For the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about this quote, “The Poor our Master.” I first came across this saying at St. John the Compassionate Mission, a community house for the poor in Toronto. In fact, it’s written on the wall in the common dining room. I’m not a theologian nor do I pretend to be, but I’ve thought about this for a very long time, asking myself: Why are the poor our masters, and what does this mean?
Well, I don’t have the answer, but I do have a personal reflection.
In the story of the Canaanite woman, Jesus traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon, when this Canaanite woman comes up to Him asking for her daughter, who is demon possessed, to be healed. Now, what you have to understand is that back then the Canaanites were basically the lowest of the low, the bottom feeders of society, essentially “trash” to the Jews, who believed they were worthless filth, so the fact that this woman even left her house and came to speak with Jesus is pretty incredible and very brave – it also means she was probably pretty desperate. With that being said, it was not expected nor required that Jesus and His Disciples, who were Jews, acknowledge her, let alone heal her daughter.
So, what happens? Well, Jesus pretty much ignores her while His Disciples tried to shoo her away. Then Jesus says, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” basically saying, “This isn’t my job. I’m not here to heal you, you Canaanite, I’m here for the Jews.” Which is funny because if Jesus was not there to heal the Gentiles, why did He come to their region?
Anyway, she responds, “Lord, help me!” To which Jesus answers, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Now, in case you were wondering, YES, THIS IS A TOTAL AND COMPLETE INSULT, because he’s basically calling her a DOG! He’s saying the people of Israel are the children, while the Gentiles are dogs.
So how does the Canaanite woman respond? Does she get angry, and spaz out in self-defense demanding respect, an apology, and basic human rights?
Wow! I just want to take a minute to acknowledge her response because what she’s saying and doing is so powerful.
This woman basically knows she is a dog, a nothing, a second-class person in her culture and society, and yet, she doesn’t get angry or depressed, nor does she storm off in pride – even when He says nothing and refuses to heal her daughter – she continues to be humble, still recognizing Him as master and asking for His mercy. She essentially abandons all self-respect and keeps begging for a CRUMB! A CRUMB! Imagine how desperate you have to be to beg for a crumb?!
Why? Why does she do this?
Because she knows the value of this crumb. She knows that a crumb from the master’s table is worth more than all the bread in the entire world. That this crumb is her healing, her salvation, and spiritual substance. She does not lose hope and turn away, nor does she become self-righteous, she just keeps begging for His mercy and waiting for that crumb.
This is absolutely mind-blowing.
This, my friends, is why I think the poor are our masters. They understand what it feels like to have nothing and be nothing – to be seen as disgust in the eyes of the world – and yet, they keep begging for food, money and most importantly, love and belonging.
This is why the acts of mercy are so important.
To sit with – not above – “disgusting” people, such as people who physically smell (like the poor, the sick and the elderly), or have a disgusting past (like inmates and criminals), remind us that in the eyes of God we are all “dogs” who have to get on all fours and beg for mercy. Despite His silence and lack of answers – which can sometimes feel cruel and unkind – we must not turn away from God, but keep awaiting the crumb that falls from the master’s table.
The crumb of man will not feed you, but a crumb of God’s love will fill you for your entire life – for eternity. You can eat the crumb from the master’s table forever and ever because a crumb of God’s love is all we need. This crumb is a drop of His infinite love and mercy, a drop of eternity, and this is what we spend our entire lives begging for.
In the eyes of God, we are all beggars.
Eventually, Jesus heals the woman’s daughter saying to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”
May our faith and desire for God’s mercy be as powerful as the Canaanite woman.
Wishing all my Orthodox readers a Blessed Lent! Keep begging for a crumb of God’s love.