When asked for help Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) How would you respond if that is what God told you when you asked Him for help? I am not sure how I would respond. I am afraid I would not respond well. I think it would likely be a bit of a “deer in the headlights” type moment. Just what do you say when the one with final authority says no. It would be hard to get batted down so forcefully after an earnest and desperate plea for help. If I did not just sit in stunned silence I fear I might be indignant (if it appears you have no final course of action why not go for broke?) with a “what a jerk” response (after all we have just been referred to as dogs). And those are the reasons that a person like me is not highlighted in any of the good historical accounts recorded in the Bible.
Thankfully God the Father had just the right person in place to respond to Jesus’ rebuff. The Canaanite Woman heard what Jesus said and then replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:27) Then Jesus, in His great mercy, answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
This short interchange has been preached on many times with a variety of lessons being drawn from it. The passage happens to be the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Proper 15 in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary AKA the RCL). I do not know what will the focus of the sermon will be where I attend this coming Sunday but I know what it would be if I was preaching. It would be my favorite prayer of the Book of Common Prayer – the Prayer of Humble Access. It is a prayer directly inspired by the interchange between Jesus and the Canaanite Woman.
The Prayer of Humble Access is part of the service for Holy Communion (AKA the Lord’s Supper; AKA the Eucharist) and is said just before receiving the bread and wine. The prayer reads:
WE do not presume to come to this Thy 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 our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.
With this passage of scripture and prayer there are many things to be thankful for. First, the persistent and insightful Canaanite Woman, whose interaction with Jesus, gives us a record of His mercy and willingness to expand the pouring out of riches of the Kingdom of God to all who seek His mercy. Second, that God truly is merciful and respond to those that ask. Third, and very importantly, that even though we are not worthy to even gather up scraps – all the woman ever asked for – we are invited to the table for the fullness of Christ’s feast.
For these things may we, every dog among us, all respond with Eucharist – AKA Thanksgiving.