Monday, March 15, 2010

Dogs under the table

But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. Mark 7:25-29

We have a wonderful family dog, her name is Petey, and she was adopted from the pound a few years back. One of the things she loves best is to be under foot at the table when someone is eating. It is an annoying habit, and although no one in my family feeds her from the table, she is eternally hopeful that some wondrous accident will happen and food will be showered down in her direction. We are constantly shooing her out from the under the table, but she finds her way back. And she is not a small dog, but stealthy none the less. Petey is part of the family but always treated like a dog, although if you asked her, she knows that she is a prominent member of the family, guarding us from prowlers and visitors, even those who ring the door bell on TV. We never said she was bright, but her heart is always in the right place.

Our gospel today tells the story of an encounter with a mother who won't take no for an answer. Jesus puts her off at first, telling her she is not among the chosen people, not a member of the inner circle. But she knows that God is not limited by race and clan. God's love is not bound by man-made rules. And she is eternally hopeful and expectant of God, knowing that God is more willing to heal than she is even to ask. And she is a mom who will do anything to save her child. Jesus recognizes the kind of love and persistence that is a gift from the Creator. This mother's love is so powerful she is willing to cross all sorts of barriers and exclusions to find healing for her child. Love is persistent and expectant, always hopeful despite the exclusions of human kind.

Today, I want to remember the faith of the Syrophoenician woman, who was willing to compare herself to a dog under the table in order to bring healing to her child. She was willing to teach the son of God about love. She was tenacious and hopeful, despite all the challenges the world put before her. I want to take courage and inspiration from her today, as I face the challenges that lie ahead. May we all have a measure of her tenacity and hopeful expectation, that God is more ready to heal than we can ever imagine, and that God is willing to find ways through the worst barriers, dismantling one brick at a time, until all are fed at the table together.

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