There is a story in Matthew and Mark about a Canaanite woman who went to the Lord asking for help for her “demon-possessed” daughter. Jesus didn’t answer her immediately and his disciples wanted him to send her away because she kept bothering them.
In a disconcerting exchange between Jesus and the woman, Jesus said that “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26-28 and Mark 7:27-29)
The children were the “lost sheep of Israel” v. 24) and the dogs were the Canaanites. They didn’t have time for each other. However the woman’s reply stirred Jesus to the extent that he immediately healed her daughter. She had replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
She was looking for just a crumb, a mere unwanted piece of bread, and yet Jesus gave her the whole loaf: “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
Sometimes in life we are tossed the crumbs. I recall sitting at a table with two distinguished women who were visiting and speaking at our church. They were engrossed in conversation with each other. I was trying to show interest in them and talk as well—not easy for an introvert—and they would glance condescendingly at me and toss me a crumb of exchange, then return to their animate and personal two-way dialogue. I felt like the Canaanite woman, like a dog, one associated with a lower economic and social status.
When that happens, you accept the scraps that you get and move on with your life. It does not help to throw your crumbs back at your superior.
Dogs were not pets to the Jews, like they are in our society. There were no Dogs R Us shops, Purina healthy dog foods, weather proof dog houses or sweet smelling flea powders. God wanted his people holy and there were many commandments that show how the Jews felt about dogs. For example, in Exodus 22.31, where the Jews were told “You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.” Meat is more than crumbs, but the idea was the same: let the dogs have what you can’t have or don’t want.
And notice the taunt in 1Samuel 24:14: “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog?” And it gets worse around heaven, as recorded in Revelation 22:15: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” We also read in Philippians 3:2 that we should “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.”
Dogs did help the beggars by licking their wounds. Remember the story: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (Luke 26:19-21)
The beggar was happy for any crumbs he might find and the dog consoled him, to some extent, by licking his wounds.
We often would quote the expression “Nothing is too good for the missionaries,” replete with its double innuendo, that either you couldn’t give them enough, or it was better to give them nothing. The “missionary barrel” was a metaphor for collecting items that the general population did not want, so they threw them in a barrel for “the missionaries.” We once had long handled plastic spoons—the kind you would find at Dairy Queen or Sonic—sent to us, along with rolled bandages, handkerchiefs (a little yellowed) and old shoes.
Missionaries are often thrown the “crumbs” and are looked upon like stray dogs. We have been in churches that throw us the crumbs of “two minutes” to speak to the congregation, or an invitation to tell snake stories to a Sunday school class.
On the other hand, we once were part of a van load of missionaries who were labelled “heroes for a day,” elevated to the position of circus elephants for the event, and we took part in school activities. We were on display and were expected to tell exotic stories and parade bizarre attires from mysterious tribes. We would demonstrate our weirdness by speaking incomprehensible languages and provide some humor and oddness to an crowd of school children. We weren’t the crumbs that day—we were the icing on the cake.
I like it when I have a graham cracker crumb crust on a pie. With sugar, melted butter and bit of cinnamon blended into the cracker crumbs, I have a pie that I can enjoy.
Crumbs don’t always have to be left to the dogs!