A sermon preached
“It is not right to take
the children’s bread
and toss it to the dogs”
Jesus has gone into non-Jewish territory and here
a distraught mother from the local Canaanite community
who implores him to heal her sick little girl.
Jesus tells her he comes to the Children of Israel not the Canaanites.
Basically he seems to be saying that the woman and
are like dogs roaming in the street –
they are outside the charmed family circle
and you don’t take bread from the family dinner table
and toss it out the window to the dogs.
Well let’s not beat about the bush –
if we take these words at face value
they are both insulting & racist,
indeed they would be actionable
under British race relations law.
So what are we to make of them?
Well various ways of softening this passage have
been suggested –
Maybe Jesus is talking about cherished pet
The pew Bibles seem to favour that understanding
by talking about tossing bread to “their dogs” –
but (a) that is not in the original Greek.
(b) unlike the Gentiles, the Jews didn’t usually keep pet dogs
and (c) I am not sure even then it is a great compliment.
Maybe its not in what you
say but how you say it –
maybe Jesus is smiling as he speaks with a twinkle in his eye,
maybe gently teasing, testing the woman’s faith….
Perhaps so, and of course we can never recover the tone of voice,
but I have to say I’m not sure that removes the offence.
There is another way to read this passage
which you might think about.
You’ve got to understand that whilst Jesus
may have been Son of God,
he was also a human being –
he wasn’t born in the stable at
immediately able to recite the Periodic Table or the rules of cricket
or to discuss Einstein’s theory of relativity.
He was born a 1st Century Jew who first cried & then learnt to speak.
And like all children and adolescents and adults he learnt from,
and accepted or challenged, the values of his society.
He was truly human
that is vital -
otherwise he could never have fully shared
our human life and sin and sorrow and death).
His Godliness manifested itself within that human
in his God-given ability, as new things came his way,
to reflect on them through God’s eyes.
And so in the wilderness and in
we see Jesus struggling to learn what God wants of him & his world.
And maybe this conversation is another such occasion –
when God actually uses the Canaanite woman to help Jesus learn.
Certainly the woman is not be put off by Jesus’
(she is a model of persistent faith which we could well emulate) –
Even the dogs eat the scraps which fall from the table, she says.
At which Jesus finally relents and heals her daughter.
So maybe our text has to be read
with the slight question mark of dawning realization –
as Jesus asks himself and the woman -
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs?”
So perhaps here is the beginning of Jesus realizing
what is indeed a central tenet of the Gospel -
that all are welcome at the feast of the Kingdom,
& we are called to go and make disciples
not just of
On Wednesday night a number of
a meeting arranged by the Olive Tree Association
(a group based at the Exeter Mosque).
We prayed and talked together –
Moslems, Christians and others –
about the cultural and racial tensions in our city
We heard an emotional plea from
a young Moslem mother.
She told how she had been walking down the High Street
with her little 18 month old boy in her arms.
As they went their way,
the little boy was smiling waving at those they met.
She told how they approached one group on the street
who looked ready to smile
and wave back at the toddler as you do –
Then she said they saw her headscarf
and realized they were Moslems –
at once they s became stony faced, scowled and turned away.
The girl was in tears as she
told the story –
what has my little boy done to deserve this? She asked.
And I thought of that Canaanite woman and her
pleading with tears in her eyes –
pleading that her child might not suffer –
and particularly might not suffer because of the accident of her race.
As a community we all need to hear her plea –
and the plea of all the persecuted and marginalized –
and learn that those of races and cultures other than our own
are not dogs to be feared or hated or patronized or ignored–
they are all part of God’s family and all have a place in his love.
Sadly we still live in a world divided into
· those who are fed and those who are hungry,
· those who are welcomed and those who are turned away
· those who are loved and those who are feared.
I think of:
of 5 in
how they had caught and cooked a rat –
it was their food for the day –
their crumb falling from a well stocked table.
Palestinian refugee camp
where there is one doctor for 30 thousand people –
ironically how likely it is that within those 30,000
many well be direct descendants
of that Canaanite woman and her sick child,
like them living on the wrong side of the border.
every sad, lost and frightened soul
on the streets of this city
still crying out
for food, for healing, for love, for acceptance.
O Lord as a human race we confess our sins:
”we are not worthy so much
as to gather up the crumbs
under thy table. But thou art the same Lord,
whose property is always to have mercy….”
[Methodist Book of Offices 1936]
For we know that as we gather at this table
we are not offered mere crumbs of comfort –
we are offered the Bread of Life to take and share.
of the BBC
was doing a film report from
during the famine there.
He said that he and the film
crew had been hungry
and had gone to find food –
even in the famine there was some food to be had
if you had money.
Finally they found a café shack
where they were able to buy just one small bread roll each.
They were about to eat
when the little café was suddenly filled
with about 50 or 60 people –
young children looking wide eyed,
an old man falling to the ground and kissing his feet.
“The idea of eating the bread roll – I mean,
I would have been sick on the spot –
Instinctively you start breaking the bread
into tiny little pieces ….
And hundreds more people
came clustering around the doorway…..”
[Quoted in Hilton, Liturgy of Life p160]
Maybe we are all called to be priests –
to make every table a place
where the bread of life is shared and the love of God is known.
For God’s bread is for all his children.
And as we come to this table in this Church,
we come from many nations all gathered here in Exeter -
but it matters not whether we come from Britain or Korea,
Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Kenya,
India, Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, S Africa, the USA –
and apologies if I have missed your country -
This Communion meal is for all -
And as such it is
a prophetic symbol of what is to come –
a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet prepared for all people
to work for –
the day when all God’s children share in his party
and every child of every race knows God’s healing touch.
So when you come to the Lord’s Table today
and hold that tiny piece of bread in your hand, remember –
I am not worthy to pick up the crumbs
which fall from the table
Yet here God offers me his life giving bread of
So let me thank God for that bread
And let me give my life
to sharing the feast with all God’s children