Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent Week 4
Volume 7 No. 403 March 17, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections

Crumbs for Dogs

by Dr. Steve Andrews

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28


Jesus met a desperate woman with a special needs child. Maybe you have seen her at the local at the local grocery store or at your child's school. The Gentile woman is described in Mark's Gospel as a "Syrophoenician woman." She was a mixed breed of Syria and Phoenicia. Perhaps she was ostracized from her Syrian grandparents and her Phoenician relatives. She was never able to establish a strong network of relationships, which led to an unplanned pregnancy. The boyfriend, knowing the difficulties of race relations in this part of the world, fled when she told him she was pregnant.

Somehow this courageous woman survived as a single mother. When her daughter began having seizures, most people said, "She deserves what she gets. That is what happens when you make the kind of decisions she made." Now, she is out of options and out of money. She hears that a Jewish miracle working prophet is passing through the area. He is reported to have authority over demons. This Syrophoenician mother has tried all the pagan gods of her culture, but none could help. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is different.

I. The discouragement

In addition to her physical circumstances, she experiences a series of obstacles that threaten to discourage her even more. Like an athlete running the 100 meter hurdles, she has to jump over several additional obstacles in order to reach the finish line and receive a blessing from Jesus.

Jesus refuses to answer her. The disciples falsely assume His silence was rejection, so they try to make her go away. Then Jesus told her that His blessings were intended for the Jews. If that was not discouraging enough, He then calls her a dog. Some commentators accurately point out that the word Jesus used was the term for a pet dog not a mangy dog that lived at the garbage dump, but don't assume the term is a compliment. Try telling your wife she looks like your beloved Golden Retriever. I would be surprised if she would be pleased that you called her an admirable breed instead of a mangy mutt. Her circumstances, the response of Jesus, and the rebuke of the disciples contribute to the discouragement she is already experiencing as Satan attacks her and her daughter.

II. God's design

We must consider why Jesus would lead this mother through a humbling and difficult process before granting her request. While His response does seem harsh, the lesson of persistent faith displayed through a time of testing is a common theme in Scripture. Abraham was tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Jacob wrestled with God. Joshua had to conquer fortified cities before claiming the Promised Land. David fought Goliath and lived in exile before becoming king. The Gospels record several stories where Jesus tested the disciples. Jesus said we must "ask, seek, and knock" if we desire to have our prayers answered. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:7 that God tests our faith to develop in us a faith that is greater than gold.

We must keep in perspective that having a healthy child did not eliminate all of her other struggles. She was still a Syrophoenican woman living in a male dominated and a racially sensitive culture as an ostracized single mother. Jesus used this encounter to develop a deep courageous faith that would sustain her for the rest of her life not just for a one-time healing.

III. Her deliverance

In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry said, "She demonstrated spiritual quickness and sagacity" recognizing that which seems to be against us can be used for our benefit. Sagacity is one of those great descriptive words that we don't use very often in our speech. It comes from the root word sage as in a wise sage or teacher. She sought Jesus- the one with the power and authority to meet her needs. All too often we turn to futile sources to meet our deepest needs. She continued her sagacious pursuit by calling Jesus the "Son of David," which reveals knowledge of the promises concerning the Jewish messiah. Then, she referred to Jesus as Lord, acknowledging that He was worthy of praise. Don't miss the lesson that she praised Jesus in the midst of her pain. The psalmist proclaimed that God is enthroned or inhabits the praises of His children.

A second characteristic that contributes to her deliverance is her humility. We should never confuse humility with weakness. This mother is a courageous warrior fighting for her child, but she humbly submits to the Lord of the universe. Pride would have been offended by the dog comment. Pride would have returned insult for insult, and pride would have gone away empty. The Bible says, "God rejects the proud, but He gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

A third and perhaps the main characteristic contributing to her blessing was tenacity. With the odds stacked against her, she pushes forward. When she got knocked down by circumstances and criticism, she got back up. When others told her to quit because she was wasting Jesus' time, she continued to ask. Elijah prayed seven times before he saw the first small cloud. Jesus prayed the same prayer three times in the garden of Gethsemane, and this amazing woman asks three times for help. The primary purpose of this story is to inspire us not to give up just because the hill is difficult to climb. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.


Some of Andrew Jackson's childhood friends were discussing how surprisingly successful Andy was considering all his flaws. They discussed other boys who were smarter than Andy. In fact Andy's school work was no indication that he would become the President of the United States. The friends talked about other boys who were stronger than Andy.

One friend said, "Don't' you remember how Johnny would throw Andy three out of four times when they wrestled ."

"What happened on the fourth time?" one asked.

Another friend answered, "I guess that was Andy's secret. He just wouldn't stay throwed." (Bits and Pieces)

Dear child of God. If Satan throws you down, don't stay "throwed." Jesus is waiting to bless the one who keeps getting up and pursuing the Master.

About The Author:

Dr. Steve Andrews holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Georgia.

Source: Lifeway; © 2001–2017 LifeWay Christian Resources

Healing Faith -Lectionary Reflection

by Robert Cornwall

Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter." 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV)

Healing stood at the center of Jesus' ministry. Wherever he went he ended up healing people. He was, you might say, a healing evangelist. In many ways Jesus' healing ministry is scandalous, at least for more progressive/modernist Christians. More preferable is a demythologized Jesus, one who is more community organizer than miracle worker. Standing at the heart of the issue is the problem of miracles and whether ours is an interventionist God. One of the problems presented by an interventionist understanding of God is that God is essentially a gap-filler. On the other hand, why bother with a God who isn't present nor active in our world and in our lives. An absent/distant God is of little use. Besides, the stories of Jesus the healer remain strongly present in the Gospels (which might explain why some progressives prefer Thomas or Q, since that Jesus is just a talking head who never really does much). If we take the healing portions out of the Gospels (something that Thomas Jefferson famously did), we would seem to lose something important. Jesus' actions often provide the foundation for his teachings. Without them the teaching moments are disembodied.

What we see and hear in the stories of Jesus' healing experiences is an expression of divine compassion and grace. Jesus' healing actions are all expressions of the work of the Holy Spirit, and have eschatological significance (Luke 4:18-19). That is, they are signs of the inbreaking of the realm of God. Theologian Amos Yong suggests that "the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus are pneumatologically constituted events that signify the coming era, proleptically announcing and providing a foretaste, in the past (and present), of the eschatological future of God" [The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination (Pentecostal Manifestos), p. 90]. I would take this to mean that even as Jesus brings wholeness to bodies and minds, he is living out the vision of God for the world. The problem, however, remains that God seems to be tampering with divinely laid out laws of nature. The vision present in the Gospels is of a God who doesn't seem to be bound by such rules. One way to get around a mechanistic vision is to appeal to quantum physics, a topic that is deeper and more complex than we have time or space to explore. So, perhaps we're not left with a choice between supernaturalism and a Humeian vision of miracles as transgressors of natural laws. But that is a conversation for another day.

In the reading from Mark 7, Jesus the healer appears, but he appears in rather unusual contexts that offer another set of challenges to our understandings of Jesus' identity. There are two healing stories present in the readings. Both events occur in predominantly Gentile contexts. In the previous section of the Gospel, Jesus has challenged the traditions of the elders. He has redefined what is clean and unclean. It is a matter of the heart, not external observances that constitute faithfulness to God. Now, having set out this standard Mark has Jesus venture into predominantly Gentile territory. Tyre is a city on the coast traditionally linked to the Phoenicians. The second healing takes place in the Decapolis, a Gentile region east of the Sea of Galilee. Could the first healing encounter have triggered the second?

If you are like me you envision Jesus as an open/welcoming person. His is an inclusive vision that is rooted in the Jewish vision of God's desire to bless the nations. It is only natural for him to treat Gentiles in the same way he treats fellow Jews. But in this passage we discover a side of Jesus we forget is there. It is a reminder that we all have a tendency toward ethnocentrism, at least until we have something like a conversion experience. That's what happens at Tyre.

Jesus has gone to this heavily Gentile city for some undisclosed reason. I'm assuming that he stays at the home of a fellow Jew who happens to live there. Most metropolitan cities had a Jewish community of some sort. Who this person was isn't revealed to us. Mark tells us that Jesus didn't want anyone to know he was there (the Markan Jesus is keen on keeping a low profile, though it never works out that way). This woman, a Gentile of Syrophoenician background, somehow gets wind of Jesus presence in the community. How this happens, again we're not told. She comes to the house, and begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter.

It is at the point of the woman begging Jesus to heal her daughter that the ethnocentrism emerges. Jesus tells the woman that it's not appropriate for the children's food to be thrown to the dogs (calling one a dog has long been a derogatory term - and contextually they might not have been humanity's best friend). The woman, however, remains undaunted. Jesus has just insulted her. He has essentially told her to get off his grass, but that makes no difference to her. She accepts his abuse and continues to pursue his intervention in the life of her daughter. She's desperate, and desperate times require desperate measures. She tells Jesus that even the dogs eat the scraps that fall to the floor. That's all she's asking for - just the scraps from the table. Jesus responds to her forceful response by extending healing grace to her daughter. He tells her to go home and find her child healed.

What should we make of this passage? What message do we hear in it? It certainly raises questions about Jesus' own vision. Perhaps he needs to be converted as well. It should be noted that in Mark 5 Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac, which was a Gentile area as seen by the presence of the swine herd (Mark 5:1-20). So, why did he respond like he did? Could it be that it was her gender, and that her request had not been made by a man? It's possible. Whatever the case, the woman's persistence leads to a change in Jesus' own understanding of his calling. Could it be that Jesus is faced with the question of his own hypocrisy, which he had earlier challenged (Mark 7:1-23)? In other words, does Jesus face the reality of being fully human? This encounter helps Jesus come to a broader vision of his ministry, one that is truly inclusive and open. Without her intervention would this have happened?

The healing of the woman's daughter is followed by the healing of a deaf man in the Decapolis (one city in that region being Gerasa, where Jesus had earlier healed the demoniac). Fresh off this encounter with the woman at Tyre Jesus finds himself in another Gentile region. No longer is he showing off his ethnocentrism. When the friends of the man who is deaf approach him and ask that he heal him, Jesus responds without hesitation. He takes him aside, and heals him. He does so with a specific prophetic ritual - putting his fingers in the man's ears and spitting and then touching the man's tongue, declaring "Ephphatha" or "be opened." The man responds by speaking plainly. And then in true Markan fashion, Jesus tells the man and his friends to keep silent about what has transpired. Of course, as always occurs, they don't obey. They go and tell their story. How could they not? Something life-changing had happened. You have to share that word.

Loye Bradley Ashton suggests that what we have here is an "Ephphatha Christology." Noting that the experience with the Syrophoenician woman revealed the true extent of Jesus' humanity, she writes: Jesus is fully God and fully human only if he can faithfully ‘be opened' to both at the same time" (Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4, p. 48). Having been opened to a wider vision through this conversion experience, Jesus is ready to truly live out an inclusive vision of the Gospel.

Going back to the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, it is appropriate to remember the image of the bread. Meals in the ancient world were expressions of social boundaries. You ate with those like you. Jesus' own table fellowship tended to break down boundaries. This encounter helps move Jesus toward that inclusive vision that too are called to embrace. As Paul declared to the Galatians - "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). This is the greatest miracle, and one to be greeted with joy, that that the boundaries we set are removed and humanity experiences true healing.

Leftovers for all!

by Christopher Burkett

Gospel: Matthew 15.21-28

Once upon a time, a woman called the local vicar and asked him if he would officiate at a funeral for her dog. ... The priest was a bit put off by the request, and with a somewhat disgusted tone in his voice, he suggested that there was no way he could do such a thing, and that she might try one of the other churches in the area. She agreed to do that but not before she asked the priest for some advice. "Do you think £500 is an appropriate honorarium for a funeral of this kind? she asked, and should I make the cheque out to the minister or to the church?" The priest quickly cleared his throat and said, "Wait a minute, why didn't you tell me your dog was Church of England."

That's the only laugh you're going to get out of me this morning. What a text to come back from holiday to! I wanted something straightforward to ease me back into the preaching task. And what have we got? "It's not right to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to dogs." Be clear just how severe these words from Jesus' mouth are. Perhaps that's why the lectionary compilers suggest it be used as part of a longer passage, it doesn't seem quite so hard then. The hurt is in the word "dog."

"Man's best friend" we say. We sentimentalise and befriend dogs in ways that are peculiarly modern and western. I think you will only find dogs referred to positively in one place in scripture and that's in the book of Tobit - when did you last hear that in church? Every other reference portrays them as scavenging curs.

The point is easily seen in any African country. Yes, there are plenty of dogs, running loose. Almost all of them scrawny and roaming about sifting and sniffing through rubbish, and on the look out for food to steal. These dogs walk among the children playing in the street, it's obvious that they are not the personal possession of any of them. They are just kind of there ... and for the most part they are barely tolerated and or ignored. Mothers who have little enough to feed their children don't toss sausages and crusts to Fido.

In the land where Jesus lived, dogs carried about the same social standing as many of their counterparts anywhere in Africa today. Remember when Jesus tells the parable of "The Rich Man and Lazarus," Lazarus lays helpless at the gate, and Jesus gave us that gruesome little detail about the dogs that would come and lick his sores, well, that's about it in terms of the way dogs were regarded.

That's the kind of worldview from which Jesus makes his comment to the Gentile woman in our Gospel this morning. She asks for him to bring healing to her daughter and he says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel... It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." A prophet ministering outside the boundaries of Israel is like a mother who would deny food to her children and feed it to stray dogs instead. There's no way you can make that a comfortable remark. I know lots of people have tried - they've said he was testing her faith; that he was stretching her courage in way that was good for her. But I think not. Why not hear it simply as it is?

Certainly such harsh words aren't what we expect from Jesus. The analogy he uses doesn't reflect the inclusiveness that we believe is part and parcel of his understanding of God and the world. This Jesus who, most of the time, we find welcoming sinners and tax collectors, touching lepers, and associating with people other people wouldn't even give the time of day - here says something that is harsh, discriminatory and insulting. Yes, Jesus was a person of his time - a first-century Jew born into a world of boundaries, discrimination and exclusion. It's so easy to idealise him in a completely unrealistic way. He was a person of his time. That's what being a person is - it goes with the territory of incarnation.

Matthew lets us see that Jesus is human. This is a Jesus who learns and develops - like any of us. This is a Jesus who has to respond to what goes on around him - like any of us. This is a Jesus who doesn't know everything - like any of us. This is a Jesus who is genuinely human.

But look at the nature of his humanity. Most of us, most of the time, let our personal prejudices, our personal likes and dislikes, rule our responses. It's hard to step aside from those things and see some new possibility outside our own frames of reference. We have to be cajoled and persuaded into the effort. The truth of that is easily seen in the disciples' reaction. To them the woman is clearly beyond the bounds; a nuisance they want to be rid of. Like the insistent beggar on the city corner who tries and tries to stop you walking on - what a nuisance.

Jesus does the other thing. He actually lets the nuisance engage him. This brave woman comes back at him powerfully. Even the analogy is better than his: 'even the dogs,' she says, 'eat the crumbs that fall from the table.' And in the encounter Jesus changes - that's what human's are really good at when they are brave enough to chance it. The woman teaches Jesus something new about the Kingdom - she widens its inclusion to be genuinely inclusive. And Jesus realizes the truth of it: 'Woman, great is your faith!'

Somebody said, the day you can no longer change is the day you stop being a human being. Well, Jesus is a human being, and this day he changes. His outlook, his worldview we might call it now, is lifted to something new. Let Jesus be our exemplar: we must dare to let our outlooks be changed too. We must dare to truly engage with the world and let life's encounters work with what we know of God and so shape our living and understanding. According to Matthew the gospel writer in this difficult story, that is a Jesus thing to do.

A brave and faithful woman challenges Jesus, and he discovers, and we discover too, that it doesn't matter whether you're a Canaanite from Tyre or Sidon or anywhere else. All those boundaries and barriers we make so much of: ethnicity, class, nationality, upbringing - so many barriers, so many divisions - none of them matter. What matters is the person before God - every single person. As St Paul puts it, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. The 'dividing wall of hostility' is broken down in Christ. It's hard to think of God's grace as leftovers, but isn't that what this story says? There are enough leftovers for ALL.

Source: PreacherRhetorica


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