Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
September 3, 2006
SETTLING FOR CRUMBS
Text: Mark 7:24-30
I’d like to begin my time with you by settling a
much disputed matter. Four years ago as I prepared to preach here
for the first time, I was asked to submit a photo of myself for the
I do not like pictures of myself. I seem always to look worried or
mad or like a relative I don’t like.
So instead of sending Amy Jones a photo of me, I sent a photo of
Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Amy printed it! And it became this big
joke among the staff.
So this past week, sitting at staff meeting, Steve asked me to
submit my picture again, and I let out this horrible moan….and
someone said. “Why don’t you submit the Catherine Zeta-Jones again?”
Well, long story short….I never did either one…so….
Imagine my surprise when early his week I started receiving emails
from people calling me Catherine….
then I found out from Jill Kinney Weaver that Steve had written this
in the newssheet: “September 3, I will be at the Chancel Choir
retreat and Sheila Ennis is preaching. I asked her to send a picture
of herself for this column. All she would send was a picture of
Catherine Zeta Jones.
So that explains the newssheet…
BUT it didn’t end there.
My husband, Tom Schulz, had a fascinating dream on Wednesday night,
which he told me about on Thursday morning. It went like this:
It’s Labor Day weekend. I’m preaching, so I leave the apartment
early. Tom starts puttering around and look up at the clock and it’s
almost 10:00! So he rushes over to the church.
Gets to the parking lot and there’s this guy who says, “You’ll have
to park in the Hutchinson Overflow lot #1 which is two miles down
Tom says “What’s all this big crowd about?”
The guy says, “Someone really famous is preaching today!”
So Tom drives to Overflow lot #2 and the same thing happens! He has
to drive even further down the street. FINALLY he finds a parking
place downtown, and he falls in step with this huge crowd of people
gathered outside the Bobcats Arena. Turns out the attendance was SO
high at MPBC that they had to move the service to the Arena! So
Tom’s standing there and he looks up at the giant screen outside the
Arena….and there is me preaching!!!
So today, while Tom is in the clinic being treated for delusions of
my grandeur, I would like to tell you that if you came up to me and
said, “Sheila, you have a choice: either you can have your image
magnified 5000 times and broadcast at the Bobcats arena….or…. You
can open your mouth and let me rip out your tonsils……I’d go for the
And for any of you who came here today especially to see Catherine
Zeta Jones in this pulpit…well, I’m sorry to report that her flight
was delayed due to bad weather….BUT I’m really hoping she’ll be here
in time to lead sermon talkback…..
So let’s turn to our story for this morning: the Syrophoenician
woman. We read the story as it appears in Mark, which is believed to
be the earliest gospel text. The story also is in Matthew, who
likely consulted Mark’s text and then embellished it, added some
stuff….and actually makes this story a whole lot LESS radical than
So here’s some background.
Jesus is well into his ministry by this time. In the
time preceding this passage Jesus has healed many people. He has
called 12 disciples to help with his work. He has restored life to a
little girl, cast out demons, walked on water, fed thousands of
people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And he has taught many, in
parables, about the kingdom.
AND interestingly…. In the passage preceding this one, Jesus has
stood up against the Pharisees and scribes who have tried to blister
him by citing all the Jewish laws he and his disciples have broken:
apparently they haven’t been washing their hands before handling
their food. They’re using the wrong pots and pans and cooking
utensils. And Jesus answers the charges by calling the Pharisee
hypocrites, people who answer to HUMAN laws, who abandon their
commitment to God and hold to human traditions.
He says all these things to the Pharisees. And then he takes his
disciples aside, away from the crowds, and gives them private
instruction. He tells them…. it is not what into your mouth that
makes you unclean. Eating with unwashed hands does not defile you.
It’s what’s inside of you that defiles you. If your heart and mind
are filled with greed, wickedness, deceit, envy, pride, slander,
theft, murder—that is what defiles you. And apparently, as usual in
Mark, the disciples don’t catch on.
So now tells us that Jesus set out to Tyre and when he gets there he
goes into a house where he THINKS no one will discover. Tyre is a
foreign country. He has left the region of Galilee and gone OUT OF
HIS FAMILIAR TERRITORY---among the Gentiles and pagans.
Why did he go there? You have your own ideas, probably. You will do
your own work with this passage with your own soul authority.
But as for me, I wonder if Jesus was just tired of preaching and
healing and explaining and proclaiming. He’s tired of people who
just don’t “get it” – including his disciples. Maybe he just needed
to get away from it. So like an introvert he goes into hiding, or
tries to. He goes somewhere where maybe he won’t be recognized. I
expect I’m projecting wildly. Admittedly.
But the text does say that he doesn’t want anyone to know he was
But guess what?
He gets noticed anyway.
By the Syrophoenician woman.
Now here again this is just my own opinion, but this woman rocks!
Who is this woman? What do we know about her?
She’s a woman. She is NOT a Jew, but a Gentile….a foreigner...A
pagan, in all likelihood…
And she has a daughter who has an unclean spirit or a demon…and that
could mean just about anything. It could indicate some mental
illness or it could refer to some life-threatening condition…I don’t
Whatever the specifics, however, Mark wants us to
understand the IMPORTANCE of her “outsider” status. She is NOT part
of the chosen people of God…or is she?
And we don’t know how she heard about Jesus. Were there rumors
circulating that a great healer had come to the region?That there
was a rabbi who could heal the sick and feed the hungry…just like
Here again, I speculate…but you have, probably, I have, I know…been
in a situation where you would do grab any straw, any straw, if you
thought it would bring healing…to yourself, to someone you love…in
this case to your child.
Did she run (Mark uses the word immediately) to Jesus because she
was desperate and at the end of her rope? Or did she run to him with
her heart filled with hope? Both?
But her need for her daughter’s healing was strong enough and deep
enough to give her to courage to cross…transgress…all those barriers
of race, class, gender, origin.
And as a woman…
Approach a man….
And even a Jewish Rabbi…
And bow before him and beg for her daughter’s restoration.
In this woman’s life there is something so wrong, so…what? Unfair?
Hopeless? So…not right…
That she HAS to try to do something about it.
So she goes to Jesus, bows down, and begged him to cast out the
demon possessing her daughter. And Jesus…well you might not like
this part, but Jesus basically says: No. I can’t or I won’t.
Well, Jesus says in the metaphorical language he uses quite a lot:
I cannot take the food that belongs to the children and give it to
We can’t take their (meaning the right kind of people) food and
throw it to the dogs (that is, YOUR kind of people). That would be
breaking the rules. We just don’t do that.
Now a sidebar here about the dogs. In our culture, there are many
many people to whom dogs are extraordinarily important. Being
treated like a dog at some people’s houses is a wonderful thing.
I’ve decided that if there IS such a thing as reincarnation, I want
to come back as Mariah Currin’s dog!
Once on Seinfeld, in his opening monologue, he talks about this. He
says (and I’m paraphrasing this because it is Seinfeld, after all)
he says suppose there are aliens hovering over New York City in a
spacecraft. And they look down through their telescopes and they see
these human beings walking along behind these well-dressed and
well-groomed dogs, and the humans are picking up after the dogs….who
would you ASSUME is in charge down here??
But that is absolutely not the case in this story. Jesus is using a
metaphor to insult her terribly, to put her in her place.
And let’s pause here and remember: Didn’t Jesus, in the story just
before this one….didn’t Jesus just get through saying that it is not
a good thing to worship the rules instead of God? The rules are a
human construct and NOT the vital important thing.
But is he not, in this case, falling back on those rules? I can’t
help you, you dog…it’s against the rules.
Now why is he acting so…out-of-character?
Of course I don’t know. But I bet we’ve all had times when we have
just gotten tired of trying to challenge a system or a rule…to no
avail. When it’s easier to FALL BACK on the old ways because forging
a new path just takes too much energy. Is that what Jesus was doing?
Whatever his reasons, though, the Syrophoenician woman just would
not buy it: quoting Elizabeth Malbon from the BWB materials, “But if
she is a dog, she yaps right back. She says, Okay, you want to do
metaphors? I can do metaphors”
And the Syrophoenician woman does.
Just as fast as Jesus can present his argument, she presents hers:
Yea, well even those dogs you’re talking about get to eat the crumbs
off the floor.
She KNOWS what Jesus is saying about her and she turns it right back
on him and basically, she beats him at his own game, really.
She doesn’t argue with him about her worth. She doesn’t say ‘you
can’t call me a dog.” She says, okay, so I’m a dog. Then treat me
like a dog…let me at least eat those crumbs under that table.”
Now this part always gnaws at me a little because you want her to
ask to see the whole menu, you know?
But she’s just willing to settle for the crumbs.
And well, considering the fact that according to law and custom
she’s not even entitled to THAT…
Considering that she is one despised by the Jews, then that makes
the crumbs a pretty good deal, I guess.
And Jesus says “for saying that, you may go. The demon has left your
Does this not astonish you?
Jesus says no, I have to play by the rules,
She says, well, not entirely…there might be another way…
He says, well, you may have a point there!
What?? I believe Jesus has changed his mind. Does this happen
anywhere else in the New Testament? Did Jesus just say…..nevermind!
When challenged by her words, by what this foreigner says…Jesus says
okay. You’re right. I guess I need to change my mind. And he does.
Several weeks ago Dan White preached a sermon about being confronted
by God. For Moses, he reminded us, God spoke through the burning
bush, for instance. And he cited all kinds of ways God confronts
us—fire, wind, thunder, earthquakes….
But he later said this “it just may well be that when God speaks to
us it is from a client, a patient, a student, a neighbor, a teacher,
a friend, a child, a lover, a spouse, or any of a myriad of
circumstances that WE may think God would not touch with a ten-foot
pole.” In this story Jesus of Nazareth is confronted by one of those
10-foot-pole situations. A woman, a strange and unclean and maybe
even irritating woman…
Gets in his face.
Could it be that in that moment, Jesus sees NOT the
irritating woman, but the face of God – the other. I want to think
Some scholars suggest that it is in this moment that Jesus comes to
understand that salvation, if you will, is not just for the Jews,
but also for the Gentiles. Maybe you agree with that and maybe you
don’t. That would depend on your theology. But it does seem to me
that whatever the theology, at this point the concept of the kingdom
of heaven or the community of God is just not the same. In this
moment there is less “us” versus “them”. And the reason I quoted
Sandra Schneiders in the silent meditation is this: for me, in this
passage, Jesus, maybe not at first, but eventually, Jesus is once
again rejecting the structures. He is showing that there is another
truly redemptive way of being a man in a patriarchal system.
And the Syrophoenician woman? She is saying almost loud and clear
that she, too, is made in the image of God. In this story this woman
IS putting on the Christ…that is…she is acting out of her own
empowerment to bring healing and wholeness to her world.
God will, and God can, and God always does….confront that which
prevents our wholeness. That which keeps us from living in the
community of God.
That which would tell us “no, you cannot eat at the table….” The
meeting between Jesus and the foreign woman is a holy
conversation…for both of them it is a confrontation with God. After
which, neither is ever the same.
This week we have marked the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
There are people, fine people, strong and resilient people…who have
NOT enjoyed any kind of restoration or relief…here a year later.
THAT is a daughter, possessed by a demon…bedridden, powerless. THAT
poverty and dispossession is a daughter.
Where’s the voice of the Syrophoenician woman? Where and how is the
voice of God confronting the Pharisees and the scribes who are
saying, “That’s just the way it is…..”
And where are the demon-possessed daughters in your world?
What is sick or bedridden in your world?
What part of you needs that desperate mother, that foreign woman, to
give that bedridden daughter her voice? And where are your Pharisees
and your rules and your regulations that are telling you to settle
for crumbs….or nothing at all? Because I don’t think we’re supposed
to settle for crumbs. And I don’t think we’re supposed to stand by
and allow others to have to settle for the crumbs either. This
woman, the Syrophoenician woman, is the other prophet in this story.
She sees what is wrong. And she points it out
And she INSISTS that something is done about it.
Think back over history and remember all those unclean, unorthodox,
unaccepted Syrophoenician women…male and female….who have told us
and continue to tell us:
Do NOT settle for the crumbs.
This is supposed to be a banquet!
Our deepest fear
is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light,
not our darkness,
that most frightens us….
Playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won’t feel insecure (I said uncomfortable) around you.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
it’s in everyone.
As we let our light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
….from a prayer by Marianne Williamson