Have you ever sat back and thought about the polarizing dynamics that take place within our world? In almost every culture there is a pervading concept that labels some people as more important than others. There is always an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd. There are always those who seem to be “blessed” by God and those “not blessed” by God. There are the social and religious “elites”… and then everybody else. We are accustomed to either labeling people as outsiders or being outsiders ourselves. In many cases it is unfair and even hypocritical. Some of the most “religious” people in the world, the ones God supposedly favors, do some of the worst and most heinous things. All you need to do is pick up a newspaper. No wonder so many people are turned off by religion. I can’t say that I blame them.
However, the other night I was reading through the book of Matthew and came across a story that absolutely blew my mind. In Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus is travelling to Tyre and Sidon when he is interrupted by a Canaanite girl who wants him to heal her daughter. In contrast to the many other times when Jesus went out of his way to heal hurting people, verse 23 says that “Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word.” In fact, his disciples urged him to tell her to go away because she was being bothersome.
After all, these were Jewish men, and she was a Canaanite – a Gentile…and a woman. In Jewish tradition, she was the epitome of unclean. She was an outsider – as outside as outside can get. Suddenly Jesus stops and says to her, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep – the people of Israel.” In other words, Jesus is saying “Let’s be clear. I’m here for God’s people. I’m here for Israel – those who are chosen by God but have no shepherd.” At first glance, it seems as if Jesus is fueling the stereotype. He’s reinforcing the religious status of his time. The woman would have known very quickly that she did not fit into that category. He was not here to help her.
Verse 25: “But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”
At this, how did Jesus respond? Was his heart melted? Did he recant his previous statement? No. He seems to have done the exact opposite.
“It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus message is clear. The people of Israel are God’s children, and all others are as dirty as dogs – and these aren’t household dogs. Dogs during this time weren’t pampered and treated like royalty as they are in America. No, these are scavenging scoundrels who sleep in the dirt and survive on their own.
Only Children of God receive the blessings of God. The dogs do not.
When the woman heard this statement, she understood that she was the dog Jesus was referring to. But still she insisted…
Verse 27: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their master’s table.”
In the desperation to save her daughter, the woman’s heart shows through. She so desired to receive his blessing that she was willing to wait and beg for it. By identifying herself as the dog, she acknowledged Jesus as her master. In this imagery, I can’t help but picture my own dog, who would sit so patiently by my side night after night as I ate dinner, looking up at me with big eyes to see if I would show some mercy and feed her a bite. The woman’s heart longed for blessing from the master’s hand.
And in the next verse, Jesus says, “Dear woman, your faith is great. Your request is granted.”
So what happened? Did Jesus just suddenly change his mind about the whole “I only came for Israel” thing? I suppose that’s a possibility, although not likely. However, there is another possibility. Now, I’m certainly not an expert… but what if by this woman’s persistence and the revealing of her heart, she showed herself not to be a dog, but a child? What if Jesus had been viewing her all along not as the outsider, but as the insider? She was one of the lost sheep who had now been found. She was an Israelite not by blood, but by faith. Jesus called her “dear woman,” a term of great affection. When you look at the story, Jesus never really referred to her as a dog at all. He simply made true statements, and it was she who saw herself that way – because that’s all she had ever known. That’s all society had ever told her.
But that’s not how society works in God’s Kingdom.
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus told a story about Lazarus and the rich man. In the end, we all know that the rich man ended up going to Hell and Lazarus to Heaven. But before this takes place, there is a shockingly familiar statement in verse 21.
“As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.”
The rich man had everything. He was a child at the master’s luxurious table. And Lazarus, just like the Canaanite woman, would lay there waiting for blessing with the dirty dogs. But at death, a great reversal took place. Lazarus went to be with Abraham, the spiritual father of Israel – making him a child of God – while the rich man was sent to a place of torment.
In the end, Jesus teaches us that the labels society puts on us don’t matter…but our hearts do.
God promises that there will be a great feast someday. Children of God will sit at the Master’s table and receive all of His blessings to the fullest extent. In Galatians 6:6-7 it says, “Abraham had the same experience—God declared him fit for heaven only because he believed God’s promises. You can see from this that the real children of Abraham are all the men of faith who truly trust in God.” God’s people – Israel – are no longer identified by heritage, but by heart. The party will be large and the banquet will be full. Those who trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior will sit at the Master’s table with unspeakable joy.
But there will also be outcasts. There will also be dogs who are not invited to the feast – those who reject Christ as Master…and those religious frauds that confess him with their lips but deny him with their hearts. Philippians 3:2 says, “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.” Paul is referring to the Pharisees and Jewish law-enforcers. He’s referring to those religious elites who saw themselves as God’s chosen people – his children. But while their robes may have been clean, their hearts were stained. Make no mistake: the impostors will be found out…and cast out. Christ will look at them and say “I never knew you (Matt. 7:23).” He will uproot them from the dinner table and place them where they belong – with the dogs – where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Lk. 13:28).”
In God’s Kingdom, the great reversal, dogs have the hope to become children, and children are in danger of becoming dogs. This is indeed the great hope. This is at once the ultimate justice that everyone so desperately craves and the ultimate joy that everyone so desperately desires.
For although some may be seen as dogs now, they will one day feast at the Master’s table.
“And people will come from all over the world – from east and west, north and south – to take their places in the Kingdom of God. And note this: Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.” – Luke 13:30
In God’s Kingdom, the great reversal, dogs have the hope to become children, and children are in danger of becoming dogs.