Of Dogs, Children and Crumbs
The request is a cry from a helpless poor mother. The woman was Canaanite, a gentile, a Syro-phoenician by birth (Mark 7:26) – an outsider, foreigner, outcast. She was desperately screaming, shrieking, shouting for help. Her daughter had been possessed by a demon and she does not know what to do or where to go. Matthew uses the same Greek word (κράζω) for the cry of lepers or blind people asking for help, for the disciples on the boat when they thought they were drowning, or when Jesus cried on the cross before his last breath. It was a mother’s desperate plea for help. It was begging for some little kindness.
Two reactions were elicited by that cry: the rejection by the disciples (“Send her away; she is too noisy!”) and the rejection by Jesus himself (“I was not sent but only to the lost sons of Israel”). The disciples are used to reject people. When someone disturbs their normal day, they are inclined to send them away. They did that to the blind man, to the hungry crowd. They want a clean day, a clean life, a clean society. Get rid of the annoyance, the irritants, the menace, the pests – all threats to our otherwise peaceful existence. The migrant, the terrorist, the Muslim – send them all away!
What is ironic is that Jesus, even if he did not send her away, rejected her too. Something greater was expected of Jesus. He was already going around curing people, showing mercy, empowering the poor. But he refused to heal because he said he was only sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. And as if the insensitivity was not enough, he further insulted her: “it is not good to throw the children’s food to the dogs” – like rubbing salt to an already open wound.
To protect Jesus, some think he was pretending not to know about his universal and inclusive mission; the truth is, he knew it all along. He was just kidding or feigning in order to test how strong is the woman’s faith, so they say. But to interpret it this way is the worst one person can do to a desperate mother. Maybe Jesus is caught here in his lowest moment no matter how his followers try as much to rehabilitate him. His narrow ethnocentric view got him pinned down in such a bad light. At the moment, he could not go beyond his elitist and exclusivist Jewish habitus which sends all the insignificant others away.
I can only think of many Christians today being caught in the same ironic light. White Christian nationalists in support of Trump ended up in the Charlottesville, Virginia’s white supremacist riot. Practicing Christians, almost 80% in the latest survey – some bishops, others priests and religious – support Duterte’s violent war on drugs! They are not as rough and violent like the disciples but they want them silenced because they are not part of us; they are too dangerous for the future of our children. Kaya dapat linisin ang mga salot ng bayan.
The response of the desperate mother was a astonishment even to Jesus. It was a surprising rebuttal: “Oh, please, Lord. For even dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table!” In the context of asymmetric power, one does not insist on one’s equal right. In front of too much power, one can only beg, plead, supplicate, implore, even for scraps, for crumbs, for leftovers, not even for life to its fullest. Just a little bit of life would do.
“Please do not shoot me. Please do not kill me. I have nothing to do with drugs. But if you think I am guilty of whatever crime, you can imprison me together with my wife. That is fine with me. But please do not kill me. I have seven children to take care of. Please.” He said this on his knees in front of the policemen with gun pointed at his head and with his daughter looking at what was going on. In the end, they still shot him three times in the head, placed a gun next to his dead body and left a packet of shabu. The official report says: nanlaban!
Even as they have been killed, their widows, their orphans, their families, still do not like to confront head on the powers-that-be to get even. Leftovers will be enough for now. Crumbs would be fine: a little livelihood to get by, a show of support from their neighbors, a regular meeting to tell their stories to one another, an occasional time to smile and get on with life no matter what. The fire is still inside them – to search for equality, for equal access to the table of justice – but the odds are too great for now. What can one do for now is to keep on living. One widow said: “They want us to die. No, we will not die. We will show them that we will not die.”
In the end, Jesus’ normal life was interrupted that day. He learned something new from an outsider, an outcast. He relented and started to revise his vision, his own mission. He realized that the woman had a great faith, at least, quite more inclusive than his.
Yet, in our times, the powers-that-be continues to brandish its might. These people refuse to listen; they refuse to learn. On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in simultaneous drug operations in Bulacan on what has been dubbed the single bloodiest day on Duterte’s war on drugs. The next day, 25 were killed overnight in Manila. Then, as if to encourage the mayhem, you hear the President say: “Makapatay lang tayo ng 32 every day, maybe we can reduce what ails of this country.”
And the 80% of us – most of whom Christians – continue to clap and cheer! Or, if they did not, they also did not give a damn. They go on with their everyday lives as usual.
The great German theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, once wrote:
“Catastrophes are reported on the radio in between pieces of music. The music continues to play, like the audible passage of time that moves forward inexorably and can be held back by nothing. As Brecht has said: ‘When crime is committed, just as the rain falls, no one cries: Halt!’”