Are You Getting Only Crumbs?
Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
If we saw in the First Sunday in Lent that our Lord did not succumb to the devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread so that He could satisfy His hunger, in the Second Sunday in Lent we see that our Lord is the one who gives bread to satisfy our hunger.
We are shown this through an encounter with a remarkable woman. To understand who this remarkable woman is, remember who the people of God are. Jesus says in the Gospel reading that they are the House of Israel. Israel is the man we are shown in the Old Testament reading. He himself was a remarkable man. He was given the name Jacob but God changed his name to Israel. Thus the people of God became known as Israelites; this is thousands of years ago and they are distinct from the current nation of Israel.
What made these two people remarkable? They held on to who God told them He was. They refused to let go of His promises. They were undaunted by the struggle of engaging with Him. And this is the most remarkable thing of all, they both believed that God was who He said He was in the person of Jesus Christ. That is who they both were struggling with, refusing to give up. It’s kind of like a father who is wrestling with his son but even though he is stronger than his son he lets his son win anyway, making it just enough of a struggle that it looks like the son may not win.
A deeper look at the Old Testament shows that Jesus pops up now and then in visible form. Oftentimes He is referred to as the Angel of the Lord. In today’s Old Testament reading people often assume Jacob was wrestling with an angel. But that’s not what he thinks. He is struggling with God. He wants God to bless him. He won’t let go until he gets his blessing from God.
Jesus of course did not become a human being until He was conceived and born of the Virgin. But He did make Himself known at times before then in visible form, Jacob wrestling with Him being one of those. So Jacob didn’t know the person he was wrestling with as Jesus, but he believed the person he was wrestling with was God. And this struggle would be emblematic of the struggle of God’s people, the House of Israel, with God. At times they would cling stubbornly to God’s promises and at others they would give up, not wanting to go through the trials He would bring them through. And they would fail, and they wouldn’t trust, and they would follow their own desires and the ways of the world and the temptations of Satan. They were sorry people indeed. Lost sheep. People who wander and go their own way. This is how Jesus describes God’s people, the Israelites, to the woman—He was not sent except to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Of all the people in the world there weren’t many people making up the House of Israel, and so if everyone else in the world was going to hell, how bad was it that even some of God’s people were lost sheep?
Which brings us to this remarkable woman who came up to Jesus. He and His disciples were away from their usual haunts in Palestine. They were in Gentile territory, and here comes up to Him one of them, a woman who is a Canaanite. The Canaanites had been the people living in the land God had promised to bring His people to in the Old Testament, the Promised Land. So this woman is a descendant of these Canaanites and she engages with Jesus in the same way Jacob did. She cries out to Him for mercy. She calls Him Lord. She knows He is the Son of David. How does she know this? How is it that the people who ought to know, the Israelites, God’s own people, so often rejected Jesus as Lord and as the Son of David, while this Canaanite pagan believes who He is?
When Jesus does not acknowledge her she doesn’t give up. She clings to Him as Lord and as the Son of David. She needs mercy and believes that is what Jesus will give her. Her daughter is severely demon-possessed and she believes Jesus will help her. Just as Jacob wrestled with Jesus and Jacob never gave up, this woman wrestles with Jesus and she never gives up. First He doesn’t answer her. Next His disciples tell Him to send her away and He seems to agree, saying that He has come only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Finally, He tells her that it is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. She knows what He means by this. The children are the Israelites and the Gentiles, of whom she is one, are the dogs.
Was she offended? Not only was she not offended, she agreed with Him! She said, “Yes, Lord, that’s true. Of course it’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. And that is because they eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This is great faith. That’s what Jesus says of her. She had great faith because she knew who her master was, it was the Lord, the Son of David. If all He had for her was crumbs, that would be enough. It would be more than enough! It would feed her. It would be the mercy she had asked for. Whatever He gives is a good gift.
Maybe you feel like all you’re getting from your Lord is crumbs. Maybe you don’t think it’s enough. Maybe you feel like He’s not answering you. Maybe you feel like your life is a constant struggle. Maybe you feel like your faith is a pale shadow of the faith of Jacob or the faith of the Canaanite woman. Maybe you feel like you’re in the category of the lost sheep of the House of Israel when you would like to be the strong, faithful Christian your Lord wants you to be.
Here’s the thing. If all you’re getting from Jesus is crumbs, it’s enough! It’s more than enough. He always gives what is good, even if it’s a wrestling match between you and Him. Especially if it is. Great struggle elicits great faith. Remember, He gave over His fleshly desires of hunger in order to give you the Bread of Life. This bread, whether you are getting what falls from His table or you are getting the whole loaf, you are being fed with the Bread of Life.
He feeds you in body and soul. No need of yours is too small, no need is so great that it is beyond His compassion. If you are crying out and you don’t get your answer, don’t give up. Cling tenaciously to His promises. He will give you what you need. He will give you what is good. Jacob received the blessing he asked for. The woman’s daughter was healed as she asked for. He will give you what you need, even if it means that you will struggle and endure suffering. You know what you want for yourself, you don’t always know what you truly need. Ask Him according to His will. Your Lord knows what you need and He will give you what you truly need.
The Bread of Life is His gift to you for body and soul. You may not be healed of an illness, but you are forgiven of your sins. You may endure persecution for living as Christ has called you to live, but you will be free from this suffering when you receive the crown of life when you rise from your grave. You may feel you’re lost in your spiritual life, but Jesus gives you a blessing that surpasses any feeling or life free from trouble: He gives you Himself, His very body He offered up on the cross and His very blood He shed on the cross. The bread and wine at His Table isn’t much for food. You won’t satisfy your appetite. It is like eating crumbs, if that is all it is for. But the bread and wine of His Table is the children’s bread. He is your Master and He feeds you with Himself. He gives this food for you for your body and soul. In giving it to you He forgives your sin. In eating it you are sustained and strengthened in faith. This is the strength you need from week to week as you struggle, yes, even when you struggle with Him.
How can you respond in faith as Jacob and the woman did? Because He feeds you, He strengthens you, He forgives you. This Bread of Life which sustains you is the gift He gives to His children. You are His children in Baptism. The Canaanite woman was a Gentile, but she was in the House of her Master, her Lord, even if only getting crumbs. You were born a Gentile as well, born in sin, and have been brought into the household by being Baptized into the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Great faith clings to the promises of God. Cling to Him, cling to your Baptism, eat up the words of Scripture as the food that it is to sustain you, partake of the Bread of Life at the Lord’s Table. In these you will see that your hope and your salvation is not in yourself or your faith but in Christ alone, who even if giving you crumbs gives you everything. Amen.