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 the woman 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), implying the social position of the Canaanite people was low on the social ladder compared to the Israelites.
In the exchange between the woman and Jesus, the children were called the “lost sheep of Israel”, and the dogs were the Canaanites. They and the Israelites didn’t have time for each other. However, the woman’s reply stirred Jesus to the extent that he did not follow his culture’s loathing of the Canaanites and immediately healed the woman’s 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 seem to be tossed the crumbs. I once sat at a table with two distinguished women. They were engrossed in conversation with each other and hardly recognized that I was seated near them. I was trying to show interest in their talk—not easy for an introvert—but they would only glance at me and occasionally toss me a verbal crumb. They were not mean-spirited, just somewhat oblivious to an old man sitting near them. They were enjoying their animate and personal two-way dialogue.
When that happens, it is best to accept the scraps that you get and move on with your life. It does not help to throw crumbs back at someone.
Remember, dogs were not pets to the Jews, as they are in our society. There were no Dogs R Us shops, Purina healthy dog foods, weatherproof dog houses or sweet-smelling flea powders. God wanted his people holy and there were many commandments that reveal, to some extent, 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 should not have or don’t want.
And notice the taunt by Goliath in 1 Samuel 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, as well as the dog that consoled him, to some extent, by licking his wounds.
I have heard the quote: “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” has been a metaphor for collecting items that the general population does not need or want. Some people throw their crumbs in a barrel for “the missionaries.”
On the other hand, a group of us were once part of a van load of missionaries who were labeled “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 a crowd of school children by telling them stories. We weren’t thought of as the crumbs—we were the icing on the cake. But beware, “The first cousin to hero worship is idolatry” (Eugene Peterson).
I like a graham cracker crumb crust on a pie. With sugar, melted butter and bit of cinnamon blended into the crumbs, I have a pie that I can enjoy.
Crumbs don’t always have to be left for the dogs!