A Great Feast
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[a] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
The Canaanite Woman in Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Folio 164r, 1410AD by Jean Columbe
“All our words are but crumbs,
That fall down
From the feast of our minds”
It’s true. Only a small percentage of what we think, ever gets spoken. It’s also true that some drop more crumbs than others. But even for those most talkative of the bunch, who believe they speak just about everything on their minds, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to share all that is on the plate.
There is an ongoing debate, on whether or not men or women speak more frequently. Probably not the best conversation to begin over breakfast, but once there was a husband who decided to broach this subject with his wife. He had always been disdainful of people who, in his estimation, talked too much. He proudly told his wife that he'd recently heard that men use 2200 words a day, while women use more than 4400 words a day. His wife pondered his comments for a moment, and then concluded, "That's because women have to repeat everything they say to their husbands." To that, the husband looked up and said, "Come again?"
All of us have an appetite for a banquet we would like to partake, inclining us later to speak our minds. A typical diet consists of things that we choose to “load up” on. Things we like to repeat. Many in the world today, for example, have to watch the news at six, perhaps every moment to follow the Olympics. For some, the next best-selling mystery novel is never too far away from their reading glasses. In others, their life is not the same unless the Tribune and the Times reaches the mailbox. And, perhaps life is not complete unless we get on the phone and talk with our family and friends about the latest. Papers, magazines, TV shows, and Ads; the neighborhood happenings, etc.; they all create a smorgasbord of things we like to feed on. But there simply isn’t enough time in the day to feed on all that is offered. If we look closely into this diet, does it really sustain us during times of great sorrow and fear, or does it add to our sorrow and fear?
Our Gospel story today is one that illustrates a different feast. A different course prepared and set for us to feed on. It consists of a conversation between a man and a woman; between Jesus and this Canaanite. We are not to feed on how many words are said but it does raise a curious brow on what is offered. The most obvious and troublesome selection is his answer, to this woman who is crying out for him to help her daughter. He seems to ignore her, disregarding her Kyrie, “Lord have mercy.” When he does give his answer, he seems to relate this woman to a dog looking for crumbs. “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”, he said. How is it that he jumps from this reference, to the one where he ends by saying, “O woman, great is your faith”?
In Chantilly, France an artist by the name of Jean Colombe painted a scene after the Canaanite woman. It is a split frame. Above, Jesus is walking through a country village with his disciples. He is walking away from a woman who is on her knees, with one hand reaching out to him. Somewhere behind her, we see her daughter in her bedchamber. She is lying on her back, with her hands put together in a praying position. She appears to be sick. The disciples are turned towards the woman, and have their hands turned upwards, as if they question Jesus on what he will do. Jesus keeps walking to the next scene. Below, in this scene there is a complete change in Jesus. He is now facing the woman, who is now on both knees, with both hands clutched together. It is also worth observing that Jesus appears to be bending down to meet her, with his hand reaching to her with a blessing.
If the first scene, turns our stomach by the thought of Jesus turning his back to one in need, then the scene below restores our faith, but what happened between the two? In between, we must realize that Jesus continues to teach his disciples. When he says that he came only to the lost sheep of Israel, he is referring not only to them but also to the entire world; specifically, all who choose to follow him. He knows that his entry into Jerusalem is forthcoming. That is why he went outside of predominant Jewish territories, to Tyre and Sidon where only the Gentiles lived. He turned his back on the woman, because he wanted to see if they would pick up where he left off. He wanted to see if they would minister to her needs.
A Canaanite, no less, the ancestral enemy of the house of Israel. The tactic he chooses with his disciples, picks at their narrow mindedness, thinking they had only to evangelize to those of the same nationality. They were bent on fairness that led to exclusive behavior on who would sit at the right and who would sit at the left. Jesus intends to break them of this habit; breaking them of their appetite to serve only a minority. What is fair? To give food to the child or to the dog? What if the dog loves the master every day he sees him come home, but the child forgets and no longer calls upon the father? Who is more faithful? This Canaanite woman represents the world. The world that is starving; starving just to have a crumb. At this altar, that is what we offer. We offer the crumbs of the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. He shares all that is on his heavenly plate with us; a great feast. He saves us and cleanses us in his redeeming love. Let us gather up the crumbs from his table, knowing that we are not worthy, and if he speaks the words only, our souls shall be healed.
 Kahlil Gibran, 1925, Lebanese/American Poet; important to note that many of his writings were inspirational to the New Age and Bahai movements.