But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.
- Micah 6.8 (The Message)
From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter. He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.” She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?” Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.
- Mark 7.24-30 (The Message)
At first blush, Jesus’ comment to the Greek woman in this passage seems dismissive, arrogant, or even bigoted, “Stand in line and take your turn” he says. “The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.” Wow! Strong stuff. If he’s serious, this saying goes a long way in support of elitism and privilege, and this makes it an unlikely text to use on World Communion Sunday. For example, reflect on how this passage would play out in the context of communion, the welcome table. Who would be invited to this table? All and sundry? Hardly; it would seem to support a narrow invitation.
The problem is that this sentiment conflicts big time with other teachings and actions of Jesus, who always stands for the underdog, the outcast, the foreigner, the powerless; anyone likely to be dismissed by the religious establishment of his day. While it’s dangerous to read motivation into a passage of scripture, consider the possibility that Jesus is provoking the woman to test her faith and perseverance in her quest. If so, Jesus finds a humble woman, willing to tolerate abuse if it means healing for her daughter. Jesus is impressed; he recognizes her value in God’s eyes, affirms her faith, and sends her on her way to greet her daughter now made whole.
Obviously, this reading would play out differently in the context of communion. To state the matter in the words of my ol’ grandpa, “They ain’t no dogs at God’s table.” It is truly the welcome table of grace and compassion… to all. As we approach World Communion Sunday, it’s important to decide who’s welcome at the table. Should we limit the invitation, or should we extend it as broadly as possible? Should we condescend to the outsider and the powerless, or should we treat them as equals and embrace them in our fellowship? On Sunday we will attempt to determine which of these dogs will hunt. I hope to see you then.