We Are Beggars, This Is True
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“We are beggars; this is true,” are reported to be Martin Luther’s last written words. Christians are “beggars” for God’s grace, undeserving but graced nonetheless. A beggar’s faith focuses not on what is given or accomplished or believed, but on what is received: the healing and sustenance desperately longed for and needed.
In today’s gospel, the Canaanite woman is such a “beggar” for Jesus’ healing for her daughter. She is denied a place at the table at first, but she will accept even “crumbs” in the faith that Jesus’ healing power and love are intended even for her. As a Gentile outsider, she inhabits the margins of Jesus’ mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus’ eventual response to her beggar’s faith reveals that the love of God even encompasses the margins.
Marginalized or not, we are all beggars before God, as Paul reminds the Romans—all “imprisoned in disobedience” and dependent on God. Thus, our sense of “insider” and “outsider” crumbles in the face of our common need and God’s abundant mercy to all. Instead of dividing people between those who have a place at the table and those who get crumbs, we have an opportunity to share hospitality with our fellow beggars.
It can be challenging to see ourselves as beggars. Today the Canaanite woman becomes our model, as she persists with both humility and audacity. As disciples of Jesus and “beggars” for God’s grace, we live the same paradox of humility and audacity, boldly coming to Jesus and humbly acknowledging our need. Even though crumbs from God’s table would be enough for us, we are offered instead the abundance of Jesus’ own self in bread and wine and invited to share this abundance with insider and outsider alike.
Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
Jesus teaches his disciples that true purity is a matter of the heart rather than outward religious observances. Almost immediately, this teaching is tested when a woman considered to be a religious outsider approaches him for help.
[10[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.