For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”
New International Version
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
After our family moved to the United States, my mom started writing letters to my grandmother. My mom was the 6th daughter out of 8 children, often lost in the shuffle and – she would say- didn’t get much love. But letters from America was one way she tried to heal her relationship with my grandmother. She would write 5-10 pages of affirmation, encouragement, and forgiveness, to try to mend the relationship.
After my grandmother passed away in 2016, my uncle collected her things, one of which was a collection of all of my mother’s letters to her. He sent it back to my mom. And if I wanted to get a closer understanding of their relationships, my mother- even after she passes- and her mother, these letters would be one of the primary ways I’d do that.
Reading the Bible is like this. Why do we care to take this story of Jesus from the Bible to read, meditate and reflect on, and attempt to find our own story in it? Because when I get my hands on those letters my mom wrote, I’ll hurl myself over them, with a kleenex in hand, peering into the mind of my mother holding her mother in her heart to see if I could find myself in any of those words.
The story we just read: where do you see yourself in the story?
Do you find yourself relating to the disciples – who are close to Jesus, have access to Jesus, and yet sometimes find the things that come around and with Jesus bothersome or as a nuisance?
Or do you find yourself relating to Jesus – finding yourself on one path, determined and sure, and for some reason, realizing that you should go another path, out of a prompting of an unexpected person?
Or do you find yourself relating to the woman – begging for crumbs, because you’re desperate for a miracle, even crumbs would do?
Well, let’s go through the characters, and see what we can learn about what God is like and maybe even a bit about ourselves.
So, first the disciples. Many of us here could likely be identified as the disciples. Many of you have been Christians for a long time. And this line they say in this text,
“Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
I think it invites us to something that we Christians need to reckon with. Who have we been sending away? Who keeps crying out after us, that we choose to ignore or exclude?
And what we eventually learn from this text, though it takes a moment before we get there (we’ll get to that in just a minute) is that God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. Let me say that again. God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. God’s embrace is larger than you can imagine. Think of someone you think, oh no, not them. I could never go to the same church with them. I could never worship in the same place as them. That person, yes that person, God is saying, hmmmm maybe we could sit next to them at a table.
I was thinking about this from last week’s sermon Steve preached. We reflected on the text from the beautiful Community Group content that pastor Ivy made in our Mindfulness Community Group (shameless plug: Tuesdays 12pm on Zoom). In that text the Pharisees were asking,
“why do they eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And it made me think of you know those finance guys, or the bad boys of pharma, or the 1%. You know those privileged, rich folks. Turns out, yo this is Cambridge, we got some of those right here.
God really challenges me sometimes with God’s expansive love. I’m not talking about forgive and forget. I’m not talking about not having healthy boundaries. I recently was reading a book called Bold Love, by Dan Allender.
One of 5 subtitles got me to pick up this book again,
“how to love an abusive person without opening yourself up to more damage.”
And it’s not wishy-washy love. It’s powerful, strong, confident love that can withstand so much. I experienced some trauma when I was a child, and there was a time, when I was deep in processing all that, I imagined walking into church and having that person who had done me wrong standing there holding the communion plate.
I’m not saying you should. It is a complex, nuanced journey, unique to each person. And please, don’t engage this if this is too soon or tender for you. Take care and zone me out right now. But could it be, that even our greatest enemies, the worst kind, that we say, “no not them”, God says,
“yes, even them”?
Let me move onto Jesus. Now this is one of the most interesting texts about Jesus because it’s a rare one where he is…. Corrected. Disagreed with. And Jesus changes his mind. So what does that tell us about God? Does God change God’s mind? Isn’t God all powerful, all knowing? Then why didn’t God just do, in the first place, what God was supposed to do?
There are extended scholarly debates in the chambers of academia arguing about this –did Jesus really know he was God? The divinity of Jesus is a mystery, a both/and as common creeds confess, fully human and fully God. And that’s the beauty of it all! With all that God is, should, can be, and could be, God CHOSE to not be all those things in the body of Jesus to be and in relationship with us! If God kept true to all of God’s full nature, we would not have access to God. God wouldn’t need us. We would be robots!
But look at Jesus in this text. He’s kind of rude here. He doesn’t even answer her! Isn’t he like that rabbi who walks by the guy who was hurt on the side of the road in that Samaritan story? Jesus was kind of… stubborn, saying,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
And then when she wouldn’t let up, he says to her,
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Um, did Jesus just curse? Did he just call her a dog? I think so. I recently read a book called, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese American writer, where the main character is called “little dog” by his grandmother. Because if you had a beautiful pet name for your little one, like sweetie, or cupcake, then the evil spirits would come and get them, so instead she named him “little dog”. It’s a curse word in Korean too. I think in most languages, dog is considered not a pleasant thing to be called. Fully human and fully God.
And does God change God’s mind? I earnestly believe so. How could it be? Because, God isn’t worried about the perfect end product. God is worried about you. God cares what you think. What you have to say. I always get a bit frustrated with God. Why don’t you just fix all this stuff, if you call yourself God and you’re all good. Then why do you let me stumble, and fall, and bleed. God sometimes gets quiet when I say these kinds of prayers. Quiet and listening, nodding. I see God quietly putting a hand on my knee where it’s bleeding, scraping their hand on the gravel for no reason, as if to clean dirt. Sometimes I even see God showing me how to walk, fall, and showing me how to patch oneself up and get back up. And I hear God say,
“Cause I wanna do it with you.”
Watching my 2-year old girl climb into her car seat by herself is about the most frustrating thing in the world. If I pick her up and sit her down, we’re ready to go, clip, and off we go. But seeing her climb up in the most leisurely fashion, putting her foot in the most inefficient place, all turned around and struggling, for what! I’m like, gripping my hands, trying not to grab her leg into position, (because then it would be an even longer ordeal where she says I can do it myself! And cries and gets out of position, and hurts herself), so I just have to hold my heart together so she can get in the car seat by herself. I need to leave the house earlier, so that she has time for this. It’s completely inefficient, I just stand there and have to breathe and watch her struggle. That is my job.
I’m sure God is more patient than me, but I wonder too, if God’s not like, ooh, just don’t do that, don’t do it like that, yikes, just…
But then again, sometimes I let my girl do it all by herself, and she comes up with the most brilliant, creative, hilarious and smart thing ever. Like, when I tell her to go ahead, she knows how, and she grabs my hand and says,
“but I want to do it with you.”
And I’m like, so humbled, and think, she got it right. I had it wrong. She knows what’s important. To do it together. That’s what I think prayer is. For us to do it with God. And that’s why I think, as crazy and mysterious as it is, that prayer works.
Lastly, the woman. Can you relate with her?
Jesus kind of insults her but she doesn’t even miss a beat. In fact, this is not her first time, and she doesn’t have time to get offended about stuff like that. She’s trying to get her daughter healed and that’s the only thing that matters.
Have you ever been that desperate?
Earlier I talked about the privileged folks, welcoming them. The thing is, it just so happens some people choose not to come themselves, because they don’t need it that bad. Or they feel that they don’t need it that bad. Whether it’s community, or healing, or grace, or forgiveness. The reality is that many of us have the luxury and the privilege to drown that out with hobbies, or food, or drinking, or preoccupations and projects that numb us from the reality of what we really need.
Have you ever needed to beg at Jesus’ feet for help? For mercy? Have you ever been that desperate? When everything you’ve used as a crutch or a distraction disappears or fails, what are you left with? When the career you’ve built or the job you’ve given everything to all of sudden fires you. When you’ve poured yourself into your kids, and they’re growing up and don’t need you any more. In a way, we get a taste of things like this when you try a spiritual discipline like fasting.
Fasting is something I hate to do.
I used to smoke. Oh and when I read Michelle Obama’s book and found out Barack smoked, I was like see, even he did it! And for anyone who’s in any kind of sobriety journey, big hats to you, because addiction is a dog. I mean, addictions are horrible, and if you can fight that, you have really tapped into a great source of strength and power and you can do anything. Quitting was really hard. And during that time, if I even walked by someone who was smoking, it took every ounce of me to not ask, “can I bum a smoke off of you?”, and instead just get a whiff of their smoke. Crumbs…
In a book called Addiction & Grace by Gerald May, he talks about the desire behind addiction. And in his experience, it wasn’t just about drugs or alcohol, but he experienced people struggling with all kinds of addiction from aspirin, nose drops, to work, to performance, intimacy, being liked, helping others, and more. And he talks about his own experience this way,
Compared to what happens to people who suffer from alcoholism or narcotic addiction, what happened to me may not seem much of a “rock bottom.” But it had the same grace-full effect. To state it quite simply, I had tried to run my life on the basis of my own will power alone. When my supply of success and this egotistic autonomy ran out, I became depressed. And with the depression, by means of grace, came a chance for spiritual openness.
This woman was so desperate that she compelled Jesus to expand his mission and calling. Because a Cannanite woman’s daughter’s life mattered. Prayer works.
When have you asked God for something with this kind of “chance for spiritual openness”? Has there ever been a time you’ve knelt and said, “help me?” This you, now?
When we do so, God does not turn away. In fact God expands God’s arms fully to embrace whatever state you might be in to say, “You are healed.” Do you believe that? I don’t know that I always believe that. I mostly don’t when I’m fine and just don’t need God that much. But for the rest of us, do you need help? Do you need Jesus? Do you need the love of God to break through every lesser gods that failed to satisfy you? Do you need God’s healing? Even a crumb of it?
Dear friends, I hope that you’re not in that place, where a crumb will do. But if you are, may you taste and see, and know that God is good. Even a crumb will do. Let me pray for us.
God, throw me a bone will ya? So many of us are holding so much right now. Juggling life, school, health, our bodies, our families, our safety. Our bodies are tired of fears and anxieties that we’re in need of your peace to break through. Will you shine a light on us Jesus. As the psalmists prayed, don’t look away. Answer us! Shine your face on our face. May you bring healing. May you bring healing. On our land, in our school, in our workplaces, in our families, and in our bodies. May you bring healing. Amen.