When I was first encountering Jesus and getting to know him as presented in the Scriptures I loved the Jesus of the Gospel of John. In John’s Gospel Jesus is cosmic, he is powerful, he has secret knowledge, and he seems to glow with holiness. The Jesus in the Gospel of John is like a super hero Jesus.
The longer I live in the world and the more time I spend working in ministry, I am surprised to say that I have fallen in love with the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark. The Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is not a super hero. In fact, he is a bit of an anti-hero and this morning’s reading is a perfect example of that.
Our reading picks up right where we left off last week. Jesus has fed some people, and he has healed some people, and he has taught some people. In last week’s reading, Jesus helped the Pharisees and the disciples understand that it is what lies within our hearts that makes us clean or unclean. It is the sins of our hearts that separate us from God.
Now, Jesus is tired, and Mark tells us that he has gone away to hide. He travels outside of Jewish territory into a predominantly Gentile region. He enters a house and Mark makes it clear that Jesus did not want anybody to know he was there. He is trying to hide, he is trying to rest, and he is trying to take a well-deserved break.
But, Jesus can’t get a break. Jesus can’t get away from the needs of the people and it is not long before a woman enters the house, asking him to do something. One more person, with one more need, and she is a foreigner to boot. She throws herself at his feet and begs for the life of her daughter who seems to be possessed by a demon. In a most un-Jesus-like fashion, the tired Jesus lashes out at this person in deep need. He snaps at her saying “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Ah yes, the Son of God using a racial slur, this is not the Jesus we expect.
So what is happening here? It should come as no surprise that throughout the centuries commentators have attempted to soften this image of Jesus. Some scholars have said that Jesus was faking it. He was just being inhospitable to try to throw the woman off and test her faith. Others have said that Jesus was just joking. Even though dog was a common derogatory term used for those of Syrophoenician decent, Jesus was simply calling her a puppy and he meant it to be cute.
You can explain Jesus’ words any way you want to, but frankly, I like this Jesus. I think he said it and I think he meant it. I think Jesus was suffering from physical and mental exhaustion, and he was just tired of seeing people. I think he had had enough. He was trying to get away, he was trying to take a break, he was trying to hide, and in comes one more person asking for one more thing. We talk about Jesus being fully human and fully divine, but as soon as his humanity shows we want to explain it away. I think this was Jesus’ humanity. He was annoyed and he told her so.
Surprisingly the woman is not fazed. She snaps right back at him. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Now I imagine Jesus sees her. I think before, when she came in begging, she was just one more person asking for one more miracle, and he was too tired to deal with it. But now, he looks up, and he really sees her. He sees her wit, her faith, her determination, and her desire to have her daughter healed. “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter” he says, granting her the miracle she requests.
This is one of my favorite stories in all of the Scriptures. I love this woman. I love her wit, and her strength. I love her determination, and her unwillingness to take “no” for an answer. I love that she accepts this insult and turns it around. I love that she talks back to Jesus. And I love that she gets what she wants. It may not be the world, it may not be the glories that God has reserved for the Jews, but it is enough for her. She is happy to survive on crumbs, if that is what she is going to get.
I also love Jesus in this story. I love that he is real and human. I love that he is in a place where I sometimes find myself; tired and worn, hoping that the phone won’t ring, hoping for a quiet night at home, hoping for a chance to rest and recharge. I love that he says something he shouldn’t, because we all do that when we are tired and have had a long day. I love that this Jesus seems real to me.
Just like the woman, at this point I think Jesus is surviving on crumbs. There has been no break, there has been no chance of rest, there has been nothing for days but the throng of needy people, the scorn of the Pharisees, and the foolishness of the disciples. I think he is suffering from compassion fatigue, a condition common among individuals who work with those who have suffered trauma conditions. Compassion fatigue often manifests as a lessening of compassion over time. I don’t think that is a stretch for the fully human Son of God, for surely being among humanity is to witness trauma a hundred fold. Jesus is exhausted, he is running on empty, he is surviving on crumbs.
I am going to go so far this morning as to suggest that the Syrophoenician woman speaks to Jesus with the voice of God. I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch. We talk all the time about God speaking to us through the voices of those around us. Why can’t that have happened to Jesus? Why can’t God have used the words of this woman to wake Jesus up from his stupor? Why can’t God use this moment to shock Jesus out of compassion fatigue?
Through the voice of the Syrophoenician woman, God is telling Jesus about the abundance of grace and healing that is available. God is saying that the gifts that God is presenting through the life of Jesus Christ aren’t simply for the Jews, aren’t simply for the chosen children of God, but are for all the people of the world. Even when the only things that Jesus has left to share are crumbs that will be enough. What if God is saying that there is enough for everyone? What if God is saying that crumbs are enough?
I love this story of Jesus because we find ourselves here so often in our lives. Sometimes we are the woman and we are so desperately in need. Our hearts are broken by the suffering of a loved one and we ask for anything from God. We will gladly take crumbs if crumbs are what is available. In the midst of crises, we know how to survive on crumbs.
And sometimes we are like Jesus in this story. We are so tired of giving and doing and sharing. We just want to be left alone for one minute and then the nominating committee calls and asks us to be on a committee again. Or it’s that one family member or friend that always needs help and always calls at the most inconvenient time and it is all we can do not to snap at them and tell them to go away. Go away, we want to say, leave me alone. All I have right now are crumbs.
And God intervenes, and God challenges us to share our crumbs. God challenges us to dig even deeper. When all it seems that we have are crumbs, if we are willing to share, then there will be enough. Like Jesus, we have to be awakened to our capacity to keep going, keep giving, and keep sharing in the community of faith.
I think there is an abundance available to us if we are willing to share what little time and energy we have. A few days before this story, Jesus was standing around with a crowd and the people were hungry. 5 loaves were broken and shared among thousands of people and 12 baskets of pieces were left over. 12 baskets of crumbs. If another crowd had come upon them that day I am certain there would have been enough bread. They could have survived on the crumbs.
As we move through life today, I encourage you to take the twin lessons from this story. I know that this is a sad and difficult time in the life of the church. There are those among us that are in crises and we feel the reverberations of that throughout this community. People today are surviving on crumbs of faith. It is not a lot, but it is enough.
I also know that there are those among us today who are tired and burnt out. We feel we have done enough work for the church and we are ready for a well-deserved break. I would remind us that even if we feel like we have nothing but crumbs left, that crumbs are enough to share. God will provide, and will craft even tired and worn people into a Session, into a board of Trustees, into leadership for this church community and more. We can survive on crumbs.
May God bless us this morning with the things that we need. May we have the energy and faith to get through difficult and scary times. And may we have the willingness to share what we have, even if we only have crumbs, with those around us. May we experience abundance and generosity together even as we survive on crumbs. Amen.