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Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs

Things They Said to Jesus

Week Two

David Collins

July 7,2024

Today is our second week in our series, “Things They Said to Jesus”, and today’s is a really good one. We’re going to look at someone who changed Jesus’ mind and altered the course of his ministry. I got to warn you though, this passage doesn’t make Jesus look great. But it does show his humanity, and it teaches us something about what it means to be human, too.

First, some context, because that’s always important when we’re looking at anything in the Bible. Here’s where we find Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus had been ministering around the Sea of Galilee, performing miracles and teaching crowds of people. His fame had spread far and wide, and he had just finished a contentious debate with the Pharisees about what makes a person clean or unclean. He emphasized that it’s not what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out from their heart.

Now, Jesus seeks some solitude. So he takes a little trip into Gentile country.

Mark 7:24-30

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.

Now, I already told you that this passage doesn’t make Jesus look great at first. And it’s not just because he’s tired and wants a break. It’s because as a real human being, he is a product of his time and place. That is a part of what it means to be human.

We’d all like to think that’s not the case about us, right? But if it’s true for Jesus, it’s definitely true for us. We are social creatures. We are formed by the cultures, communities, and times we live in. Our beliefs, behaviors, and biases are shaped by our surroundings. So, when Jesus responds to the Gentile woman with a harsh remark, it’s a reflection of the deeply ingrained cultural boundaries of his day.

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.’

Yeah, he called her a dog. It’s what Jewish people thought about Gentiles back then. And many probably still do.

Let’s pause here to consider a tenet of our faith.

We believe that Jesus was without sin. 

Dozens of scriptures say so, and our creeds and confessions affirm that belief. So when we read the Bible as faithful and committed Christians, we read it with those convictions guiding our interpretation. So what the heck do we do with this…this bias? This discrimination?

Is it a sin?

No it’s not. It’s on the brink…But we’re not done yet.

Back to the scripture. This woman wasn’t there to change Jesus’ mind about her people, or catch him saying something wrong. She needed something from him…something that she knew only he could provide: a miraculous healing for her daughter. So she stays engaged. She listens to what he says, but does’t take it personally, then she turns it back around on him like a Judo move.

28 But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’

Which for the Bible, is kind of a mic drop moment. If this was a rap battle, the Syrophoenician woman gets to be Kendrick today. Just look at how clever and witty she is. She takes Jesus’ insult, and reinterprets it. He calls her and her people dogs. Dogs that fight in the street and eat garbage. But she makes room in what he says. Sure, we might be dogs who don’t deserve the first serving, but dogs also wait under the table, maybe with their heads in a lap, waiting for crumbs, or maybe some of that dish that Uncle Joe always brings and no one wants to tell him the truth about it.

In a gospel where Jesus’ own Jewish male disciples consistently lose the thread, and ask Jesus to repeat himself…again…this woman’s wit stands out and sparkles. And Jesus sees it.

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.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t compliment her faith here. He gives a shoutout to her wordplay. And grants her request as a result.

In the gospels, Jesus is always the one who is right and insightful, except for here. Here he was wrong. But he didn’t stay wrong. And that’s why it wasn’t a sin.

It's not a sin to be wrong.

It is a sin to stay wrong in the face of evidence.

There are many, many things you might be wrong about, and it’s not really your fault, because you and everyone else are a product of the world you were born in. We see in this passage that Jesus was too.

It’s really remarkable just how many things we can be wrong about with very little effect on our lives, while being pleasantly convinced that we’re right about everything that matters.

Our brains have a neat way of carefully filing away all the reasons we might be right, and disregarding all the reasons we might be wrong. And on top of that, lots of people agree with us, because they’re wrong too. Now, you might be thinking, “They can’t all be wrong, can they?”

But yeah, they can.

Most people are wrong about most things most of the time. If there’s one discovery to be made in the study of science and history, it’s that being wrong about almost everything does people so little harm. Ignorance truly is bliss.

Until it’s not.

Until your grandkids don’t want to see you any more because of the things you say.

Until another child dies of whooping cough.

Until you can’t tell truth from lies by yourself anymore.

Until you finally find out.

Some people double down even in those situations. And that’s where being wrong becomes a sin.

I think it’s a sin long before that. Have you heard this saying? “A fool learns only from his own mistakes. The wise learn from the mistakes of others.”

Just look at the example Jesus set. How many clues did he need to see that he, and his whole community, was wrong? Just one. Just one person telling the truth about herself was all it took.   And he goes on from this encounter, after hearing these wise words, and heals more Gentiles, and feeds thousands more. He learned and changed because of the evidence he saw. That’s what it means to be fully human. Falling short of that is sin.

If you persist in being wrong, after you know better, out of some sense of loyalty to the past. Or if you cherry pick what counts as evidence, and throw all the exceptions on a pile at the back of your mind, so that you can stick with the way it feels like it’s always been, I think that the implication of this scripture is that that is a sin.

It's not a sin to be wrong. But it is a sin to stay wrong in the face of evidence.

The alternative is really simple though. Just three simple words that can change your life, your relationships, and your faith.

I was wrong.

I was wrong! It’s so freeing to say it. I was wrong. You were right! Wow! The first thing you’ll notice is that the ground doesn’t open up and swallow you whole. People don’t stop and stare. Children don’t point and laugh. It’s just as easy as falling off a log, which I don’t know how that became a phrase, but it does sound easy.

It has to be “I was wrong” though. “Mistakes were made” doesn’t cut it. Neither does “It didn’t turn out the way I anticipated.” Maybe offer a brief explanation, but don’t make excuses. Acknowledge that your error had a negative impact on others, and be willing to really listen, without defensiveness, to how it impacted others. Don’t interrupt. Apologize.

Then, make a change in your life, and how you do things, because of it. Jesus’ change lead directly to you and me being here today. His change of heart towards the Gentiles was built on by Peter and Paul and changed the course of history. Small changes can make a big difference.

So we learn from Jesus how to be wrong but not stay wrong.

We learn from the Syro Woman how to treat someone who is.

People who are wrong have a lot of power in our lives, don’t they? Even if we don’t need something directly from them, the way that she needed Jesus to heal her daughter, they still hold the power to damage our communities or to heal them. Which they do depends I large part on how we show them they’re wrong.

Will we do what the Syro Woman did? And let their insults stand, but maybe twist them around to make room for what we need? Maybe get them to crack a smile and see that the people they’re wrong about don’t hate them for how they were raised?

Or do we go scorched earth with them? Hoping that maybe they will be the ones who are grateful to be humiliated?

Don’t get me wrong, the example we see in this scripture will not work like this with most people, because most people aren’t like Jesus.

But they could be. That’s our hope against hope, isn’t it? That’s what we are supposed to see in them, and in ourselves, right? That each and every person is a true human being deep down.

So what does this mean for us today? It means we have to be willing to examine our beliefs, challenge our assumptions, and listen to those who might see the world differently than we do. It means being open to the possibility that we might be wrong about something, and being willing to change when we see the evidence.

Think about the relationships in your life.

Are there people you've written off because they don't fit into your preconceived notions?  Are there voices you've ignored because they challenge your comfort zone? The story of the Syrophoenician woman reminds us that wisdom and truth can come from unexpected places, and that humility is a crucial part of change.

Maybe it’s a family member with whom you’ve had a long-standing disagreement.

Maybe it’s a co-worker who sees things differently politically or socially.

Maybe it’s a neighbor whose lifestyle or culture you don’t understand.

Jesus and this woman show us that being open to these voices can lead to growth and transformation.

Because remember, we’re not saved by being right.

We’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Jesus alone.

This truth liberates us. It takes the pressure off of us to have all the answers or be perfect.

Salvation is not a reward for getting everything right; it’s a gift from God. It’s given to us because God looked at us and loved us and chose us, warts and all.

When we truly get this, it changes everything. We don’t need to be defensive or afraid of admitting our mistakes. We don’t need to be afraid of creativity pointing out others’ either.

We can freely fall at Jesus’ feet and say, “I actually am a dog! And so is everyone else. And that’s okay.” When we acknowledge our shortcomings and our sins, our wrongs and mistakes,  we can accept our humanity and everyone else’s We can experience the grace that covers us all.

Falling at Jesus' feet and confessing our true state is not a desperate display of defeat but of faith.

It’s recognizing that our worth is not dependent on our own righteousness or right-ness but on Jesus’.

This woman in the story had no illusions about her status. She didn’t come to Jesus claiming to be worthy or deserving. She came in desperation and faith. And in that humility, she found grace. Her faith was in Jesus’ ability to transcend those boundaries and provide what she needed most.

When we stop trying to be right all the time, when we stop insisting that everyone else has to be right all the time too, we make room for God’s grace to work in us and through us.

We can admit our faults and failures because we know they don’t define us. God’s love does. We can point out how others are wrong, not from a place of moral superiority, but just as one dog showing another where to find bread.

And this allows us to live more authentically, to connect more deeply with others, and to grow more fully into the people God created us to be.

This is the essence of the gospel.

We don’t believe in our ability to follow all the rules perfectly. We believe in God’s unending grace that meets us in our imperfection.We believe in a Savior who loves us so much that he was willing to die for us while we were still sinners and still wrong about everything.

And this is precisely what we remember and celebrate in Communion. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we come not as those who have it all together, but as those who just want a little bread.

We don’t come to the Table because we’re right, but because we’re wrong. And that’s okay.

When we come to the table, let’s do it with the humility of the Syrophoenician woman. Let’s own our unworthiness and lean on Jesus' power to save. Let’s remember that it’s not about being right or deserving but about being loved and accepted by God, just as we are.

And if that’s true for us, it must be true for everyone else too.

We are all equal recipients of God’s grace.

The Table doesn’t discriminate; it welcomes all who come in faith. Here, we find the strength to say, “I was wrong,” and the assurance that we are forgiven. Here, we find the grace to grow and to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Let’s come with open hearts, ready to receive the grace that God so freely offers, and to receive everyone else who comes here too.

Because we’re all dogs waiting to crumbs to fall.




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