The crumbs under thy Table

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It is, perhaps, Thomas Cranmer’s most famous prayer.  Known as The Prayer of Humble Access, it is said prior to receiving the Lord’s Supper:

“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.”

Communion means eating with the Friend of sinners.  Therefore as we come, the last thing we should claim is our worthiness.  It’s not “our own righteousness” that qualifies us for table fellowship – we have none.  This is God’s soup kitchen and we are beggars.  We are utterly dependent on His mercy.  But completely confident that His “property is always to have mercy.”

The story of the Canaanite woman illustrates this attitude beautifully.  And it’s the inspiration for Cranmer’s famous prayer.

Jesus has withdrawn from Israel and from public ministry for a few days.  He and His disciples are in the vicinity of Tyre – a city with notorious connotations in Scripture.  In Ezekiel 28, the king of Tyre is described as the devil himself!  Jesus has therefore retired from Jerusalem – the city of God – and has gone to the city of Satan.

The irony is that in Jerusalem He encountered the most diabolical uncleanness – an uncleanness of heart (Matthew 15:1-20).  Now in the vicinity of Tyre He meets some foreigners who are beset by uncleanness but who, nonetheless, demonstrate great faith.

What is this demonstration of great faith?  Jason Goroncy’s sermon puts it wonderfully:

She came to him, trusted in his promises, stretched out her hands and held them there until he filled them.

But Jesus made her hold them there for quite some time!

Behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  (Matthew 15:22-26)

To make His point, Jesus paints a picture in words.  Imagine a family where all the children are hungry.  There are babies crying out for food.  In among them all is the family pet, Rufus.  Rufus is also hungry and letting out a pathetic doggy yelp.  Jesus is saying that no self-respecting parent would come across this situation and feed the dog first.  There’s an order to things.  First let the children be fed.  Then once the children have had their fill, the dogs get their turn.

In this illustration, the children are the Jews, the dogs are the non-Jews (the Gentiles) and the bread is Jesus Himself.

Now if we think that the analogy is insulting to Gentiles, just think how much more insulting it is to Jesus.  At least dogs are sentient beings.  Jesus is represented by a food stuff!

But of course that’s pressing the details too far.  Jesus is not saying that Gentiles are like dogs in every sense.  Simply that, in the household analogy, there’s an order to things.  The children get the bread first – and the Jews get Jesus first.  That’s the way God has set things up. The Eternal Son of God, was born as a Jew.  His mission between the stable in Bethlehem and the cross in Jerusalem was a mission to the Jews.  Then after He rises He tells His disciples to go into all the world.  First the Jews get Jesus, then the nations.  First those in Jerusalem then the people of Tyre.  That’s the meaning of the children and dogs story.

In verse 27, the woman shows that she understands Jesus’ lesson.  And she immediately picks out the most important truth: whether you’re a child or whether you’re a dog – you need bread!

27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

This woman blurts out, “Just give me crumbs – whatever I can get!”  She knows the problem of uncleanness, she knows that Jesus is the solution and all she wants is just a crumb.  If she can just get a morsel of Jesus, she’ll be happy.  Essentially she says:

“Call me a dog, put me second, I know I’m outside the covenant people of God, I know I have no claim upon you Jesus.  I do not presume to come to this your table trusting in my own righteousness, but only in your manifold and great mercies!  I might be second, so then give me seconds!  The scraps from your table are greater than the feasts of Emporers.  If all I get is a crumb, that’s all I will need, because you are the Bread of life!”

How will Jesus respond to this?

28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

She stretches out her hands and holds them there until Jesus fills them.  And He fills them to overflowing.  It is His property always to have mercy.

Does Jesus seem like He’s witholding from you?  Does it feel like His grace is for other people and He will never come around to you?  Press in closer.  The Bread of life has more than enough for you too.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

God moves in a mysterious way, William Cowper

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