Saturday, September 8, 2018

"A Dog’s Life", Year B, Pentecost 16, Mark 7.24-37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
There are some statements of Jesus that just seem out of character.
This is one of them.
An immediate response is to hear Jesus calling this woman, a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin, a dog, and to find this offensive.  I don’t know if being called a dog, in Jesus’ day, was as much as a put down as it is in our day, but I suspect it was. 
Did Jesus put her down because she was a woman?  Or a Gentile?  Or Both.
“And really, Jesus,” we ask, “couldn’t you be nicer?”
A few  words of background.
Jesus had withdrawn into the Region of Tyre hoping that nobody would know he was there, and apparently seeking some down time, a time to rest from all that he was doing.
But even there, in the region to the north of Israel, in today’s Lebanon, Jesus is known and he could not escape notice.
This woman was one of the locals.
The second thing, is that the word Jesus uses for ‘dog’ is actually diminutive, which would mean, likely, puppy.
I don’t know if that lessens the impact of what Jesus was saying, namely that the children get fed first and then, the puppies, but it definitely sounds better than Jesus calling this woman a dog.
But beyond our concern that Jesus would call this woman a dog, there is an image of something any dog owner has seen, time and time again.
We have a dog, Kinzie, a very lively labradoodle.
And we have our grandson, Jasper, a delightful little child, the joy of our life.
One of the things about children and dogs is they have a special relationship at the table.
The dog’s favorite place is at the children’s feet.
Every crumb that falls is quickly gobbled up. 
And then, children delight in this, often throwing morsels of food to the puppy, much to the chagrin of their parents.  And of course, the dog delights in this even more than the child.
Jesus sounds like the mother, here.  “No, don’t throw your food to the dog.  That’s for you!  Eat it.”
But we all know, children will drop the crumbs off their plate for the dogs, and the dogs will eagerly eat every morsel that falls their way.
We’ve all seen that played out, time and time again.
That’s the image I’d like for you to consider, this morning.
Not that Jesus is referring to a woman, or a Greek, as a dog, but the relationship of sheer delight between the child and the dog in this scenario. 
Pure grace.
I say that because the dog, in this example, knows, really knows, that they are getting something that they are not supposed to. 
In our own house, there is a certain irritation that no matter how hard we try, Kinzie, the dog, will not go away.  Given the chance, she will always be right there lapping up the crumbs.
Grace:  receiving a gift that we don’t deserve, but which comes to us, nevertheless.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
It is reported that Martin Luther’s last words were “We are beggars, this is true.”
All of us are like dogs, begging for any morsel of food that might fall our way from the master’s table.  And if we’re lucky, there’s a child at the table willingly dropping those crumbs for us.
At the risk of pushing this metaphor too far, what if Jesus is not the master in the tale, but the child?
The child who delights in throwing those morsels and crumbs to the dogs eagerly waiting below.
”Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
From that place, in the Region of Tyre, Jesus went on to the Decapolis, another Greek region, and there too he healed, this time a deaf person with an impediment in his speech, as most deaf people do.
More crumbs from the Master’s table.
And then in the next passage in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is at it again, feeding 4,000 people with a few loaves of bread, seven loaves Mark says, and after everyone had eaten, they gathered up seven baskets full of crumbs.
More crumbs from the Master’s table.
An abundance of crumbs.
There’s one other thing I think about this image of children, crumbs, and the dogs below.
No child has ever starved to death, because of the crumbs that fell to the dogs below.
There is an abundance of grace.
Now if you listen to the parents, and how they chastise the child for throwing their food to the dogs, you’d think that there is simply not enough food for both.  But, there is always enough.
We have this tendency to live with a mindset of scarcity.
Our sinful side tends to believe that if we don’t hoard what we have, we won’t have enough.
That’s not how grace works.
Grace is about God’s abundance.
One of my memories from childhood is about hoboes. 
These men, homeless, would travel from community to community, and would come to the back door of a home, knock, and ask if they could have anything to eat.  Often, they’d even offer to do some task to earn the meal.
Noone ever starved because they shared a meal with a hobo.
One of the things hoboes did was to mark houses.  Somewhere, visible from the alleys they traveled down, they’d put a mark indicating that this was a house where they had received a meal.  Then, other hoboes would know that they would also be able to get a meal there.
Grace is about abundance.
Grace is “one beggar telling another where to find bread.”
What is this story about Jesus really about?
Is it about Jesus being uncharacteristically rude, and politically incorrect, calling this Gentile woman a dog?
Or is it about grace, and each of us being beggars dependent on the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table?
I think the latter.
And I love the thought that Jesus, as God’s son, is like the child who delights in dropping morsels of food to the dogs below.
And then there is the image of communion.
A little bread, a crumb.
A few drops of wine.
This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you.
And we like puppies, kneel below the table eagerly waiting for the morsels to fall from the Master’s table.
Martin Luther, in his small catechism explains that all that is required to receive communion is a simple faith that these words, ‘for you’, mean us. 
This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed “for you” for the remission of sins.
Do you believe that indeed, Christ’s gifts are for you?
As I think more about this image of dogs at their master’s table, I think about faith, and a dog’s understanding of ‘for you’.
One of the unwritten rules that governs this scene of dog’s eating the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table is that the food that falls to the dogs on the floor is ‘for them’.
Our dog knows that the food on the table is not free for the taking.  And she’s been good about that.
But food on the floor is for her, whether it’s in her dish, or below Jasper’s chair.
A dog understands “for you”. 
Crumbs from the master’s table.
Given and shed “for you”.
It’s a simple concept, but one we get so wrong so much of the time.
Going back to the story of Jesus and this woman, one of the immediate ways of interpreting it is that Jesus sees his mission as being to the children of Israel, and not to foreigners, or possibly, not even to women.
That’s our human sinfulness.
We like to make rules about who is worthy of God’s grace.
Who is welcome at the Lord’s Table?
When we do that, we tend to think of ourselves as the honored guests with a place at the table.
And in our human sinfulness we look at other’s as being unworthy, and not welcome. 
I will leave you with another image.
If we are actually like dogs devouring the crumbs from our Master’s table, what dog is not welcome??
The thing about grace is that there is more than enough for all.
Race doesn’t matter.
Gender doesn’t matter.
Sexuality doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been a ‘faithful’ one all your life, or if your story is like the prodigal Son.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter how much you know.
It doesn’t matter how good you are.
We are all dogs below the Master’s table, eating the crumbs that fall from the Child’s plate.
That’s grace.

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