Pentecost 16.18 “Under The Table Savior” Mark 7:24-37
The phrase “under the table” has unsavory connotations. It’s the opposite of “above board”. It refers to things that aren’t exactly kosher, not quite in keeping with the law, illicit, secret, hidden—not something to be proud of. Getting paid “under the table” means “tax free!” (seriously: do you report your fantasy football league winnings on your 1040? Really? Uh-huh.). Food-wise (food has been a topic for us, lately) it’s not particularly appetizing. Food that gets dropped “under the table” means eating off the floor. Now, myself, I’ve always been a big proponent of the “five second rule”—as communion assistants and my family can attest. But I figure, hey, our floors are fairly clean; and how much grunge can a piece of licorice, or the Host, pick up in five seconds anyway? Especially if it’s the Host, the Body of Christ(!) that’s like dirt-destroying, sin-obliterating!! Off the floor, or off a silver plate—tastes just as good to me. Besides, watching licorice, BBQ, or potato chips go to waste just hurts me, inside. I think it was seeing old Pastor Mueller, when I was very young, scooping up a Host at Communion that had fallen on the floor and popping it in his mouth discretely that cultivated the habit in me. Hey, I’m all about the life application of Christianity!
Which leads us, rather nicely, if I do say so myself, to our Gospel this morning. I only care about the first half, the Canine-ite woman (the mute guy just doesn’t speak to me). I love this Gospel so much! I recognize a kindred spirit in this lady and the fact she is clearly a fellow proponent and practitioner of the “five second rule” is not the least among her many appealing qualities, to me. That she has a smart-mouth and is quick with the one-liners is way up there, too. Pop quiz: who else in the Gospels has such a deft reply that Jesus must concede the point(!)?. Yeah. OK. Nice shot. 15-love. (Although, in fairness, I think Jesus set her up with a real marshmallow of a lob. You think Jesus wanted her to win this point, spectacularly? Well… more on that in a minute).
Everybody else has been looking for salvation above board, according to the Law, all Smith Barney-style, properly earned, well-deserved. Most all Israel, in fact. But this lady sees what most everyone else misses. The front door to the Palace is locked, gated, guarded with heavy security. You’re kidding yourself if you think your papers are in order, your resume is impressive enough to get that Door to open! Heaven is not for the likes of you and me—at least the front gate is not for us. It’s for angels, archangels, the heavenly host who are much more good and glorious than you or I. Come to think of it, most of Christendom is still looking for “above board” salvation too. Boasting of works, or the inner light of the Holy Spirit, or charismatic gifts, outstanding success in converting the lost, what have you. There’s a long line at the front gate to heaven—long line indeed! Lots of questions to answer and security to get through. Good luck with that!
But this lady is my kind of people. She sees there’s a back door to the Kingdom that is open and un-guarded. The servant’s entrance to the kitchen. The delivery folk come and go and no one asks them questions. And you can see the King’s Table through that back door. And under the table there’s a doggie door that leads, well, can’t see exactly where it leads, but the King loves His dogs, and it probably leads right to the throne room, the inner chamber. Leads somewhere good, you can bet on it! I mean, does anyone but her Welsh Corgis get to hop up on the couch next to her and sit on Queen Elizabeth’s lap? Right? 30-love.
Now, the refined, high-society types will never even think of this approach, anymore than they’d scoop up the bit of fallen foie gras off the floor, under the table, at dinner, go “Five second rule!” and pop it in their mouths. Yeah, good manners and Pharisaical pride have got all Israel standing in that long line at the front gate, in their Sunday best, with their lists of “missional moments”, hearts aglow with the “inner light”, “shinning like a new dime/ the uptown trains are full with all those Park Avenue girls…”
But the Canine-ite woman is on the downtown train. Nor does she have pride that will be wounded if she’s caught sneaking around back, slipping through the servants’ entrance. She has eyes only for the King, eyes on the prize. And she’s got Him sized up as a dog-lover and a treat-giver. She doesn’t really care how she gets into the Kingdom. Path of least resistance, the soft spot in the security system is fine by her. Besides, she’s not the only one with problems. It’s her daughter. Demon possessed she is—nasty demon too, kind that doesn’t come out even with prayer and fasting. Truth be told, the demon that possesses your child is far more tormenting to the parent. To be helpless like that. They both need the Bread of Heaven, the Food that endures to eternal life. They both have no illusions about waltzing through the front door. It’s back door or nothing, for them. An “above board Lord” is not for them. An “under the table Savior” is their only chance…(!)
So when she hears that Jesus is riding through the area, she seizes the day. She wouldn’t presume to come to Him, to make a direct approach. But since He’s come to her bad neighborhood, well… the game is afoot! As He’s passing by, she comes and literally falls at His feet, blocking His way, worshiping Him, begging Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (a demon which has more than a toe-hold, one suspects, on the mother as well). But Jesus ignores her, breezes by, passing shot down the line; 30-15. Jesus’ disciples are a little shocked at this, but the Canine-ite woman picks herself up and runs around and throws herself in front of Him again, crying out in the most humiliating and pathetic way. Matthew tells us even the hard-hearted 12 go: “Jesus; C’mon! Give her what she wants!”
Jesus responds with words that sound cruel, capricious, shocking really. “Let the children be filled first! For it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs!!” Oh! Not nice, Jesus! Conduct code. Point penalty. 40-15.
But, surely with a wry smile, a twinkle in her eye, the Canine-ite woman raises her head, catches the Master’s eye, because she knows she’s got Him! He’s opened the door, left his backhand side completely open, just daring her to bunt a forehand down the line. It’s like He’s giving this game away! “Yes, Lord! Yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Jesus laughs. Claps His racquet. Bowing, gives her hand up. “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter [and you, too!].” Game. Set. Match. Canine-ite woman!
Of course, Jesus threw the match! The back door to heaven has been wide open since that forbidden fruit eating thing. If you’re not too proud to beg, not too polite to crawl, not too refined to call “five second rule!” and snarf down the crumb from the King’s Table, you will see: our under the table Savior has opened this back door to heaven and is literally dying for you to come on in!
So; c’mon in! The Bread, the Wine is more than fine. His Body and Blood make, for you, a Place at the Table where Peace surpassing understanding guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.