In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs.
But this woman is bold. Her response to being ignored was to keep on asking. Her response to overhearing that He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel was to fall down and worship Him. Her prayer for her daughter’s demon possession had been distilled down to simply, “Lord, help me.”
Then He says, “It is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs.”
But she is bold. She does not quit. She has the promises. She has the Scriptures. She waits on the Lord, for Him to show His mercy, to bare His arm, to reveal Himself. She does not want the children’s bread. She wants more. She wants His bread.
“Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s table. “
Put me in your lap, Lord. Scratch behind my ear. Throw the ball. And let me eat what falls from the loaf of which You eat. I want a part of Your bread.
Better to be a doorkeeper in the House of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. Better to be a dog in the home of the Lord than to be the play thing of demons.
Now, some would say that we should not see in this bread anything of the Holy Communion. They tell us that every instance of bread or wine in the Scriptures is not a sacrament, does not bestow the forgiveness of sins, and is not the Body and Blood of Jesus. Sometimes, they say, bread is just bread.
Is that so? Is bread, from the perspective of heaven, ever “just” bread? Does God ever feed us, provide for all that we need to support this body and life, in a casual, even accidental way? Is there any providence from heaven, any feeding, any love or mercy of God apart from the Body and Blood of Jesus crucified and raised?
No. Everything goes back to the cross and the Holy Communion brings the cross back to us.
But this isn’t the feeding of the five thousand or turning water into wine. There is no actual bread even as there are no actual dogs. These are metaphors. There is only the Lord, His disciples, the woman, her daughter, and the demons. The demons are not metaphors. They are real, so is the daughter sorely vexed and the mother full of fear. Jesus is not a metaphor either, nor are His disciples. They are real. They are there.
The Lord acts strangely. What the disciples want of Him, I do not know. They ask Him to release her or send her away because she is crying after them. Is this because they are annoyed, tired of the cries. Or are they embarrassed that He ignores her? Are they moved by compassion? Does His silence, His ignoring of her valid cry, concern them? Are they helpless and heartbroken or just annoyed? I don’t know, but I suspect it is a complicated mixture of things. In this, at least, I feel at one with them. How many times has it seemed to me as though the Lord ignored the prayers of people sorely in need and how badly I, the “professional churchworker” in the unhelpful parlance of the LC-MS, have wished for a miracle not only to help the needy but also to show that my God is real and has power. In any case, the apostles are not metaphors. But they are helpless. And though they are not metaphors they are prototypes of the Ministry. They can’t do a thing for the woman or her daughter, who are prototypes for the laity. The apostles and the woman stand before demons as helpless as we stand before cancer, war, poverty. All they can do is pray.
But this is the Lord’s intent. He is not a prototype. He is the antitype. He is the fulfillment of all the prophecies and types, of all the hopes and dreams of the world, of all creation. His intent is that His pastors would pray and that the people would pray, that they would come to Him with the boldness and confidence of dear children asking their dear father. The woman puts the apostles to shame. She is better at prayer than they are. She is bold. She is confident. She wants not the children’s bread, she wants to share in His bread.
Is this only a metaphor? Does she really mean only something other than bread? She is not, after all, an actual dog. I think she wants more than bread, but that she also wants bread. She wants to eat with Jesus, to be in fellowship with Jesus. Her prayer has grown from, “Have mercy on me for my daughter is possessed by a demon” to “help me” to “share Your bread with me.”
Could it be Eucharistic? That is, in asking for bread, is she actually asking for what Our Lord gives in the Lord’s Supper? The Lord’s Supper is not a metaphor or symbol. The bread we break is His Holy Body, crucified and risen, given to us to eat with our mouths to forgive our sins. Doesn’t her plea for bread have something to do with how the Lord helps us, has mercy upon us, delivers us and our children from demons? Of course. Then it is Eucharistic.
But here is really why it is Eucharistic, not simply because she mentions bread, but because the Lord is constant and unchanging. He did not one day decide to try something new and invent the Holy Sacraments. This is how He always is, always interacts with His people. He feeds. The sacrifices were mainly meat for eating. The Mannah in the dessert was also food. But man lives not by bread alone, even by Mannah alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, even as Our Lord reminded the devil last week. So the Lord does more than feed the Body. He provides for the soul through the body. You can’t wash a soul. So you wash the body with water and the Name of God and the soul is thereby washed. We call that baptism. You can’t touch the soul or feed it apart from the body, so Jesus feeds our bodies with physical food that conveys food for the soul, with what the soul needs to be strengthened and cleansed. He does not sit in heaven and think nice things toward us. He actually enters into creation. He speaks through human words, in a human voice. He feeds with bread and wine. He washes with water.
Food is not a metaphor. It is real. So is God’s grace. God’s Word has taken up flesh to be our Savior, to walk among us, to suffer as us, to be punished and killed in our place. He has accomplished what He was sent to do. He has pulled us out of Hell that we would have communion with Him. He enters into us by way of the mouth, feeds us with Himself and thereby consumes us, makes us a part of Him, while taking residence in us. It is not the children’s bread He gives. That would not be right for us, mere dogs, Gentiles. But He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He is not lying when He says that. So the woman must be transformed. She must join the house of Israel, become a son of Abraham, an heir of promise. The Lord does this. He transforms her through His Word. But still He gives more than the childrens bread, to her and to us. For He gives out of His affection and generosity. He gives Himself, the Bread come down from heaven, the Bread of Life.
He hears the woman’s prayer. He gives Himself to her. The demons depart, banished. He hears your prayer as well. He gives Himself to you in His Bread. The demons cannot have you. They depart. You, O House of Israel, are His.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.