On his deathbed, Martin Luther scribbled these words on a scrap of paper: We’re all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.
Dr. Beth Huwiler once preached on Mark’s version of our Gospel story for today at a seminary chapel service at LTSP. In the sermon, which I saw and read online yesterday, (find it on the web at http://archive.ltsp.edu/reflections/2003-2004/030910huwiler.html) she points out that an abundance of bread or the lack thereof is not the issue in this encounter. Extending Jesus’ use of the bread metaphor she points out that there’s no scarcity of bread here – There’s plenty of bread for both the children at the table and the dogs below. Only, the primary thought here is that this bread isn’t for these particular dogs. And I think she’s right.
We exclude all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, and, surprisingly, it seems that Jesus is doing it here in this story, too.
This woman isn’t a Jew. She’s an outsider by nationality, and by belief system. So, while we usually expect Jesus to be all nicey-nice, and we might be taken off guard by him basically calling this woman a dog, we really shouldn’t be too surprised. We do this all the time, and we do it in God’s name. So why are we surprised to see Jesus doing it? Unless deep down we know that when we exclude, and especially when we exclude in the name of God, we’re off base in doing so. But we do it. We do it all the time. We exclude people who look different than we do. We exclude those whose intimate relationships we struggle to understand. We exclude those who believe different things about God – those who pray in different ways than we do, those who hold different ideas about life, and politics and many other things. And it looks like Jesus is doing the same thing here in this Gospel text, and that’s a hard thing for many of us to wrap our brains around.
So trying to understand how this could be, some have suggested that, in his humanity, Jesus had a thing or two to learn about inclusivity, and it’s this woman who serves as teacher in this teachable moment. Others suggest that Jesus is setting the stage for what he already knows he’s about to do. The disciples are the ones that first want to send her away, and so Jesus plays along in order to set them up so that they can learn a lesson about the all-inclusive nature of God’s saving love.
Whatever the case, the woman is not put off by Jesus’ hesitancy or apparent rudeness. She calls on him for help, because she knows, somehow, that he’s the only One who can help.
She brings to Jesus nothing but her honest need, and she brings it to him as an act of faith, knowing, even though she’s an outsider, even though she’s a Canaanite, and even though he’s a Jewish Messiah sent only to save the Jews – the lost sheep of Israel – and that based on that she has no real claim on his mercy, she brings her honest need to him as the source of hope and help.
And when her honest need meets the source of help, she experiences the power of God in a way that changes everything.
We’re all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.
So no matter what you’re feeling today – whether you’re feeling like an insider or an outsider, whether you’re experiencing particular need or not right now at this point in your life, or whether you have a loved one or a friend who’s in need, we’re all mere beggars, and we come today bringing our honest need to the One who is our only source of hope and help.
(Explain and invite assembly to participate in healing service following the Hymn of the Day – ELW 704, When Pain of the World Surrounds Us)