Whew! Jesus had nerve. Ask ten pastors and you’ll get ten pastors who’ll tell you they’d never speak to dear old Millie that way in the parish. You won’t live it down. But, apparently, Jesus didn’t care. “It isn’t right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.” Who of us would have kept pursuing someone who spoke to us like that? It seems dysfunctional, doesn’t it? But she keeps going, begging even for the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table, putting those for whom Jesus says He had come to shame. See how this Canaanite woman humbles herself before the Lord? She humbles herself to such an extent that the disciples find it unbecoming and annoying. They want the Lord to send her away, tired of her groveling and hollering... but they should’ve spent less time passing judgment and more time taking notes. Life had driven her to Christ and she wasn’t going anywhere until she had new life in Him.
It isn’t uncommon for Christ to expect us to wrestle. He seemingly hides Himself. He lets us shout louder and louder... and louder in an attempt to be heard. He becomes a stranger of sorts, so unlike the gentle Shepherd set before us elsewhere. Yet, “Bless me,” we must demand, like Jacob, even as our hip is set out of socket, so that our Christian walk becomes more cumbersome. “Bless me. I will not let go until you do.”
And what is it that holds to Christ at just these times? It’s not our arms. It’s our faith, worked in us by the Spirit, especially for those hours when the One through Whom the Spirit proceeds, our Greatest Friend, seems a most indifferent Stranger. Faith isn’t given simply for sunshine and smiles. Faith is given to sink its nails into Christ’s flesh, to wait under His table, to devour His every crumb, to call Him merciful and trust His mercy precisely when He seems far off, unconcerned. And the power of this faith doesn’t reside in us. It springs from Christ Himself, so thus naturally sticks to Him.
And yet, Jesus speaks the most dangerous words one can speak to faith here—words the devil was surely already busy trying to sow in the mind of the Canaanite woman. Jesus tells this desperate woman essentially, “I’ve been sent for others, not you.” What a thunderbolt, a shot to the gut! It seemed like the Lord was pulling the rug out from under her, taking a hammer to her hope.
Jesus didn’t lie. He was called to preach to Israel. He would send His disciples out into the world. But that didn’t mean His message wasn’t for all. “God so love the world,” John tells us. Jesus didn’t shrink from the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant. He healed the Genessaret demoniac. The Gospel must stomp out every notion that Jesus’ mercy is for others and not for us, even when it seems Jesus Himself is saying so. No, Jesus is Jesus for all, even when we feel we are the least of all. Faith doesn’t ask, “Who am I?” but “Who is He,” and so long as He is Christ, He is precisely the One to whom we should call out and the One whom we should trust.
The disciples thought they were being compassionate. They wanted to put the woman out of her misery. They wanted the Lord simply and finally to send her away. It seemed cruel for Jesus to let her debase herself like this. But the cruelest thing someone can do to a desperate person is turn them away from Christ. No, they should have grabbed His coattails with her and joined in the begging. While Jesus answers the woman, He teaches the disciples. While sinners and skeptics may turn from Him, He turns no one away. There is always room and welcome, even for such as these at the Savior’s feet.
The Pharisees, the intelligentsia, had sought all along to catch Jesus in His words, but they never succeeded, learned as they were. But this Canaanite woman does just that. “Fine, I’m a dog,” she replies. “Give me what You’d give a dog. Give me crumbs, for Your crumbs are more precious than anything served on the world’s table.” And Jesus was like a father racing his toddler son. The father wants to lose. He wants his son to catch him and overcome him. The father is secure in who he is—secure enough to be outdone by a lesser one—and wants to exalt his son. Jesus wants to be caught, and rejoices that He is, and He speaks the words that she delights to hear: "O woman, your faith is great! Have what you’re asking for."
Be the Lord’s dog! Like a dog watching food in his or her master’s hand, hang on every crumb, every promise from your Jesus. Without shame take your place at His feet, take hold, and refuse to let go. Hold Him to His promise. Rejoice to be the Christ’s dog, because a dog at Christ’s table is at Christ’s table, and will not remain long on the floor. No, our Jesus exalts the humbled, declares sinners saints, gives the beggar a seat of honor, feeds those hungry with mercy with Himself, Bread of Life from heaven. Come get your crumbs and keep on wrestling. Wrap your arms around Christ and know you can’t lose, unworthy as you may feel, unwelcome as some of His disciples may sometimes unfortunately make you feel. Amen.