I’ve had this line from the Over the Rhine song All I Need Is Everything in my head this week:
And you’re whispering to me,
time to get up off my hands and knees,
’cause if I beg for it, it won’t come.
I find nothing but table crumbs.
My hands are empty.
I won’t swear to it, but I think it is a reference to the story of the Syrophoenician Woman found in both Mark ( 7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28). A woman’s daughter is possessed by a demon. She approaches Jesus who tells her “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Her witty comeback is that even the dogs get to eat crumbs from the children’s table and Jesus sends her on her way with the assurance that her daughter has been healed.
This is an underclass story. It is a story about how a disposable person* came to Jesus on behalf of her even more insignificant and disposable daughter. (*UN Women; Millennium Development Goals) It is a story about how Jesus challenged her right to his attention and her bold, sassy reply. It is about how her refusal to be put back into her place results in Jesus’ healing her daughter.
Sometimes, we act like the stories we read in the Gospels are not relevant to our culture and society today. We try to convince ourselves that our America has progressed past the point where there are any people left in the underclass. We have somehow internalized an identification with Sojourner Truth, and celebrate stories that suggest no one need ever again ask, “Ain’t I a woman?”
Yet, as I look and listen, it seems to me there are silent Sojourner Truths all around and silencing systems that don’t want to hear about their experiences of femininity; of, in fact, their humanity. These are the people we treat as disposable: female, fertile, or undereducated; unwashed, dark-skinned, or poor; transient, criminal, or First Nation; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning/queer; substance dependent, mentally different, or physically challenged; and when one of these folks raises their voice in mixed company to ask for full participation, we lift up the example of the woman who makes more money than a man. We refuse to hear. We ask, “How on earth can there be inequality when there is an ethnically diverse ad campaign for the American Dream?”
To which I say, “Table crumbs!” and to which the Syro-Phoenician Woman would say, “The table crumbs are mine by convention. I want more.” To which our God in Jesus Christ replied . . .