Sometimes I feel like I am just turning into that crotchety old man who complains about everything. At 58, I’d like to think I’m a little young for that, but still, I look forward to becoming a curmudgeon. It is, after all, one of the benefits of aging.
The older I get, it seems the more I find myself missing the 1928 Prayer Book. Not all of it mind you. Parts of the older liturgy can be stilted and drone on with Thee’s and Thou’s, but many of those prayers are just stunning. And, by damned, I MISS THEM!!!
The so-called “Prayer of Humble Access“ (which in itself is a name so quaint it belongs in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations) is one of them…
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: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs…”
This collect is still a part of Rite One in the 1979 BCP, but hardly anyone uses it these days. In the older liturgy, as well as the more recent, it is cited just before the congregation is invited to the altar — the “Lord’s table” — to receive bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the Gospel from this past Sunday (Pentecost – Proper 15; Matt. 15:20-28), there is a lot of talk about gathering crumbs. A woman comes to Jesus who has a daughter “tormented by a demon.” (How many of us aren’t, at some point in our lives?) In response, Jesus — our loving, compassionate Savior — ignores her. And then, after she kneels before him, imploring and begging him, he compares her to a dog.
Not a pretty picture.
But again, she persists. She cries to Jesus that even the dogs get some crumbs. Only then does Jesus appear moved.
Most Thursday mornings, I try to stumble my way to a small 7 a.m. Eucharist at my parish, followed by breakfast and scripture discussion of the lessons for the next Sunday. That group really wrestled with this Gospel last week. Some folks thought that Jesus knew all along what he was doing, and was simply putting the woman to a test. That would be something typical of the Jesus that often appears in John’s Gospel, but this was in Matthew.
Maybe Jesus was just being a jerk to this poor woman to prove a point. But tears begin to fill my eyes not so much from a know-it-all Jesus, but rather, in those rare times of vulnerability when I let myself fully believe I have a Savior who was fully capable of having a bad day.
I mouth the words of historical church teachings, that Jesus was “fully human and fully divine.” But how often do I allow that he had the capacity of getting tired, of getting ticked off, of flat-out “losing it” over the fact that even his own disciples often “just didn’t get it”? That may well have been the case here, when this poor woman — yet another desperate and lost soul cast his way — was coming to him to solve a problem that was not his. In that regard, the response of this fully human Jesus is a lot like mine would have been (and often is).
But totally and completely unlike me, this Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, was — and IS — fully divine, and capable of compassion and forgiveness and miraculous healing beyond my wildest imaginings and expectations. The desperate mom that came to him must have known that — or at the very least wanted it so much that she refused not to believe it.
Whenever we say the “Prayer of Humble Access,” we honor this woman, and her persistence and “great faith” that moved Jesus so.
This Gentile mother moves me, too. And gives me an example that maybe, just maybe, especially during times of aridity and utter cold silence when I am imploring my Lord for an answer (or even just a damned clue might be nice) I am in blessed company.
Persistence. Faith. Patience. Trust.
The Lord moves, when The Lord moves.