Caught Between the Sheep and the Dogs

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 78:1-39 (Morning)
Psalm 78:40-72 (Evening)
Neh. 9:26-38
Rev. 18:9-20
Matt. 15:21-28

Caught Between the Sheep and the Dogs

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” (BCP 337).

Jesus is tired, bone-tired. He has just healed the sick in the growing crowds that follow him; fed thousands from meager stores of fish and bread; saved Peter from drowning; called out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who have attacked his disciples’ for eating with dirty hands; and, in turn, been chided by those same disciples for having offended the Pharisees. For a moment of peace, Jesus withdraws into Tyre and Sidon—the country of Gentile “dogs,” despised by the Jews.

Instead of respite, Jesus finds himself the center point of a quarrel. On the one side, this anything but humble Canaanite woman pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter, to extend to her family the same mercies that have been reserved for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” while, on the other side, the disciples beg Jesus to get rid of this “dog” who’s disrupting their rest. When the woman comes closer, kneels at Jesus’ feet, and changes her entreaty to “Lord, help me,” she captures Jesus’ full attention, and the witty and intimate dialogue that ensues between them about dogs and crumbs under the table echoes down the years in Thomas Cranmer’s words each time we recite together the “Prayer of Humble Access” before communion during Lent.

We too presume to kneel at God’s Table and ask for the mercies of healing and feeding that the Good Shepherd extends to both his sheep and his dogs.

Written by Kay DuVal

Kay, a retired teacher with a PhD in English, gardens on a Mt. Sequoyah hillside where she gains insights into Jesus’ parable about the Sower and the Seeds, especially those that fell upon rocky, barren soil.

Growing up Southern Baptist, Kay found her home in the Episcopal Church, where she has served on the Vestry and on the Seven Hills Board. In 2007, she organized the St. Elizabeth Flower Guild, and, earlier, the Recycling Ministry, which, with dedicated volunteers, has now saved reusable resources from the landfill for fourteen years.

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