Kingdom People – Crumb Eaters
If you think our family pets hang out around the dinner table at mealtime because they love us, I need to pose a reality check. While they love us, they have one thing in mind: food. They know food is bound to fall from the table, by accident or design, and they are more than willing to help us keep the floor clean.
It does not appear pets were regarded as highly in Jesus day as they are in our contemporary culture. There is some debate as to whether Jewish families would have allowed animals to roam freely in their homes, since they placed a high premium on cleanliness. Dogs would have been suspect since they often scavenged town dumps and would not have had access to modern veterinarian care. This doesn’t mean we know for certain there were no pets in Jewish homes, but certainly they did not have the status we give them today.
Yet, it has been suggested this would not be as big a problem in a Gentile home, since Gentiles families didn’t practice rigid rules that defined clean and unclean practices. This possibility could play into a conversation Jesus had with a Syrian woman.
The “Syrophoenician Woman” as we call her (Mark 7:4-30), found Jesus in the vicinity of the city Tyre. Jesus had entered a house there and was attempting to hide from the crowds for a while when the woman appeared. She fell as His feet and shared the heart-wrenching story of her demon-possessed daughter.
We may not be able to fully appreciate this awkward scene, unless we remember how much Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ day hated one another. Jews believed Gentiles to be unclean heathens, and Gentiles saw Jews as self-righteous oppressors. The sight of a Gentile woman clinging to the feet of a popular Jewish rabbi would certainly raise some eyebrows.
In a symbolic turn of phrase, Jesus answered the woman’s request: “First let the children eat all they want. For it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” In other words, “Why should I help a Gentile when my people have needs?”
Jesus’s reply sounds profoundly cold, but it was clearly a test. He was speaking through the cultural filters the Syrophoenician Woman would know well. Would she turn and walk away or grow bolder? It didn’t take long to find out. She answered, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
I love this interchange. At the risk of understating the tense nature of this conversation, it almost seems playful. Jesus knew the Jews and Gentiles had issues with one another, as did the woman. Both of them must have been well versed in all of the stereotypes and misperceptions associated with both groups. But they refused to play. The woman wasn’t about to back down and Jesus gave her what she wanted. Meanwhile, those who saw the whole thing unfold must have stood in disbelief at the outcome.
The Syrophoenician Woman was a “kingdom person” because she understood the reign of Jesus trumps the prejudices of men. Of course, she was also emboldened by her daughter’s condition, but this still doesn’t entirely explain why she argued with Jesus. She must have perceived Him to be reasonable, and perhaps had heard He was kind to all people groups. Jesus heard her plea and met her need.
Kingdom people know the King. They don’t let the world tell them what God wants to hear, or what God will do. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be discerning about the will of God, or attempt to understand the nature of God. And we certainly shouldn’t be upset if God doesn’t give us something He never promised. On the other hand, God can do as He pleases, as long as He is consistent with the things He has already revealed about Himself in scripture.
I don’t mind eating crumbs, as long as they are from the King’s table. They taste good, no matter where I find them.