesus loves everyone and included even non-Jewish people in his ministry. This seems so unlike Jesus, but it will help to look at the whole story of Jesus so far.
We are in chapter 7 of Mark, and so far, Jesus has stayed in and around Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing Jews. So far, only once does he venture out of Galilee, and that is to cross the Sea of Galilee to heal Legion, the man possessed by demons. After this healing, he quickly returns to Capernaum to continue his ministry. He has become so well-known he needs some rest. He knows that he can’t get a break at home, so he leaves the Galilee and goes into non-Jewish territory northwest of Galilee, near Tyre and Sidon.
Hoping to remain anonymous, he tries to have the disciples with him protect him: “Tell them I am not available.” Apparently, the people in the region have heard of him but they are respecting his request for some time off. Except for one woman. Her daughter is seriously ill, infected with a demon, and she is desperate for healing for her. She will not go away.
Finally, Jesus says he will talk with her. “Don’t you realize I have been sent to feed the children of Israel first? Later will come your time.” The woman hears a promise – that eventually the good news Jesus brings will come to foreigners. But, she wonders to herself, why not ask for something now. Why do we have to wait?
So she challenges Jesus, “The dogs get the leftovers from the whole loaf of bread. Why can’t I at least have the crumbs?” Jesus is amazed at the faith he hears in her statement. “Go on home. Your daughter is already healed.”
It surely seems that Jesus learned something in this encounter, something he had not considered until this moment. His mission was not just for the Jews, but for all people.
The woman is happy with the crumbs. Think about this. How many people do you know are happy with the crumbs? How many people do you know would rather have the whole slice, or even the whole loaf?
Last week I heard a brief story about someone who would be happy to receive some crumbs. He said something like this: “I grew up poor. We got by, but the hardest thing was the shoes. We could get clothes, but it was really hard to get shoes.” He would have been happy to receive our cast-off shoes, the crumbs of our efforts at closet-cleaning.
That’s rather how we think about it, isn’t it? What aren’t we using now? What stuff can we get rid of to make room for more stuff? If we can make money on it, we’ll put it in our own yard sale. But if it’s not that valuable, we’ll give it away directly to the poor or to the church yard sale. We sell the slices, and give away the crumbs.
We also treat some people like the whole loaf and other people as the crumbs. James cautions us that all are loved by Jesus and none are his favorites. “If we show partiality, it is a sin,” James says. And he quotes Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
From Tyre, Jesus traveled east toward the region of the Decapolis, which is sort of where the kingdom of Jordan is today. Once more, Jesus is in non-Jewish territory, and once more, Jesus has in interaction with a non-Jewish person.
This time, he doesn’t try to turn the man away. Instead, he takes him away and does the healing in private. We have such surprising details about the healing, and no explanation about why Jesus took these steps – putting his fingers in the man’s ears, spitting and touching his tongue. The man is healed with the words, “Ephphatha.” “Be opened!”
This time, for this healing of a foreign person, Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He touches a foreign person despite the rule that doing so will make him ritually unclean. Jesus doesn’t give him just the crumbs but the whole loaf.
When we participate in the order for healing, we assume Jesus can and will hear us and heal us. But we don’t really believe it. We show up. We pray for healing. We say amen, which means “so be it.” But, deep down, we aren’t sure we will really be healed. We are convinced that we will receive only the crumbs of healing, and not the whole loaf. We are sure we will feel God’s blessing, but not a relief from pain, or a cure of our cancer, or a mending of our arthritic bones.
Hear this. God wants for us to have the whole loaf, not just the crumbs. God wants for us to be healed. God wants for us to have enough of everything we need to live a full life.
The challenge for most of us is that in order for everyone to have enough, we need to give to others more than just the crumbs of our lives, of our closets.
This week, I encourage you to pay attention to how you think about people. Are all people you think about worth a whole loaf, or are some of them just crumbs? When you think about yourself, how much are you worth, just crumbs, or a whole loaf in God’s eyes?
When you think about the things you are donating to the yard sale, are they just crumbs, or at least a whole slice? When you write your check for the offering, are you giving God the leftover crumbs, or enough to make a difference?