Crossing Boundaries

DSC_0230 (1)Sam, our youngest son, and I were on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area trip a couple of weeks ago.  We’d been paddling up along the Canadian border.  It was our last night in the wilderness and we were looking for our camp site.

Paddling on two different lakes, Alpine and then Seagull, we could find no open campsites.  Not one.  Every campsite…and I’m not exaggerating when I say that we probably went to 15 campsites, was already occupied with canoers.

I’ve been up there a lot, and I’ve never experienced this before.  Our 4-hour paddle that day turned into a 9 hour paddle as we kept ping-ponging from site to site, all the way back to the outfitters on the east end of the lake.

We wound up staying in the outfitter’s bunkhouse that night.  Warm and dry, but a bit disappointed.  The next morning, I was chatting with Debbie, who owns Seagull Outfitters.  I said that I was surprised that we hadn’t be able to find a campsite.

Debbie shook her head and frowned, and looked at me and said, “it’s because the border is closed.”  “What do you mean?” I asked.  She said “Normally, 40% of our trips go up into Canada.  But with the US/Canadian border shut down because of the pandemic, everyone is forced to stay on the US side.  The campsites were full because people couldn’t cross the border.”   Memo to self.  No more canoe trips during pandemics.

When you think about it, borders and boundaries are funny things.  They are just these lines that mark the end of one place, like the United States, and the beginning of another, like Canada.  Sometimes they follow natural boundaries, like rivers or mountains.  But often, they are just arbitrary lines that some cartographer drew on a map, however long ago.

But when a border closes, clearly it has meaning…and it has repercussions.

So as I’ve been reading our Gospel story this week, I’ve been thinking about borders a lot.  Physical borders…emotional borders…social borders…and spiritual borders.

Jesus and the disciples leave familiar territory and people, and they head out to the far borders, toward Gentile territory. They cross the border, and they find themselves in the regions of Tyre, and Sidon.

Remember that the Gentile people and the Jewish people did not get along.  So Jesus and company had to be surprised when they were approached by a Canaanite woman…she just sort of showed up out of nowhere.  She was a desperate mother who was looking for healing for her daughter.  And she’d heard about this man named Jesus, who could heal people.  She dropped to her knees, looks up at Jesus and says “Lord, have mercy on me.  My daughter is tormented.”  Meaning that she was sick…or somehow possessed with evil.  We don’t know the details.

What Jesus did next is unexpected.  To be honest, it makes me kind of uncomfortable.  Jesus ignored her…it’s like he didn’t even hear her.  No response at all.  But she didn’t leave.  And so, he looked at his disciples and said to them “send her away.”  Let’s be clear:  a woman needs help…and Jesus sends her away?  But then it actually got worse.  He looked at her, and he said that what he brought was not for people like her.  And then he compared her to a dog.  This was, in the culture at the time, a pretty significant insult.

But the woman…she persists…she pops back to Jesus “well ok…but even the dogs get the scraps off of the table, right?  All I am asking for is one of your scraps.”

I like this woman.  I like that she didn’t back down.  And I get it.  If your child was sick, or in pain, or in need, wouldn’t you do whatever you had to do to take care of them?  And then…finally…Jesus smiles at her and says “woman, great is your faith.  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And the scripture says that her daughter was instantly healed.

This is a border story…a boundary story.  There were tons of borders being crossed here.

  • First, Jesus crossed the physical boundary into Tyre and Sidon
  • He and the disciples crossed from one culture to another
  • He crossed from comfort into discomfort
  • He spoke with a woman who was not family or friend, which was a huge boundary
  • And, she was not of the Jewish faith. Another border he crossed

But this woman!  She was the brave one. She crossed borders as well.

  • She approached and spoke with a man she did not know
  • She stepped outside her own religious faith to talk to someone of Jewish faith, a rabbi, in fact
  • And she asked him for help, and she trusted!

These actions break the code…break the law of the time.  They are risky.

But there is yet another boundary being crossed in our story. And it’s not as obvious.  When the woman wouldn’t give up…wouldn’t leave…and actually argued with Jesus, he changed his mind: “Great is your faith,” he said, “it shall be done.”

Jesus wasn’t going to help this woman, and she talked him into it.  She changed his mind.  She changed his heart.  Jesus moved from “no” to “yes”…from the rules, to compassion.

Photo 3
Father Gregory Boyle

Father Gregory Boyle is a Catholic priest in Las Angeles.  In 1986, the Catholic diocese sent Father Greg to serve at Dolores Mission Church, in Boyle Heights.  This was the poorest catholic church in the diocese, right in the middle of the city, in an area with the highest rate of crime and violence; and the highest level of gang activity.

Father Greg was just this guy.  White, middle aged, gray haired…he wore shorts and sandals with dark socks…and he stepped into this neighborhood.  He crossed a boundary.

He spent his first two years just trying to keep Dolores Mission Church afloat and trying to figure out the neighborhood and the people who lived there.

Nothing was working, and so Father Greg decided to try something new and different.  He said “I decided to try and treat the gang members like human beings.”  Father Greg crossed a boundary.

This Catholic priest, clearly out of his element, went into the streets and the neighborhoods and started to get to know the people.  He made friends and allies. He listened.  And he discovered that there were those who wanted to get out of gangs, but didn’t know how.  And so Father Greg founded Homeboy Industries.  Homeboy Industries has evolved into an 18-month employment and re-entry program.  It helped people find jobs.  It helped people with substance abuse recovery.  It even helped people with removing gang symbols that had been tattooed onto their skin.  In 2018, over 400 people got out of gangs, and over 7000 received some kind of help through Homeboy Industries.

The principle behind Homeboy Industries is Kinship.  Kin, as in related… connected.Father Greg  Father G, as those in the neighborhood now call him, says that “kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to forget that we belong to each other.”  He goes on to say that kinship is like standing in a giant circle, a community of compassion, with those whose dignity has been denied.  And he says that the call to Christians is to stand next to those who are on the edges of the circle, to make sure that they don’t fall away.  The call of the Christian, is to cross boundaries.

At the beginning of their encounter, Jesus reminded the woman that he came to bring righteousness and salvation to the Jewish people.  But this woman, whose name we do not even know, in asking her simple question, reminded Jesus that we are all “kin.”  We are all connected.

And Jesus smiles, and says “you’re right.”  This was a significant shift.  If you fast forward through the book of Matthew, to the very end, in chapter 28, Jesus gives his final instructions to his disciples…to us.  It is called The Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Make disciples of all nations.  Not just the Jewish people…all nations; The Jewish and the Gentiles…you and me.  All nations means kinship.  I am convinced, that when Jesus said “All nations,” he thought back to that Canaanite woman, and how she’d changed his mind, and he smiled.

You see, when borders are closed there are repercussions.  But when borders are open, there is freedom and life.  This unnamed, persistent woman made Jesus realize this.  And Jesus changed his mind.  All people are God’s chosen people.

In that single moment, the circle of faith, our kinship, got a whole lot bigger.  Big enough, by the way, to include you and me.

Because Jesus recognized the power of crossing a boundary. And he did so because of his great love.  And not only that boundary.  Jesus crossed the border between Good Friday and Easter, between death and life and between sin and grace.  He crossed these boundaries for you.

So I’ll ask the hard question:  What are the boundaries you need to cross?  What are the broken relationships that needs healing?  What about the forgiveness that you have withheld?  Who is the person from a different background, or place, or political philosophy, or ethnicity that you need to connect with?  Or what is the hurt, or the habit, or the hang-up from which you need healing?

My friends, we can cross boundaries because Jesus did.  Because of Jesus’ great love and his willingness to listen and change, we can do the same.

Remember, most borders are just arbitrary lines that have been drawn.  And while it may seem like a challenge, when we remember that Jesus went ahead of us, and that Jesus walks alongside us, we can step across, into those challenging places and we can recognize that the Kingdom of God is already in our midst.

Be blessed with the courage of that unnamed, fierce and persistent woman who confronted Jesus, and changed the mind of the Son of God, for the sake of her child, for the sake of love and for the sake of kinship.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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