This week a friend who serves on the board of a food pantry was offered some canned vegetables by someone who was cleaning and organizing. My friend asked if the cans had labels and if they were expired. Every can that had a label was expired and the rest were missing labels. My friend told her the cans should be thrown away. The food pantry doesn’t accept them and no one should really eat them. That’s when she heard those age-old words that anyone who has ever worked at a food bank or food pantry has heard:
“If they are really hungry, they will eat anything that is offered.”
I suppose it is true that if I were on a deserted island Tom-Hanks-in-Cast-Away style, that yes, I would eat expired canned vegetables of unknown origin. But, this is suburban New Jersey, one of the wealthiest areas in the world. There is really no reason any of our neighbors should be so hungry that they would need to eat expired castoffs. Anyone that hungry should be invited to a place at the table to have a nutritious meal.
You can say this to folks that offer expired foods at the food pantry, and often they will say to you, “I just hate to see food go to waste, and the dates are just suggestions anyway.” It is too bad to feel terrible about food waste, but it is not the job of the poorest people in our communities to care for your feelings about your relative wealth. The best thing you can do as you toss those cans into the trash is to take a moment to wonder at how you became so wealthy that you can allow cans of food to expire in the back of your pantry without a second thought until a global pandemic affords you the time to clean out and “feel bad.”
In the scripture today, Jesus and the disciples are really not very nice to the Canaanite woman. They put her off, ignore her, tell her to pipe down, and Jesus even says that people “like her” are not part of his mission. They basically offer her the expired, unlabeled vegetables from the back of the pantry and hope she will stop complaining.
But this courageous woman tells them the truth: “You treat dogs better than you treat me.” And, Jesus is forced to admit that she is right.
The savior of the world was forced to admit to a woman that he was wrong and she was right. And guess what? Admitting his failure did not diminish his authority or his power. In fact, it expanded and grew his ministry by proving that he was who he said he was, as he was even able to cure the Canaanite woman’s daughter from afar.
There is no shame in being wrong. It isn’t weak to admit that we haven’t done enough to help. It isn’t a failure to identify our complicity in oppressive systems. These kinds of admissions are the first step to healing brokenness. None of us will be whole until all of us are whole.