Saturday, 16 August 2014

Who sees who cares?

Sunday Gospel - Matthew 15:21-28 

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

A friend of mine tries to convince me that this is a set-up. That Jesus has full knowledge of his ministry and this includes seemingly chaotic scenes like this. They tell me that Jesus has something to prove and this is how he does it. 

I find it hard to believe. I find it hard because Jesus is human and what is divine about him would have never said 'no' in the first place. The whole point of Jesus' life, is to find the relationship that knits together his humanity and his divinity. The same reason that any of us live a 'life'.

I find it hard to believe because Jesus has been raised in a culture that rejects outsiders. And whilst Jesus may know in his heart that this is not what his Father intends,  his reaction is still one of a man outside his comfort zone. 

Jesus has 'withdrawn' to Tyre, to a place of pagan worship, to a place where he should not have to deal with either the accusations or the entreaties. Unfortunately, perhaps, his fame had gone before him and the rumours were beginning to flow about the stranger and his entourage - a little too far from home. 

In modern day parlance, the woman is a long-term carer. She is a mother whose daughter has multiple and complex needs. The demon that inhabits her daughter actually torments them both, tearing at their health and well being. The weariness of the relentless routine of feeding, washing, restraining and reassuring will have taken its toll. The energy-sapping battles tending hysteria and manic outbursts leave them both teetering on the edge of sanity. 

There will be plenty of spells and cures among the pagan altars. Perhaps she has tried them all. Doubtless, she is at the end of her tether and hanging on, only by the wiry strength of maternal will-power. Willing to clutch at any straw the universe throws her. Even a preacher from the wrong side of the sea.     

Asking for pity is the mark of a person with nothing left to bargain with. Pity may get a prayer, a sacrifice, a chance. His first response - nothing -  suggests that she has the wrong man. Her instincts tell her otherwise. Her frustration is let loose and who cares who hears it? 

But it is simply a source of embarrassment. Clearly, the disciples have been trying not to draw attention to themselves. It's in frustration they ask Jesus to give her what they would have denied any other foreigner. And he still says 'no' because it's not fair on those he had been promised to. 

Now the woman has a focus - she has lived with 'not fair' for long enough. 'Not fair' means nothing. What is 'fair' in her life? In her daughter's torment? In the exasperated huffs of the disciples, in the disregard of the man she has witnessed as a Holy Man? 

It may come across the page as 'banter' but these lines are full of desperation and passion. This woman has no pride left, no ego, her soul is laid bare. Preternaturally, her words return to the other shore and to the baskets of scraps left after the sheep of Israel had had their fill.

 'Lord, give me the scraps.' 

From her place in the sand this is an outburst of prayer not defiance. And her prayer is answered.

This gospel shows that Jesus learns about faith from the people that he encounters. Jesus is sometimes the student and it is his lesson that we learn, walking alongside him. Jesus didn't know the answer. As he has told us before, only the Father knows all. Once his attention had been grabbed, he asked meaningful questions and practiced compassionate listening. He celebrated her strength and returned it back to her in the healing of her daughter - the healing of herself. And Jesus learns that his Father loves all those who are lost. 

Maybe we also learn that there are those in our communities who need the same care. Those who are weary of life. Those who are weary of the life they are in. Those we quickly walk by or pretend not to hear. Those whose issues keep us from getting on with our own lives; who throw unwelcome images and experiences at us until we can't pretend any more.

Can we make room in our lives to stop? 

Not to throw back our advice and opinions but to listen with compassion. To honour suffering and weariness and distress and to acknowledge the courage and determination that is carried with it. And when there seems nothing to offer, to offer ourselves - even a scrap of ourselves -  as witnesses and perhaps, as something more. Offering our time and our hearts in fellowship and faith. 




Roberta Desalle said...

Word, I found this post inspiring, particularly when you wrote that the whole purpose of Jesus' life, like our own, was (is) to find the relationship "that knits together" his (our) humanity and his (our) divinity.
And, also, your words concerning how we are able to relate to the desperate suffering of others when it seems we have nothing to offer. Like Jesus, we offer whatever we can, most importantly our hearts.

Lynda said...

Word, this is an exceptional message to each of us to remember the humanity of Jesus. There is a great deal in this post to ponder. Blessings.

Cynthia Helton said...

Yes …Jesus' humanity; the thought that he too was a student. The "human" Jesus is the one I've fallen in love with - and through that love, leads me to follow the "cosmic" Jesus. Thanks for a thought provoking post ..and blessings to you

Gelli Ma said...

Thank you so much everyone. Good to hear that her story means something to our lives. blessings all

Claire Bangasser said...

So very good, Word. How well you understand the mother... How deep you go into her life, her feeling, and what she teaches Jesus.
I find this so good, I have no words really for it.

Gelli Ma said...

Thanks Claire, I
appreciate your words mx