Guest Post: Crumbs of Joy
Jeremy lives in Israel and has a unique opportunity to explore the roots of Christianity while living in the reality of modern Jewish society. I appreciated a recent devotional he wrote. Jeremy has given me permission to reprint it here.
The issue of relating to the local Arab population reminds me of a sermon which I had the privilege of hearing a couple of weeks ago. The subject was the approach Jesus took towards the non-Jewish population present in Israel at his time – a period which was also wracked by ethnic and religious violence. The story at the center of the sermon was that of the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus when he ventured into the non-Jewish region on the Mediterranean Coast near Tyre (Matthew 15:21-28). Her daughter suffered from demon-possession and she did not cease to plead with Jesus for her healing.
He initially turned her down, explaining: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." She persisted, and knelt before him, begging: " Lord, help me!" His next response has shocked many in the centuries since for its seeming callousness: "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs." Undaunted, she reminded him: "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table." His next response was what she had sought: "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted."
This is one of those hard sayings of Jesus that can cause the hearer to be greatly offended, since it seems as though he considers everyone not from the Children of Israel to be dogs not worthy to be fed. Understanding the context of the story, however, shows that an amazing truth was being revealed for the future of the Gentiles in God’s plan. Chapters fourteen and fifteen of Matthew are marked by stories of feeding thousands in a miraculous way, with always leftovers that were picked up and saved for future use (14:20 and 15:37).
The common theme is the abundance of leftovers which are no less perfect for being leftovers. This perfection is symbolized by the numbers of baskets mentioned as having remained: twelve and seven – numerals which represent perfection. The very concept of leftovers in these stories speaks of the provision for those who are next in line to be fed, and it is clear that even what was picked up from the ground would supply their all their needs. (By the way, carefully gathering up the crumbs of bread after a meal is still a common practice in Middle Eastern cultures – as I saw while living in the Arab village last year.)
This Canaanite woman instinctively recognized that Jesus was the bread of life which she and her daughter so desperately needed. She somehow understood that this bread was being broken and distributed among the Jews in order to fulfill God’s perfect plan, but she also sensed in her spirit that she and the rest of the Gentiles were the next in line to be fed. Those leftovers were going to be gathered up and given to the whole world, and even one crumb of the bread of life would be perfect and full of life-imparting power.
Jesus tested her faith by initially reminding her that the time had not yet come to break the bread of life beyond the borders of Israel in an unrestricted manner. Her response showed him that her eyes already had caught a glimpse of the power in even a crumb of this bread, and due to this faith her story was one of the first cases recorded of non-Jewish individuals who tasted of the living bread in a personal way. Far from being rejected by Jesus, she became an emblem of the step immediately following his death and resurrection: the joyous reception of the Gospel by countless Gentiles around the world. And so, when reading her story, we remember the loving plan of God for the next in line to be fed (even yet today), and that even one crumb of the living bread is enough to fill the soul, heal its diseases and to restore the fellowship with God.
Crumbs of Joy, by Jeremy, September 2, 2012