the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 20 Canon Jim Irvine
"...even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall..."


She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from
their mastersí table." Then Jesus answered her,
"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15: 27f.


The Canaanite Woman demonstrated terrible courage, to argue with Jesus.

Todayís gospel relates the story.

There are few details: the woman was a Canaanite, and she had a daughter who was unwell. Tormented, is how the Woman described her daughterís condition, and we can only imagine what that might have meant. We donít always need to know.

The gospel account adds that Jesus had gone to the district of Tyre and Sidon, where the woman and her daughter lived. Seeing Jesus, she went to him and asked for mercy.

Now she didnít ask quietly. And she didnít ask politely. You might even suspect that there was a sense of demand in her voice: "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."

It has to be one of the more difficult exchanges we read about in the Gospels. Jesusí response is indifference at first, followed by indignation. Thatís surprising, and perhaps out of character for whom we believe we understand as Jesus!

Just the same, we know the concern of the Woman on behalf of her daughter and the persistence in presenting her case before Jesus. We know it well enough that we have learned to echo the argument each Sunday as we seek Jesus out, pleading on our behalf, and the behalf of others, for his mercy.

"We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord," we pray, "trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies." Not a presumption on our goodness (as good as we think ourselves to be), but a confidence in the merciful character demonstrated in the life of Jesus and borne witness to by those whose lives he has touched and made whole.

Outside the promise of favour made to Israel, our voices unite with the Canaanite Woman, "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table." It didnít deter her, and it doesnít deter us. Recognizing the Truth of God, we nonetheless make our approach. Knowing our need and the needs of others, we press forward, and closer.

"But thou art the same Lord," we argue, "whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood." Characteristic of Jesusí dealings with people, mercy and our need of it make us bold, as it did her. Because you are merciful, give us these crumbs, as insistent as a dog worrying around his Masterís feet at Table. It is nothing short of demanding!

And why?

"That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body," we say, "and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us."

Need demanding inclusion enables the good news of todayís gospel to be heard without compromise. Torment made clean, brokenness made whole, and sin forgiven, and whatís more a sinner finding acceptance!

Then as Jesus answered her, he answers us, "Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And we discover his mercy Ö as we are healed and restored and made whole!

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999