Outwitting Jesus

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” – Matthew 15:27

Jesus was clever. In the beginning of Matthew 15, Jesus took the traditional, ritual definitions of “clean” and “unclean” and turned them on their head. He chastised the Pharisees for their adherence to exclusionary customs and admonished them for missing the bigger picture of God’s healing, holy, love.

Matthew chapter 15 is vintage Jesus. That is, until it all went sideways.
Later in the chapter, a mother in need came to Jesus begging for his help. The disciples tried to silence her and turn her away because, according to the cultural norms of that day, she was an outsider. Her gender, her ethnicity, her cultural-religious affiliations, all of these descriptors said she was to be excluded. Yet she persisted. She pushed past the disciples, called out to Jesus multiple times and then fell on her knees before him pleading for mercy.

Given Jesus’ earlier remarks one would think this situation was tailor made for him to knock it out of the park. A home run story about the inclusive, healing, love of God.

He answered her cries for help saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Uhhh…what? Did he just call her a dog?

Some theologians say that the term dog translates as little puppy, but I don’t see how this helps. Others say Jesus said this as a test of her faith and a way to express and then confront the prejudices of the day. It seems like there could have been a gentler way to do that.

Personally, I have yet to find an answer that takes away the sting of Jesus’ words.

Fortunately, the mother refuses to let love be silenced.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

She was clever. And her clever response reminds all that God’s mercy covers all and that it is strong enough to be relevant, tangible, and real. She refused to believe that unjust laws and societal prejudices had the power to limit the love of God.

I daresay the cleverness of this unnamed mother is less about her quick wit and more about her determined love.

In that moment she models the way of Christ. Jesus hears her and says “Great is your faith.”

May the same be said of us.