Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15: 21-28)
In the Gospel lessons we are given glimpses in the Kingdom of God, that “up-side-down” kingdom in which human values, priorities and sense of justice is turned on its head. These glimpses into the Kingdom show us that human logic or justice is not the reigning morality in that place where the first are last, and the greatest are the ones who serve not those being served.
Just prior to this Gospel lesson in Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus had been chided by His own disciples for having said things that are offensive to the Pharisees (15:12) regarding their hand washing and food traditions. So now, Jesus heads to what probably was the furthest north that He traveled in His lifetime to a region that had a non-Jewish population.
Here, strangely enough Jesus is called both Lord and Son of David – titles the Pharisees certainly did not give to Jesus – by a non-Jew. Obviously this woman knows something of the Jewish religion, and has also heard about Jesus. She has no interest in whether Jesus keeps the Pharisaic tradition, but she believes He has the power to heal her daughter. Like the woman with the flow of blood who wants only to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, this woman too wants only one thing from the Kingdom – that her daughter be freed of demon possession. She is seeking from Him that power from God which the Pharisees have ignored in their obsession with keeping their tradition.
It is here in this foreign territory that Jesus utters the phrase, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He may have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but it is not Israel which has welcomed Him in faith. However, here a stranger seeks out this itinerant healer and Lord. She is not of the house of Israel and she is not lost, for she has found the very person she was seeking. She has found Him and she will not let Him get away.
The woman not only calls Jesus Lord but gets on her knees before him in an act of reverence – again something that few Jews did in the Gospel.
Though Jesus clearly states His mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, this story shows His being welcomed and professed by those not of the house of Israel. The lost are not seeking to be found, but someone not of Israel’s house and faith is looking for what God is offering to His people.
Jesus responds to the woman using imagery of the heavenly banquet of God’s Kingdom: namely that of food. If indeed this woman knows something of the Messiah and of Jewish beliefs, which she seems to know, then she should also be aware that Jewish food restrictions will not allow her to eat of the same foods as the Jews.
Jesus tosses out to her that He cannot share with her the food that is given to God’s people. He can’t throw the bread from the children’s table to the dogs.
The woman is not deterred or offended by His comment. Like the poor man Lazarus, she longs for the crumbs from the master’s table. Her faith is such that she is willing to accept whatever she can get from Master’s banquet in the Kingdom. She is willing even to be a dog accepting the crumbs that fall from her Master’s table. She is not demanding to sit at the Master’s right and left as some of the disciples did, but her hope is to be allowed to receive what falls from the table on to the floor. Even that will be a blessing from heaven. Being a dog at the Master’s banquet table in heaven is still a blessing. Her faith and priorities are straight. She has no claims to sitting at the head table, but she values completely the smallest blessing that might fall her way – even if it is discarded from the Master’s table.
Jesus marvels that those not of the house of Israel, those not even being sought by Him, are so eager to benefit from even the crumbs of the Master’s table. The Gentile woman recognizes the value of what Jesus is offering and like Lazarus longs for it, even if only a crumb. She cares nothing for being recognized as somebody, she cares nothing for show, she understands a crumb from the Kingdom is more important than where she might be sitting when it is given to her.
Indeed the woman’s prayer is heard, all for the sake of a crumb!
Pharisees are obsessing over tradition and rules about washing hands before eating, this woman understands the value of the food being offered. She is not worried about keeping tradition in its minutia, she is willing to receive crumbs from the master’s table no matter how they come her way. It is not keeping herself clean that is important, it is receiving what is God’s grace that matters.
The Pharisees were majoring on the minors, while this one woman far removed from the faith shaped by Pharisaic obsession with the Law and with being seen by others to be rule abiding, knew the true importance of the tiniest things of God’s grace.