Who gets to sit at the table?
In Which Jesus Calls a woman a dog.
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
[10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" 13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." 15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." 16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."]
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Who gets to be at the table? Isn’t this always the question. When I was younger and it was thanksgiving, every year 2 grandchildren got to be at the adult table while the rest of us sat with the kids. There was a rotation. I do not think my Grammy knew that each of us were very much hoping it was not our turn. We preferred to sit with my cousin Joe, the only male cousin, who cracked jokes until we had milk spurting out of our nose. I am pretty sure our Grampy suspected though. He could hear the giggling.
Who is in and who is out. Who gets a seat, who has to wait for the left overs, who doesn’t even get into that line? These are the questions the disciples were worried about. These were the questions the religious elite were worried about. And these, my friends were the wrong questions. Because when Jesus is confronted with his own biases, his own understanding of who is in and who is out, Jesus changes his mind. I wrote a lot about this woman who dares snap back at Jesus in my book (I can’t wait to show you the cover!) She really pushes the envelope on what I think of as prayer! But that isn’t what struck me about that passage this week. What struck me was the way it was paired with the earlier story.
Jesus talks to this woman, and eventually heals her daughter right after he tells her he isn’t there for her. And right before that he tells the world that the pharisees are worried about the wrong thing. The pharisees are worried about who is in and who is out based on what they eat and how they bathe. Jesus isn’t interested in that at all and goes so far as to say that in public. And the people who have been dedicating their lives to gatekeeping are pretty mad about it.
It is so easy to point at the pharisees in these stories. Yeah! Show them Jesus. But friends, when you have been a christian for as long as I have you are probably team pharisee whether you meant to or not. How dare they say that! In public! Act that way, think those thoughts. How dare they eat with those people (hypothetically of course in the time of covid). How come they can’t do it my way? And Jesus says look at the fruit. Is it bringing joy and peace and love? Then let it be.
Jesus surprises even Jesus with who is invited to the kingdom of God. May we surprise ourselves with who we ask to come sit with us.