Summary: Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent 1928 Prayer Book. Seeks to understand our relationship to god through Christ as we come to His Table.
The Master’s Table
How many of us have ever had a dog? Most of us probably have had at least one in our lifetime. Dogs love to do three things. They love to play. They love to sleep. They love to eat. Most sacred of all to a dog, though, is the “holy” food that comes directly from his master’s table. Dogs instinctively sense when a scrap or morsel slips off the table towards the floor, timing it so that they snatch the food just before it reaches the floor. The Pharisees and many Jews frequently referred to the Gentiles as dogs. They felt that those outside of the covenant were “less” than they and not worthy of being near them, let alone eating at the same table. The Jews were separate from other races and cultures, as was commanded them by God’s laws, but they fomented that separation more often because they felt themselves superior -- they were God’s Chosen People, and anyone else was simply a cur to be spat upon, avoided and ignored.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus states that He is only “sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and uses an illustration which makes mention of the fact that it is inappropriate for masters to feed their dogs the food designated for their children in order to try to deter the Canaanite woman from her objective of seeking healing for her daughter from Him. But we know Jesus never turns those away who come to Him openly and honestly, seeking strength, healing and forgiveness. No, He knew the faith of this woman would stand as a testament to all of the incredible love of God.
Let us look at what Jesus said and at what He did. When begged by the woman to heal her daughter, he listened to her cries. The disciples wanted Him to dismiss her, but He allowed her to remain. Then she worshipped Him. She truly believed He would provide for her, that He could and would make her daughter whole. But, He told her “it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” Christ is the bread of life, sent to the Children of Israel, the Chosen People of God. The dogs or Gentiles were not part of the covenant; therefore, they were not meet to receive the gift of the children’s bread.
Although it seemed as though the woman had been pushed aside by the Lord’s response, God revealed Himself to the woman through Jesus’ own words. She heard Him use the Greek word for dogs meaning “lap dogs” or “little dogs.” She quickly answered our Savior by reminding Him that even the “lap dogs” are allowed to eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. She believed in the Christ, and yet was a Gentile. She trusted in His Almighty power and love. She knew that He would set her daughter free.
Jesus knew she would respond this way. But He wanted to make sure that she said what she did because He wanted her to reveal something about Him that had not yet been openly revealed. He had her open up the truth about the relationship of the Gentiles to the Jews and to the New Covenant. We know that this bread is Christ, who embodies the grace of God. God’s grace is infinite. Since God’s grace is boundless, any crumbs falling from that grace would be as immeasurable. The Israelites were given a gift of grace in Christ Jesus. When the crumbs of that gift were fallen from the table, the Gentiles were allowed to eat of them because the grace provided by God through Christ to the Gentiles is infinite just as it is to the Jews.
Even more significant in this dialogue is Christ’s redefinition of the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Previously, the house of Israel was thought of only as those descendants of Abraham who had come to be known as the Jews. When the Babylonians took the Israelites captive, they became dispersed throughout the world, and were scattered, becoming the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But if Jesus was only sent to the hereditary Jews, how could the Gentiles take part? Jesus allowed the woman to see that God was opening up the house of Israel and declaring all those who would turn and follow Him to be His lost sheep, welcoming them into His fold.
Today we are gathered to worship the Lord through the reading of His Word and in celebration of the Holy Eucharist. We join together to honor God for His merciful self-sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. We worship the Lord by coming together and eating of the Manna of Heaven -- that bread reserved for His Children, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, we Gentiles who are blessed to receive the gracious gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus -- joining with the saints who have gone before, seeking His face, trusting in His omnipotent love, and eating from the immeasurable portions from His Hand at the Master’s Table.