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Crumbs Under the Table, Pentecost XIV, 8/17/08 in Alameda

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Pentecost XIV August 17th 2008

Isaiah 56:1. 56-8 Psalm 67 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Mat 15:10-28

“The Crumbs under the Table”

We are all imprisoned in our sin, St. Paul says, whether we consider ourselves in the household of faith or those outside the church, those we call secular people, so that all we can stand and insist on is the mercy of God. We need to be Kyrie Christians. “Lord, have mercy upon us!”

Paul says that about the Jews. God has called them and their relationship with God has not been revoked; nor has God’s relationship and loving concern for our church, our congregation. It has not been revoked.

But you see Jesus getting rather exasperated with his own people, who have come to feel entitled and had become offended by Jesus. Why? Because he says your kosher laws and your keeping them make you feel like you are moral and superior to others. Jesus says that what goes into your mouth goes down into your stomach, then after it is digested, you have a bowel movement. That has nothing to do with your morality. Your morality depends upon your heart, which is the center of your responsible self. The heart was considered the seat of your thoughts, your intentions, your ethics. When false witness, bad language, evil desires, sexual harassment, murder, adultery, slander, and gossip come from the heart, they then come out of the mouth. That is what makes a person immoral and not whether or not you eat pork or only beef, you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, or you’re still carnivorous.

So the heart is the seat of the responsible self and to feel that obeying the kosher laws made you moral was a confusion of hygiene and ethics, as much as when you felt that washing your hands made you innocent, when you were guilty.

Food and cleanliness have to do with health and hygiene, which is also important, but it does not have to do with our morality or ethics, except when they become an ethical matter. You had better wash your hands in the bathroom if you are working with food or you could make other people sick. Doctors used to work on cadavers and then like midwives, helped a mother give birth. The mothers died like flies because the doctors infected them. Now washing your hands is an ethical matter, a life and death matter, but ethics or morality is much more than just food laws and washing your hands. [In the news about the kosher factory, the slaughter house, in Iowa, the fact that they used child labor and exploited undocumented immigrants was immoral, their kosher laws not withstanding.]

When Jesus pointed this out, the Pharisees were offended, because they felt that their kosher laws made them morally superior over the unclean Gentiles, who ate pork and did not keep the food laws and many rituals, like those for washing hands.

Jesus said, you know with their lips they say that they belong to God, but their hearts are far away. They do lip-talk, but not soul-talk. They want to keep things as they are by tradition, they do not really want to obey God and realign their lifestyles to get onto the way of salvation.

If Israel was refusing to be God’s special planting, then it would be uprooted and God will find another flower pot, and plant another people, who will grow, blossom, and bring forth the fruits of righteousness.

So Jesus and his disciples go into the territory of the Gentiles, to the coastal cities, Tyre and Sidon, north of Galilee. And this pesterous Canaanite woman starts after them, scratching out the Kyrie, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” She wants Jesus’ Holy Spirit to fill her daughter and she is calling Jesus her Lord!

Jesus and his disciples are way outside of their comfort zone. Yes, that is slightly more than Jesus and his disciples bargained for. But when we open ourselves up, needs are so great, that challenges right off, become more than we can handle.

As a Canaanite woman, it is like a Jew having to help a Palestinian enemy. She is not only a Gentile, but an enemy Gentile. And she is an unclean woman trying to get help from Jesus and the little group learning to be rabbis.

Thus in going up there, they were on new divine turf. They were walking on water and like Peter crying with the same scratchy voice: “Save me Lord. The water is already up to my neck and I’m going down!”

It’s like everything is going on in this community called Alameda and the pastor is out there working among them, but it feels like our congregation is going down! Jesus reproaches us the way he reproached Peter and the disciples with, “O ye of little faith!” And here is this isha, which means woman in Hebrew, this unclean woman is now calling Jesus her Lord, naming him Son of David, with a Kyrie. “Lord, have mercy on me!”

Her voice is really annoying, because it is like the scratchy voice of a raven or a crow. She doesn’t spare her voice, but keeps on crying. The word used in Greek is krazo, like the scratchy caw of a crow. And she is relentless, despite her being an enemy of the Jews, being of a completely different culture and religion, and she lets nothing stand in the way.

She is like our cat Figaro, who is also relentless when he wants to be fed. Starting at six o’clock in the morning he scratches on our bedroom door and meows, “Nora. Nora.” And he’ll keep on for hours if you don’t get up. And when I am in the kitchen, he’ll walk between my feet until I take care of him. And he’ll keep scratching the bedroom door until we get up and feed him.

The Canaanite woman annoyed the disciples the same way and to such an extent, that Jesus turns around, and while he’s saying, “I’ve only been sent to the members of this congregation” and the disciples are saying, “Lord, let us send her away, she keeps shouting that scratchy Kyrie after us!” – she is already on her knees in front of Jesus, crying, “Lord, help me!” They could not get away from her.

When I first realized that Jesus was calling the Gentiles dogs, I was shocked. “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus really says, “little dogs,” kunaria in Greek. Not kunes, the word for dogs, per se. Maybe it was like calling her a little dog, like a Chihuahua.

But the Jews called the Gentiles she represented “dogs.” We of course have dogs as pets, but that is not how it used to be. In those days and in many countries, dogs are still considered pests, like rats and roaches. In India you see the most miserable, mangy, and pestiferous dogs, missing huge blotches of fur, covered with infected sores, their bellies dragging on the ground. They round up these miserable creatures and kill them, but they never seem to kill them all.

When I was in Bali, Indonesia, another Hindu country, a dear missionary, Ebu Gedong, tried to introduce the concept of a dog as a pet; but everyone who came on to her porch kicked her poor dog!

One time I saw a film about Gypsies and one Gypsy woman was standing on a hill at sunset and screaming at the village which lay below: “You treat your dogs better than you treated me!” She couldn’t even get the crumbs, evidently.

“It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs!” The Canaanite woman went right along with Jesus: “Sure we are little dogs. But even dogs eat the crumbs that fall under the master’s table.” She had Jesus there. She showed Jesus and his disciples the bridge over the chasm between men and women, between enemies, between people of different cultures and religions, where hostilities have gone on for untold centuries.

“Woman, great is your faith. Your daughter will be filled with the Holy Spirit and that demon that torments her will have to get out.” I believe she is the first of us Gentiles to come to Christ.

In the pastors’ bible study this week, I heard another interpretation. Jesus was being funny and we miss the humor. He says what you put into your stomach you poop out. And next, he is gently leading his disciples into an encounter where they have to overcome their prejudice and bigotry, their hostility, and enmity, and also share his bread, the bread of the living Gospel with the Gentiles, with the nations. Matthew, of course, cannot take it further, because his Gospel is aimed at the Jews. But Peter takes the next step with Cornelius, and Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, crashes through the door to proclaim Christ as the Lord of the Nations and his Church, a House of Prayer for all people, and not merely for the Jews.

Just one more thought. We still have to walk side by side with this relentless woman, the first of us non-Jews to respond to Jesus, praying the Kyrie in the same relentless way. We have to be as humble as she was and hope only for the crumbs that fall under the table. We have no entitlements and righteousness to stand on, whether because we are Christian or Lutheran or what have you. All of us can only stand on the mercy of God. We all have only this scratchy Kyrie of hers to cry in our services through the ages: “Lord, have mercy upon us!” We are Kyrie Christians. We can only expect crumbs from under the table and remember that when we feed the birds crumbs in the winter time and stop, then they usually die. That thought can make a person cry. Humble folk usually get elbowed out of the way by selfish people in this world. But, then, you have to be acquainted with our wonderful God. He sent Christ to change our crumbs into a feast, the Feast of victory for our God. God will multiply our crumbs the way he multiplied the loaves and the fish. We believe in plenteous redemption, in God’s abundant grace for us. Amen.

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Written by peterkrey

August 17, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

One Response

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  1. […] with Augustine: Essay #4, Augustine, Luther and Barth on Sin Saved by erineli40 on Thu 18-12-2008 Crumbs Under the Table, Pentecost XIV, 8/17/08 in Alameda Saved by uniwiki on Wed 17-12-2008 Slaughterhouse XIV Saved by ripperzz on Mon 15-12-2008 […]


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