By the Reverend Dr. Warren Crews
In contemporary thinking about preaching, the focus today is on how biblical stories provide us with metaphors that have the power to open up spiritual meaning that can then draw us in and shape our thinking and acting. A key metaphor in a biblical story can bridge the gap between then and now, and let it frame the sermon. In today’s gospel lesson, the metaphor that keeps jumping out at me comes from this passage is, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” I want to explore with you the metaphor of crumbs. That sentence is a key turning point in today’s gospel story. Before that, Jesus and his disciples seem to be spurning the woman who wants Jesus to rid her daughter of the demon that is tormenting her. The disciples are rejecting her because she is not a Jew, she is a Gentile. Even Jesus says that their mission is only to feed the children of Israel, not to throw the food of salvation to the dogs—in other words, to Gentiles, like this woman and her daughter. Now—was Jesus really saying that God’s grace is restricted only to Jews? Or was Jesus just grumpy because she was interrupting his vacation up in beautiful Lebanon? What is going on here?
The story suddenly then takes a surprising turn. The woman does not seem to be troubled by being called a "dog." She replies: “Ah yes, but even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus seems to be taken aback. This Gentile woman, this unbeliever, this pagan, obviously has great faith in him. Because of her unrelenting faith in him, Jesus grants her request and frees her daughter from the demon. So, this story expands Jesus’ proclamation of God’s gospel of grace, mercy, and forgiveness to the whole Gentile world. That is important to us, because not many of us have a Jewish heritage. So, to be blunt, we are among the dogs that Jesus refers to. So, the Canaanite woman speaks for us, when she replies that we dogs can get by just fine with the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. Wow!
So, let us zero in on the metaphor of crumbs under the table of the master. Just what does that conjure up? One thought might be that as much as we would like to feast on the delicacies on the God’s table, we must content ourselves with the simple basics that come our way. So, what are those basic gospel crumbs that fall to us? For starters, how about that God loves us unconditionally, so much that He was willing to allow His only begotten Son to come among us, to suffer all of the trials and frustrations of human life, even as far as death on a cross? Or, how about that God’s willingness to forgive us for our frequent failings? Or, finally, how about that the fullness of the life God created for us and for the whole world?
Ok, then where do these crumbs come from? In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to ask God for "our daily bread." What that actually means is "give us whatever we need to be the people who seek to follow God’s will and live in God’s kingdom." Among the special ways that God does that is through the Eucharist. The Eucharist ironically does not consists of a seven-course meal, but rather a small piece of bread and a sip of wine: crumbs, if you will, from the Master’s Table. Those crumbs under the table can open us up to a vision of all that God has in store for us both now and in the future. As small as the Communion elements may be, as unimportant as they may seem to the world, they convey to us a power that enables us to be Christ’s people in our own families, our own communities, and our own workplaces.
So, what, then, is needed from us? Our gospel story suggests that it is nothing more and nothing less than faith. By faith, Jesus meant trust in him. Trust in his love, trust in his forgiveness, trust in his power to transform us into being the people God created us to be. That Canaanite woman did not know much about Jesus, but she was convinced that he had the spiritual power to free anyone from the negative forces that hold us human beings down and make us less than we want to be and need to be. Jesus met a lot of people, who liked what he had to say, but when push came to shove, they bailed out. Not this woman. Great was her faith, great was her trust in Jesus. She was content to settle only for the crumbs under Jesus’ table, because she believed that they would be enough to meet all her needs.
Today’s challenge for each of us is to take those gospel crumbs from the Master’s Table and have enough faith in them to see that they are the food, the daily bread, that we need for the journey that God has called us to make, a journey ever more deeply into God’s kingdom. Yes, there will be moments when that bright vision will be eclipsed by the world’s outbursts of hatred, bigotry, and violence, but God’s promise is that such darkness, such evil, cannot and will not overcome the light of Christ. Our faith is that the time will come, when, in the words of a great hymn, Jesus’ reign of peace and justice will “stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more”! In the meantime, God promises to provide us every day with the gospel crumbs that we need to remain faithful, courageous, and persistent in these incredibly challenging times. That everlasting promise was made to us in our baptism and is something we can always whole-heartedly trust. AMEN.
The Reverend Dr. Warren Crews is co-priest in charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org