St. Matthew.jpg

Crumbs

Matthew 15:10-28

The Rev. Jon Roberts

14 August

2011

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[a] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

The Canaanite Woman in Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Folio 164r, 1410AD

When all is lost
and one feels numb,
How can one live
off a single crumb?[1]

Every church has smaller communities within the whole. This parish is no exception. We commonly refer to them as 8 o'clockers and 10 o'clockers. An amusing statement was heard after the sermon was given on the story of the Canaanite woman from one of the 8 o'clockers that simply must be shared with those who attend the 10 o'clock. To preface, everyone knows our reputation of feeding the multitudes with the abundance of bread provided.

On this one particular Sunday, the priest commented, "Gee, I hope we have enough bread for those who come later." To that, one parishioner replied, "It doesn't matter. They can at least eat the crumbs." (hissing expected) One thing the Rite I folks have, that you don't, is a certain prayer. It is one that has remarkably survived all the Book of Common Prayer revisions since 1559. It's been toyed back and forth in its placement; Sometimes before the Holy Eucharist, sometimes after. It is called the Prayer of Humble Access and has something to do with crumbs. It goes, "We do not presume to come to they table O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen." [2]

There we have it. "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table." When you think of crumbs what creature comes to mind? It is very possible one may think of a dog.
In the Roberts' household we have a dog, named Daisy. Daisy is never far away from the table when we gather. She begs, she prays, for an accident to occur. The other day, such an accident happened, but it wasn't like a piece of steak, some chicken or even a juicy pork chop fell to the ground. Instead, it was a grape. A grape has the property to bounce, but this one never got the chance. Soon as it rolled off the plate and hit the ground the dog scampered quickly to retrieve. Evidence that, "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."[3]

Speaking of dogs, a group of researchers from Austria set out to determine whether or not dogs had a sense of fairness or if they ever became jealous. Several dogs were chosen that knew the "paws up" command. When given the paws up they expected a treat. However, to do the study they only gave half of them a reward. Soon, those that did not receive anything stopped giving the paw. They figured, "What's the use." Sometimes people just give up.

Who was that woman? Who was that woman traveling from Tyre and Sidon, (present day Lebanon), to find this man named Jesus to heal her daughter? Jesus, with his disciples, has been traveling along the north of Genesseret, Galilee, and across the border comes this woman. Not long ago, thousands sat on the bank and said, "Feed me." Right afterward, Peter on the water said, "Save me." Today, the Syro-Phoenecian woman says, "Help me." "Feed me," "Save me," "Help me," are three pleas; Three pleas, begging for Jesus' attention. What makes this woman different is that she does not belong. She is not a Jew. She does not even belong to this country; and the disciples know this. She is not one of the Covenant between God and Abraham. Remember they are the ones who wanted to send away the multitudes and now they want to send her away. Jesus says something that sounds harsh; "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." Did he just call this foreign woman a "dog?" Maybe she felt the same way as you did when you heard someone say, "Let them eat crumbs."

Here is a woman who is searching for a miracle. She wants her daughter to be healed. She is broken. Brokenness can mean many things. There is always this feeling of being disconnected with what is considered normal and acceptable. When a person has a broken arm for example, their range of motion is limited. They have to learn to do things a little differently in order to get by. They can still brush their teeth but may have to use the other hand. But what if a person was in a terrible accident and were placed in a full body cast? Now they are in pain that shoots through the entire body. They feel extremely lost, as they are totally dependent on others. They can't feel their toes. When a person goes through that type of trauma, that form of personal tragedy, they feel completely lost.

"Why me Lord," is a common question and faith in something is put to test. These are examples of accidents that lead to brokenness. What about people who are born broken? Not physically but emotionally. There are many people born into an existence, immediately setting them apart from the sense of belonging. It is a terrible thing for someone to grow up in a world where they have to look after themselves because they feel no one else will.

We are all His children and belong at the table. We must come to him sometimes with our tail between our legs, in our sufferings, pitiful with our feelings, hoping that there is just a little bit left over from the master to sustain our needs. We as Christians have the responsibility to bring people to Christ; not turn them away. When people are broken they say, "Feed me, save me, help me." These are the ancient pleas God has heard and responds. They are no different than the ones heard today.

Jesus is teaching two things. The first is that the woman is herself the miracle. Not belonging, desperate, broken, she turns to faith in God. She comes to the one known as the healer, Jesus Christ. The second is that we are able, "No", responsible, to bring all people into a covenant with God. There are countless people out there today who search for him. The miracle is our faith in God, who asks us to dispense his grace by Word and Sacrament.

Broken are the pieces, received by the baptized, in their hands when they come before the altar of God. Our joy and gladness comes from those small pieces of bread, which become united by those who serve the Lord. Both broken and redeemed, we are. God dispenses his mercy justly to all people who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. There are no foreigners here. Only people who come to Christ saying, "Speak the word only and my soul shall be healed." Won't you come? Won't you hold out your hands in faithfulness and ask for a crumb?

"Lord, I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed."

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] 1979 Book of Common Prayer (PECUSA), p.337.
[3] Matthew 15:21-28

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