The woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon had an unflappable faith. When it comes to their children, I believe most every mother is unflappable, thank God.
This Sunday’s gospel tells the story of a Canaanite woman (and therefore already an outcast) who sought out Jesus to heal her tormented daughter.
In usual form, the disciples advised to “send her away.” And at first Jesus seems to agree by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She pleads to Jesus again by saying frankly, “Lord, help me.”
She seems to know that Jesus has the ability to help her, and she seems to know that her request is not out of the realm of reasonable possibility: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.”
And this is my favorite part, the moment when Jesus does an about-face: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the daughter was healed, instantly, dramatically and without a wasted moment.
I wish I could have this much faith 100 percent of the time, but alas, we are human, and I often struggle. I suppose that we all do, and I believe that God knows this and never forsakes us.
The Parish Choir’s anthem this Sunday, attributed for many years to the English composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), but now after scholarly research is known as a composition by Henry Loosemore (1600-1670), speaks of this unflappable faith:
O Lord, increase my faith,
strengthen me and confirm me in Thy true faith;
endue me with wisdom, charity, and patience,
in all my adversity, teach me to say Amen.
The image of the master’s table is also not to be missed, a recurring theme in Christianity of the great heavenly banquet to which all are invited. Our Sequence hymn this Sunday morning, immortal words of the Nonconformist leader, educator and hymnist Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), speaks to this table of invitation:
My God, thy table now is spread,
thy cup with love doth overflow;
be all thy children thither led,
and let them thy sweet mercies.
Doddridge’s third stanza refers to the altar as “their Father’s board,” which hearkens back to the reference Goddes boarde from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the language of which I love:
Drawn by thy quickening grace, O Lord,
in countless numbers let them come
and gather from their Father’s board
the Bread that lives beyond the tomb.
The woman was asking for, and would have been happy with, only the crumbs. In the end, she is rewarded with the bountiful table, as we all are, thanks be to God.
And finally, one of our Communion hymns Sunday is the only hymn in the hymnal that outlines the four actions of the Eucharist (Christ took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it), the heavenly banquet, indeed:
In the Lord’s service bread and wine are offered,
that Christ may take them, bless them, break,
and give them to all his people,
his own life imparting, food everlasting.