Wait a minute. Are we hearing this right? Did Jesus just call this woman a dog? Did he actually tell her that healing her daughter would be like taking a child’s meal away from them and giving it to a stray mutt? Is he saying that this woman is outside of God’s grace and love? Is Jesus wrong? Or just rude? Or is everything else we’ve come to know in our Christian faith not true?
Jesus is deep in Gentile territory, apparently trying to get away from the constant demands of the Jewish crowds. This Syrophoenician Gentile woman comes up to him, begging for him to heal her daughter. Even way out here she’s heard of what Jesus has done. She breaks all kinds of taboos, takes a huge risk out of love and concern for her child. And Jesus says, “no,” that he came for the Jews, not people like her. Then he insults her by calling her a dog. What is going on? This isn’t the Jesus we know and love. This isn’t the one who gave up his life, bringing forgiveness and life into the world’s sin and death.
There are some things to ponder here, to be sure. Maybe Jesus is trying to make a point to his disciples about their own self-righteous attitudes. Maybe he’s a racist. Maybe even he doesn’t yet understand the extent of God’s love and mercy. We can spend the rest of our lives trying to figure that out. That would be fun. We could get into some really good arguments about it. Maybe we should. But that would leave out the end result of this story: God’s grace finds a way. God will not be stopped from loving those furthest away, least deserving, beyond our radar.
When Jesus tells her that he won’t heal her daughter because that would be like taking food from a child and throwing to a dog, her reply is pretty gutsy, don’t you think? She doesn’t argue with him. She doesn’t get offended. She challenges him. She says that even the dogs get crumbs from the children. She’s is saying that God’s grace and mercy are bigger than Jesus is letting on. God’s love includes her! Is she schooling Jesus about God’s grace?
But she’s right, isn’t she? When a family sits down at the dinner table, where is the dog? Always under the table by the kids. Why? The children will always give crumbs under the table; or more. Sometimes they do it on purpose, sometimes they do it just because they’re messy.
This Gentile, foreign, very non-Jewish woman somehow understands that every time anyone tries to put a limit on God’s grace, that grace spills over the edges. Mercy, love, and forgiveness—the things of a joy-filled life—are always spread further than we think. Include those who we may not want included. They are always spilling outside the lines, beyond the boundaries, further than we are comfortable with.
I had a facebook friend, someone I’ve known since I was in Jr. High. He had posted last week that God’s grace and forgiveness are for those who decide that Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior. I responded with a challenge to that. I said that God’s grace is even more for those who do not—or cannot—make that decision. He dropped me as a friend. Very loudly. He had a hard time with God’s grace extending outside the lines he had drawn—lines of decision and understanding. God’s love and God’s forgiveness always go further than we are comfortable with. God includes more people than we would gather at the table. God has plenty of forgiveness; for those at the table, for those under the table, even for those who cannot get to the table. Wherever we draw the line, God’s grace is bigger.
During these last several weeks since Act of Grace (our music leaders at 10:45 service) began a two-month sabbatical, we’ve contemplated what God desires from our worship at LCM. The Spirit moved, and we discovered that the purpose of “worship at LCM is to create an atmosphere where God’s unconditional love can be experienced through the gathered community and translated into everyday life.”
What struck me about that realization is that God’s love and grace aren’t just experienced by a mystical, spiritual transaction between each individual and God. It is also experienced through the love we show to those God gathers here. Even though we are Gentiles, we really are the children at the table! We who are part of LCM feast all the time on God’s forgiveness, God’s love, and God’s generosity. Sometimes we deliberately spill God’s grace under the table; sometimes it’s just our nature and we do it because we’re messy.
LCM is the place where people come because they are starving for grace, love, and forgiveness, and they are hoping for it to spill over the edge of the table even to them.
They don’t come because of our doctrine. They don’t come because of our excellent theology. They don’t come because of our outreach programs. They don’t even come because of the extraordinary preaching. They come for crumbs of grace; a taste of love; a morsel of forgiveness.
Who is sitting under the table today? Who is hoping for crumbs? Who is needing to taste God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness through you? Many who are here today are filled to overflowing, and some are starving. Here, we are spilling over the edges of the table with grace. There’s more. There’s always more.
Come to the table. God’s grace is spilling over. There’s plenty here. Eat your fill. You are invited. God’s grace cannot be contained. It is for you.