Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Even the Puppies

by c s bunyan

Philip and Bartholomew walked quickly because they thought they were late. Their hosts sent with them a jug of wine and a large basket of figs. Philip, whose load was lighter, put distance between himself and his fellow disciple.

"Slow down," said Bartholomew. "Maybe we should put the wine in here with these figs I'm carrying and work together."

Philip stopped and turned. Bartholomew's face was flushed from exertion.

"There's a rock, there, under that tree," said Philip as he reached out to help carry the basket of figs. "Why don't we just rest a minute. I'm sure the Lord won't mind if we're a bit late for the meal."

"I don't need to rest," said Bartholomew. "I just wanted a little help."

"Sit. We've been running for days."

Philip gently placed the jug of wine on a soft grassy, piece of ground in the shade. Bartholomew placed the figs in the shade next to the wine. Both disciples sat on the ground with their backs to the rock to soak up its' coolness. For the first time, both disciples noticed how many other people were traveling the same road as they.

"Do you think this is normal?" asked Bartholomew. "All these people in this place?"

"Word spreads quickly," said Philip.

"Have you noticed their clothes? Their speech? We must be close to the Great Sea." Bartholomew wiped his forehead with the edge of his robe. "We walk any further we'll be out of Israel."

"I'm wondering if we might have crossed the border already," said Philip. "What's this?"

Philip nodded towards a woman making her way frantically down the road. She stopped travelers and spoke to them. Her gestures were animated, almost manic. Many listened for only a moment and then turned away, waving their hand as if to say, "Go away. Don't bother me." Others listened patiently and then shook their head. After many rebuffs or negative answers, she would move on to the next group of people moving along the road.

Philip and Bartholomew, from their vantage point, watched the woman for about two minutes before she was on the roadside directly in front of them. Her shoulders slumped; she sighed. She squinted to see who or what was under the tree in the shade. She moved towards them with short, hesitating steps.

"Greetings," said Philip. "We were just finished resting here. This rock feels cool if you lean against it. I don't think the sun's been on it at all, today."

The disciples stood as she approached. As her eyes adjusted from sun to shade, she looked at them carefully.

"You are Galileans, no?" She spoke Aramaic with an accent.

"We are," said Bartholomew.

The woman's next utterances came in spurts, in excited Greek. Her daughter was sick. More than sick. Her daughter was possessed. A devil lived inside the poor girl. She was suffering. Terribly. She heard about the man from Galilee and heard that he was here, just across the border from where she lived. Maybe there was a chance she could speak with him. For only a minute. Not much time. Only a half a minute.

"Do you know him?" she asked. "Can you help me find Jesus of Nazareth? Is it true about what they say?"

"It is true," said Philip. "We are following him and…"

"And we don't know where he is," said Bartholomew.

Philip shot Bartholomew a withering glance, but said nothing.

"We arrived here late last night," Bartholomew explained. "We slept most of the day because we were so tired. I'm afraid we're going back to Galilee. He's probably a half day, or more, away."

The woman looked at the men with blank, despondent eyes. She shook her head and mumbled a thank you and started after a group of three heading the way Philip and Bartholomew had just walked.

"You lied to her," said Philip. They began walking again carrying the wine and the figs.

"I didn't lie," protested Bartholomew. "Not about everything. We don't know where he is. We got here late last night. We went to our host's house after dark. We had to be told how to get back. We're not there yet, so I don't know for sure if the directions were accurate. And besides, he made it clear that he didn’t want anyone to know he was here."

"I don't think the Lord would approve."

"Remember his directions to us when he sent us out to preach?" asked Bartholomew. "'Go not into Samaria or unto the Gentiles. Go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel."

"We could have brought her with us."

"She's a Gentile, Philip."

It turned out they were much closer to their destination then they had thought. They arrived at a large, sprawling home built at the top of a hill. The late afternoon sun blazed yellow into the valley, which could be seen only after they had crested the hill. They met a handful of people just standing around and were told that this was, indeed, the home of Nehemiah. After some introductions, which included washing, Nehemiah himself escorted Philip and Bartholomew into the dining area of his home. The rest of the band was already lounging around the table. Jesus sat on the far side of the room. He nodded and smiled as they entered.

“Don’t tell me,” said Peter. “Bartholomew decided it was more important to sleep than to eat.”

The disciples laughed, a little too loudly for Philip.

“We were detained,” he said. “We met a woman…”

More laughter. Bartholomew nudged Philip ever so slightly as if to say, “Let us sit down and be quiet.”

After they sat, the blessing was said and the food was served.

“Where are we?” asked Bartholomew. “It seems were heard quite a bit of Greek spoken along the road.”

Jesus motioned to Nehemiah, who explained that they were just barely still in Israel. On a clear day, one could see the Great Sea. On a cloudy or hazy day, one could smell it.

“The valley you see from the garden of my house, and then further to the north, is populated by a number of different peoples, some refugees, some who have lived there for years, but still act like refugees. Joshua’s armies, oh so many, many years ago sent streams of Canaanites into the area. For many, their ancestral home was Galilee, which is why, I’m only guessing, that there is so much interest in a visit by this man.” Nehemiah nodded to Jesus. "Many Jews around here see these people as cursed, like Canaan was cursed by Noah after Canaan saw his nakedness. It is difficult for them to be anything but servants."

“The woman,” said Jesus to Philip and Bartholomew. “Who was she?”

“A Canaanite,” said Philip. “She spoke first to us in our own language, but then she spoke Greek.”

“Very quickly,” added Bartholomew. “I thought you didn’t want anyone to know you were here, so I told her that you were a half day away already.”

Jesus smiled. “She followed you,” he said. “She’s here. Please, let her in.”

Philip and Bartholomew only then became aware of the commotion outside the front door. Nehemiah motioned to a servant to open the door and to show the woman to where they were. In only a moment, the same woman, looking very disheveled, entered the room and stopped to survey the group around the table. When she looked at Philip and Bartholomew, she narrowed her eyes. Jesus, however, seemed oblivious to the woman, instead engaging Nehemiah in conversation about the figs that were provided by Philip and Bartholomew’s host. Philip moved enough to catch the woman’s eye and motioned his head to indicate where Jesus was sitting.

“Have mercy on me, Oh Lord,” said the woman in almost perfect Aramaic. “You are a son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”

“And the figs are dried?” Jesus asked Nehemiah.

“Oh yes,” he said. “And they lose none of their sweetness.”

Again, moving a bit farther into the room, the woman, using the same exact words, pleaded formally with Jesus.

“And the figs, do they keep well?”

“Yes, almost a year.”

Philip became impatient and said, “Lord, why did you allow her to enter only to ignore her?”

“Send her away,” said Bartholomew. “Or she’ll follow and cry after us all over the countryside.”

“I have not come,” said Jesus. “Except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

At this the woman became distraught. She ran to where Jesus was lounging, carefully avoiding the feet of the other disciples. She knelt and sobbed before him, with snippets of Aramaic and snippets of Greek coming between her sobs. Her forehead rested on the floor in front of her knees. Jesus tenderly touched her head. She lifted slightly. He took her by her shoulders and gently raised her from the floor. Together, they stood. Jesus placed his index finger under her chin until he looked her straight in the eye.

“It is not proper to take the children’s bread and cast it,” he paused as he scanned the room. “To the little dogs.”

The woman gathered herself. She took a deep breath. The room was shrouded in silence, the disciples and Nehemiah transfixed. Finally, the woman spoke again with a steady voice.

“This is true, Lord. What you say about the children’s bread. But, even the puppies eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus beamed.

“Oh, woman. How great is your faith.” Jesus motioned for her to begin heading for the door. “Let it be done for you just as you will.”

The woman hesitated for a moment. A smile broke out on her face as the excitement built. She almost leaped past the disciples, turned back again, bowed a little bow and ran past the servant waiting to escort her to the door. The disciples laughed as they heard her screaming jubilantly in the courtyard.

Jesus settled back into his seat and reached into the basket of figs. He studied one fig carefully.

“The little girl is healed,” he said. “The devil has left her and she is, right now, laying on her bed peacefully.”

Jesus tasted the fig.

“Is it still as sweet?” asked his host.

“Indeed, it is, Nehemiah. Indeed, it is.”

“What’d I tell you?” said Bartholomew. “Send her away or she’ll follow us all over the countryside.”

Jesus nodded and smiled. “We’ll talk later, Bartholomew.” He tasted the fig again.

[From the accounts in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 See also Genesis 8:20-23]


Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Reminds me a bit of John the beloved protesting: "We found someone casting out demons in your name, Lord - and we told him to stop! (Aren't you proud of us?)"

I wonder ... how much persistence Jesus expects from us. Even when He more-or-less says no; maybe more than once. Could Jesus tell this woman wouldn't give up? Could He see a teaching moment in her persistence?

(Obviously you did, C.S.!)

5/18/2005 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger David U said...

C.S. This is one of the most difficult passages in all the Bible for me to get a handle on. I sure appreciate your willingness to give us your perspective on it.
Thanks for stepping out there and taking a full swing at it!


5/19/2005 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Raymond Fleming said...


This is one of those stories that raises even more questions the more I think about it. Yes, I think Jesus could tell this woman wouldn't give up. Yes, I think he used this event as a teaching opportunity.

It is interesting that both in the gospel stories and experientially in my own life, the Lord teaches multiple lessons in one fell swoop. Here, for example, you mentioned the attitude of the disciples and the attitude of the woman. Both attitudes are treated in the story. (The challenge: which point of view?)

What is most interesting to me about this story--and what I didn't show in any great detail--is that, when Jesus speaks to her, He doesn't use the normal word for dog. It was as though He was prompting her. It was as though He deviated from the way normal Jewish people would have spoken around her to differentiate in her mind that He was indeed very, very Jewish and yet...very, very different.


I'm curious: Just what was it about this passage that was difficult? I only ask because I find it difficult as well. (This and a number of other passages.) My only wish is to compare notes and see if our difficulties are the same. I get the impression from your comment about "taking a full swing" that I might not have helped with your understanding? Did I miss completely? Or, maybe eke out an infield single? :)

Thanks to both of you for your feedback. I very much appreciate hearing your thoughts.

5/23/2005 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I wish "Jesus beamed" was in scripture. It'd make such a great counterpoint to "Jesus wept."

5/24/2005 01:17:00 PM  

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