not worthy to gather up the crumbs

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 18 (year B), September 9, 2012

detail, Canaanite Woman, Jean Colombe, 1485-89, Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”   -Mark 7:27-28

It’s not fashionable to cower before the Divine Presence. That’s good in one way. For generations, cowering I’m not worthily became an excuse for not taking risks on behalf of the Gospel and acting on behalf of justice and peace in the world.

On the other hand, there’s a kind of arrogance in current cultural Christianity that postures, ‘I’m forgiven once and for all’ so my exploitation of others in search of my abundance and personal salvation doesn’t count. I’m not talking about Catholic Workers. You know what I mean.

Both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross suggest that the closer you come to mystical union, the more is at stake with sin and temptation. The closer you come to mystical union, the wider the sphere of love of God and neighbor. And, while Divine Presence may be more profoundly intimate, the concept of God may be more profoundly remote and incomprehensible.

I grew up with the “prayer of humble access” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which imprinted on my soul an allusion to the Canaanite woman. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table.” I loved this prayer as a child, an adolescent, a young woman. And while I deeply appreciate the liturgical reform that erased it from the communion service, I hope I still approach the table once in a while with awe and fear of God.

The Canaanite woman shatters Jesus exclusionary mindset. But she also appreciates what she was asking for. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28)

She did not cower before Jesus. Nevertheless, I know that from time to time I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from beneath the table. I hope I am continuing to learn when to repent quietly alone and when to act boldly in the world.

Here is the whole prayer, said just before taking communion.

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.

2 Responses to “not worthy to gather up the crumbs”

  1. Jennifer Johnson Says:

    Hi, thank you for your shared thoughts and a lovely prayer.

  2. John Says:

    Using Rite 1 at our 7:30 am service we use the “prayer of humble access.” It’s just one reason that is my favorite service, and I still hope for revolt and return to the 1928 BCP in my lifetime. I always felt more penitent by referring to myself as a “miserable offender” in the confession as well. One’s growing up with the 1928 BCP has its advantages I think. Some of the prayers have not been improved upon in my judgment, notwithstanding the case made for “reform.”

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