“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:28b-29, NRSV)
Some time ago, my wife and I were spending time with her family. There was the usual chit chat small talk that comes with people who have not seen each other for a long time inevitably go through. We had are perfunctory meal together, sitting around the table with slightly more interesting conversation sparking. After dinner got done, I suggested we play a game.
With the requisite hemming and hawing, negotiating between what I want or she wants, we settled on Scrabble. We had just gotten a new Scrabble set and wanted to test it out, so we did. My Father and Mother-in-law on one team. My wife and sister-in-law on another. I was my own team. They let me go first. So naturally, I use all my letters, get the double word bonus, double letter bonus, and end up with something like 70+ points before anyone else could play.
If you haven’t guessed, that wasn’t too popular. In fact, my wife and I haven’t played Scrabble together since.
I like Scrabble because for whatever reason lots of words are stored in my head. It could be just useless information (there is a bit of that), but generally, I strive to have a large vocabulary because I think words matter. What we say matters and the particular words we use effects what we are saying. Nowhere is that more clear in the story of the Syrophoenician woman, sometimes called Justa.
Jesus was tired and seeking some alone time, but that doesn’t excuse him for what he called Justa. He called her a dog. He was rude to her. He insulted her. He didn’t quite us a four letter word, but he came close.
But Justa turned the insult on its head and challenged Jesus with her words. She challenged Jesus’ insinuation that the kingdom of God was only for a particular people. She reminded him the very nature of God is one of giving, of reaching the “outsider” (in this case a woman and an immigrant).
Jesus granted Justa what she was looking for, but it wasn’t because of piety or faith. It was because of her words, “For saying that…” Her words were what granted her access to the saving work of Christ (manifested in the Jesus power to heal, cast out demons, etc.) Apparently, words mattered for Jesus too.
I wonder what words you will be speaking this day? Words which denigrate and draw lines between us and them, or words which expand the realm of God to the outsider? Might it be the latter this day and all days.