I am not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under your table – it’s been a long time since we heard those words at a service of Holy Communion – but today when we heard the words of the Woman from Matthew 15 where Jesus tells her “it isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs” but (without hesitation it appears) she replies “Lord, that’s true… but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owners table” I can’t help thinking of those communion words.
I’ve always been a bit puzzled by them though. Why is it that we continue to say that we are less valuable than the dog? Or indeed why does Jesus compare helping this woman to feeding the dog with children’s bread? It doesn’t seem kind or in line with how Jesus treats other people, including other women?
Keep this when usually we are preaching about how precious each of us is in God’s sight. Our reading from Romans remembering God’s faithfulness, God who doesn’t forget the chosen people, who shows mercy even to those outside of the people of Israel. God who according to Romans has mercy on everyone.
Surely these two readings the letter to the Romans and Jesus encounter with the Woman are slightly at odds?
Probably not… it’s back to that culture of speaking in opposites which is such a strong part of the Jewish teaching at the time of Jesus. Much of the Rabbi teaching had real extremes to make a point.
It also though rests with something else…
It’s about faith – this woman is shown to us as someone who had immense faith in Jesus (he recognises that when he grants her request). This is a woman who is confident that she is worth something – or she would not have spoken to Jesus in the first place, she is of course driven by that love for her daughter whose worth is beyond compare for this woman.
This is a woman who has grasped something important.
What do I mean by that? Well I think there is something important about where we make our comparisons….
What if I were to ask which is the sweetest Apple or Chocolate? (Chocolate of course!)
Does that mean the Apple is not sweet at all?
Well… what if I asked which is sweetest - Apple or Lemon? (Apple of course!)
So… the sweetness level of the Apple depends on what we are comparing it to – and so it is with us, but that alone is not the whole story.
If a child and I had a race who would be fastest (child!)
What if that same child and Usain Bolt had a race? (Usain Bolt)
Again it is about who we are comparing, but it is also about relationship – and that takes us back to our Romans reading.
Usain Bolt might be very exciting to watch and many people during his career came to see him run but many, many more hours are and will be spent by Mums, Dads, Grandparents, Godparents watching children run! Not because they are as fast or as exciting as Usain Bolt but because they are precious in the sight of those who love them.
So it is with us and God.
When we pray ‘I am not worthy…’ we are comparing ourselves to perfection, in comparison to God who is utterly perfect we look totally unworthy.
Importantly though…. when we compare ourselves and say ‘I am not worthy’ then God looks at us and like the very best loving parent says ‘Welcome, this is for you, come Eat and Drink without cost’ God looks at us (whatever age we are) as precious children, so while we see our unworthiness God sees a precious child, much loved and wanted.
We have been out of our Spiritual home these last few months, but we have not been apart from God, yet being here in this place we are reminded once more of that special relationship, for this place allows us to draw apart from the busyness or worry of the rest of life, as Jesus went up to the mountain to meet with God so we come here, a place set apart not because God is more present here but because we can be, we are less distracted, we are able to gather before God, knowing in comparison we are unworthy but that God still loves and accepts each one of us, it is in that knowledge our faith can grow. Amen.