Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus, who brings healing. Amen.
I was between worship services, and was chatting with someone in the Narthex when one of the ushers came over to me and said “Pastor Todd, your wife, Lori is on the phone and needs to talk to you right away.”
Our son, Samuel, who was 6 at the time, had woken up with a very sore spot that was bright red, and warm to the touch on his wrist. Our pediatrician’s office had Sunday morning walk-in hours, so Lori had brought him in to be checked.
The doctor said that “It’s an infection of some kind, I’m a little worried it might be in the bone. You need to go down to Children’s right now. I’ll call them and tell them you’re on your way.” Lori replied: “Ok, we’ll go as soon as Todd gets home from church.” “No,” the doctor interrupted. “I mean you should go down right now.” Well…ok then.
It was a very quick drive to the pediatrician’s office, where I left my civic in the strip mall parking lot and then a very fast trip down to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.
I remember that the hospital was undergoing a huge renovation, so the temporary exam room was about the size of a walk in closet. All four of us were crammed in there with the doctor, and a couple of nurses. Sam was in a lot of pain, and the room got really, really warm.
I remember that the combination of the heat and the stress, plus the fact that Lori hadn’t eaten anything yet that morning, and the additional bonus of all of the needles and IV’s for Sam, got to Lori, and she started feeling faint. She had to put her head down between her knees to avoid passing out. Well that really got the hospital staff’s attention. Another doctor and another nurse crammed into the room to tend to her.
So I had Sam on my lap, and my hand on Lori’s shoulder steadying her. I looked over to Nathan, our 8-year old and said “Buddy, if I go down, you’re in charge!” His eyes got kind of wide.
6 days, a half-dozen doctors, 2 hospitals, multiple MRI’s and X-rays and one surgery later, Sam was discharged. It took another month of IV antibiotics, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, carried in a backpack he had to wear continuously, to rid him of the strep virus that had settled into his wrist. But he came out of it just fine, and we were thankful.
I think back to that time now, and it’s all kind of a blur. Lori and I just lived at the hospitals for those 6 days. We slept on the couch. When we ate, we ate in the cafeteria. We were just always waiting for the next visit from a doctor. And meanwhile, everything else in our life was put on hold. No work, no mowing, no watering…I don’t think we were even home more than twice that week. I had to skip a senior high mission trip to Washington DC that I was supposed to lead. When we finally got home from the hospital, I opened our garage and realized that my Honda Civic was missing. It was still sitting in front of the doctor’s office parking lot at the strip mall where I’d left it 6 days earlier.
Then, we just collapsed. We were emotionally and physically exhausted. It was the most stressful thing we’d ever been through together. But of course we also knew that none of those hassles mattered. We are Sam’s parents, and we would have done whatever it takes, bust through any barriers that were in our way, paid any price, to ensure Sam’s health. There are no limits to what a parent would do to protect their child.
So I “get” the woman in our Gospel for today who was very upset because her daughter is very, very sick. The Bible tells us that she was severely possessed by a demon. (As if you can be mildly possessed by a demon?) During Biblical times, medical care was a guessing game, and they did not have concepts of mental illness, viruses or other medical conditions that we understand today. So most of what didn’t make sense to them was just categorized as “Demon Possission.”
In truth, we don’t know what was wrong with this girl. And really, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, something was wrong, and her Mother wasn’t going to let anyone get in her way of finding a cure. I’m sure that she’d tried all of her local options. So when she heard that Jesus, who was able to heal the sick, was going to be in the region, off she went.
Now there were all sorts of reasons why this shouldn’t have worked. Jesus shouldn’t even have acknowledged her:
• Scriptures describe her as a Canaanite woman. In Jewish eyes, to be a Canaanite was about as low as a person could get. The Canaanites were looked upon by the Jews as an immoral people. Lower than a dog. Unclean.
• She was a woman. Even by speaking to Jesus, she was breaking Jewish law. And Jesus was forbidden by law to reply to her.
• She had to cross physical and geographic boundaries. She had to leave her own country to cross into Tyre and Sidon to see Jesus. And doing so could be dangerous.
But we understand her. She is enduring one of life’s greatest heartaches. Her daughter, whom she loves dearly, is suffering. Is there a mother or father in this room who would not prefer to suffer themselves rather than have one of your children suffer? You would travel to the ends of the earth, you’d empty your bank account, you’d sell all you have if you thought it might help. And this girl’s suffering was evidently severe.
So this woman comes up to Jesus and kneels before him and says, “Jesus, Son of David, would you please heal my child?”
This was not insignificant. The gesture of kneeling was one that was generally reserved for a King. You didn’t just kneel to anyone. It was a recognition that the person you bow to has power, and that you do not. So the disciples traveling with Jesus had to be a bit astounded. Because this woman…this foreigner…wasn’t just speaking to their master, she knelt to him as a King. In other words, she knows more about who Jesus really is than we first thought she knew.
What does Jesus do? Well, it’s kind of puzzling: He turns his back on her and gives her the silent treatment. While he’s following the Jewish law by doing this, it doesn’t seem like the Jesus we’ve come to know from the rest of the Gospels.
So she goes and talks to the disciples and begs them, “Please, would you talk to your master and ask him to heal my daughter?” His disciples approached Jesus and he said to them, “Listen, I am here to heal…to restore Jewish the people first and she is a Gentile.”
Jesus is right. The woman is a Gentile person. She has no status that would allow her to speak to Jesus. But, she has a sick kid, and she is not unsettled by silence. The resistance of Jesus and his disciples does not intimidate her, and it doesn’t stop her.
So she runs over and falls down at Jesus’ feet. This is her third attempt to get through to Jesus. She calls out, “Jesus, have mercy on me and heal my daughter.”
Jesus says to her, in a reply that has puzzled scholars for two thousand years: “Woman, you are like a yelping puppy at a man’s table.”
And the woman, being pretty sharp, said, “Well, a master takes crumbs off the table and feeds his yelping puppy to shut him up. You just heal my daughter and you will shut me up.” She understands her lack of status; that in the Jewish caste system, she is roughly equivalent to a family pet. But she doesn’t let go. Even a family pet has a place within the family. In other words, “Jesus, I may sound like a yelping family pet, but I’m not going anywhere until my daughter is healed.”
Point. Counterpoint. And you can see the smile spread across Jesus’ face as he says, “Great is your faith, woman. Depart, your daughter is healed.” It’s interesting to note that this is one of only two places in the Gospels where we hear Jesus call someone’s faith “great.” The woman went home and found her daughter well.
There are no limits to what a parent would do to protect their child.
This woman seems to understand what the members of the household of Israel have yet to grasp. Jesus is not just hope for Israel, but hope for the world.
Like many, I was shocked this week by the death of actor, Robin Williams. I’m truly surprised by how much his loss affected me. I think it must be because I practically grew up, watching him in movies and on TV.
His death is a tragedy on so many levels. And it’s been amazing to watch the outpouring of grief. Depression is a disease that takes a terrible toll. It makes me wonder how people who loved and cared for him would have responded if they’d known how acute the darkness that was consuming his spirit really was? Wouldn’t they have done anything to help, to protect him? Paid any price? Broken through any barrier? What would have happened if Robin Williams could have seen through his deep depression to recognize that there were loved ones who could be “light” to him in the midst of his darkness? Would it have changed anything? I don’t know. Maybe.
It also makes me wonder who else that I may know who experiences that same darkness? Who else needs to know that there is light…there is love…there is hope… How can I help them to know this? I think I shall try harder to pay attention.
There are no limits to what a parent, loved ones or friends will do to protect, or care for those who suffer.
It was the Canaanite woman’s immeasurable love for her daughter that gave her the courage to break through the social barriers and to speak directly to Jesus, who she believed could heal her daughter.
I have great admiration for this Canaanite woman. Because she stepped to the table, with no status to speak of, and she cried out for the same kind of love and grace that the Jewish leaders had believed was reserved for their people…the chosen people.
There are three things you need to know:
First, there are no limits to God’s love. It is not reserved for any one people, nation or race. This Gospel reminds that God’s grace is for all people.
Second, we are like the Canaanite woman. Our task as people of faith is to stand up to support and protect those who are in need. Those who are ill, who experience pain, depression, anxiety…those whose lives are broken, who experience injustice…we seek those people, and work to bring them to wholeness, in Jesus’ name.
And finally, we are also like the Canaanite woman’s daughter. We are all broken. We all live in a condition; trapped by sin. But at the same time, you are a child of God, loved beyond measure, and there are no limits to what a parent will do to protect, or care for their children. No limits. This is why Jesus came. Because God has no limits in his love for you.
Know this, child of God: Because of our Creator’s great love, Jesus was sent, for you. Jesus died on the cross, for you, to bring life, meaning, promise and hope to you.
Remember this, and share, that all may know this hope.