15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2015
Mark 7: 24-37 You can click on this link to open the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
It was the fall of 2006, and my eldest daughter and I were on a road trip from California to Portland. I don’t remember exactly what town we were in when my cell phone rang early in the morning, but I do remember walking around the back of the motel listening to my sister’s desperate voice. Her diabetic daughter had been quite careless about controlling and monitoring her blood sugar for months and had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes thickening and inflexibility of heart muscle. My sister, the nurse, customarily flies immediately to the worst-case scenario, and imagined that Kathy would be dying any day now. Her real worry was not so much that Kathy’s life might be shortened, but that Kathy hadn’t been to church since she was a teenager, and regularly scoffed at my sister’s attempts to bring her back to church. “If she doesn’t believe in Jesus, she’s not going to be saved.” She said with panic in her voice. After some long conversation, my question was, “how much faith is enough to save you?”
We don’t know how God keeps score. What we do know is that every turning to God, every deed done because we are influenced by God’s love and compassion, every attempt to imitate Jesus, or depend on the strength promised by Jesus’ presence with us changes us, and changes our faith. The woman in our story today believed that the crumbs of the promises and practices of Jesus’ tradition and his healing ministry would be enough to save her daughter. And she clung to that hope through the discouragement of Jesus’ advance men and the refusal of Jesus himself to include her in his mission. He was on a private retreat with his disciples, and she was outside of his responsibility, a Gentile who knew nothing about his place in the history and promises of Israel. But her need for her daughter’s healing made her bold and fearless. And Jesus honored her willingness to suffer abuse and humiliation for herself in order to get what she wanted from the One who could help.
Our faith story is often a story of crumbs as well. We start with the crumbs of understanding and trust. And bit by bit, through answered prayers, companionship in our church community, hearing ancient stories that mirror our own and give us hope, and experiencing God’s presence in the beauty of creation, the crumbs begin to come together into something real and concrete that guides our decisions and actions. Bit by bit we are changed by every encounter with God’s mercy and by the unfailing grace that embraces us wherever we are and accepts us as we are.
There are several explanations of Jesus’ actions in this story – his apparent rudeness to this desperate woman. One of the most prominent is that he was testing her faith, knowing all the while that he would grant her request if her faith stood up to the test. That sounds so harsh to me. I’d like to offer a different explanation. If you believe that Jesus was fully human, just like us, this is a story of Jesus learning something new about his mission by his encounter with this Gentile woman, who so clearly needed his help. If Jesus believed that he was only sent to the Children of the House of Israel, those who were expecting and awaiting a savior, a Messiah, then what he told her was the truth, he didn’t have to deal with her – a pagan, an unbeliever, an outsider. But God’s heart is much bigger than that, and he could no longer deny her the mercy for which she begged. Jesus is as changed by this encounter as is the woman. Suddenly all people are in God’s sights for healing, forgiveness and mercy. In the stories that follow, Jesus heals a blind man, another Gentile presumably, taking him aside for a private healing. After that he feeds another crowd, 4,000 people on the Gentile side of the lake. We never hear of the woman after that. Do the rewards of her faith cause her to follow Jesus and find out more about the God he preaches? We don’t know.
What we do know is that crumbs are enough. The tiniest crumbs of our faith are enough to change our lives forever, opening our eyes to new realities of God’s care for all people. As the crumbs of faith accumulate they begin to inspire us to be more. To trust more completely the love God has for us, and the possibility that our faith is enough and we are enough to be called God’s people. And we are changed more and more into God’s likeness through the power of God’s love, so we are able to see God at work in our world and become part of bringing hope and care and justice where there is only desperation and depression. Even the crumbs of what we do because we love Jesus and want to be more loving can make a difference.
So pray with me:
Jesus, some days it feels like my faith is just crumbs, and I don’t trust that it is enough to sustain me. I love that you are willing to accept me even at my weakest, and to send me out to love as you have loved me. Give me the strength to be all you call me to be. Amen.