Sunday, August 28, 2011

Miriam's Ministry of Presence

for Open Table
Sermon text:  Exodus 1:8-2:10 
(Note: I'm deviating from the Revised Common Lectionary for a 3-part sermon series on the Hebrew Bible character, Miriam.)

            The Bible’s first story about Miriam may seem to place her in a merely supporting role.  Her name is not even disclosed until chapters later.  But Miriam will become the first person, male or female, the Bible identifies as a prophet (Bellis 102).  Because the cultures that produced the Bible were patriarchal, it is no wonder there are fewer stories about the mothers of our faith than the fathers of our faith, though women of extraordinary faith certainly existed in the past as they do today.  Yet careful Bible study reveals quite a number of women whose stories did manage to survive that bias.  The sister of Moses and Aaron is one of my favorite models for ministry.  In each of the three sermons in this series on Miriam, I hope to use parts of her story to engage us as a congregation in thinking about our own ministry.  As a young congregation, we’ve not yet had time to talk intentionally about many aspects of congregational life.  Miriam’s stories give us a chance to do that.  Specifically, Miriam can teach us about 1) how we care for one another, 2) how we worship and pray together, and 3) and how we strengthen our sense of community. 
            Moses, of course, is clearly the hero of Exodus who frees his people from Egyptian bondage.  But the book of Exodus begins by focusing on women, without whom the exodus event could not have been accomplished.  The women are the first liberators of the Hebrew people.  You don’t believe me?  Look back at the first chapter of Exodus.  Here are mentioned two midwives, Puah and Shiphrah, cleverly defying Pharaoh’s order to kill all male Hebrew babies at birth.  Instead, they devise a ruse to protect the newborns.  In chapter 2 we are introduced to a Levite mother, later identified as Jochebed, who realizes she can no longer hide her 3-month-old son and saves him by letting another woman raise him.  Then there’s that other woman, Pharaoh’s daughter, who raises the eventual liberator of the Hebrews.  Could the Hebrew people have been liberated without these loving, courageous, clever women?  The people’s freedom began in THEIR hearts.
            But the fifth woman in the Moses story is our focus today and the next 2 Sundays.  Our attention this evening is on young Miriam.  She seems to do very little in this story; she speaks only once.  At first glance the tale hardly foreshadows Miriam’s eventual power as a prophet—which I’ll get to next week when it will become clear that this female’s role was neither silent nor marginal.  But even in today’s simple story, the few words Miriam speaks proved critical.  The Egyptian princess, curious about the floating basket, had merely observed that the child was Hebrew.  “This must be one of the Hebrew’s children” could have meant, in light of her father’s edict, that someone needed to “dispose” of him.  But Miriam perhaps read a glimmer of pity in this woman’s face.  Without directly appealing for the child’s life—an act of treason—Miriam took a clever tack:  she offered this woman in moral crisis an easy way to do the right thing.  No ethical debate was necessary.  God had softened the woman’s heart; Miriam provided a practical way to obey that tug of conscience.  Neither had to speak an explicit word of treason in the presence of the others.  “Let me get a nurse,” Miriam said, and the implication was: “You can save this child and can love him as your own.”
            We, too, can use God-given ingenuity to make it easier for others to do the right thing.  Our job may be as simple as finding practical ways to educate our community about a new unjust state law that separates immigrant families and turns good Samaritans into criminals.  “Here," our own Jenni Currie said yesterday to those at the Immigration Awareness Gathering, "let me offer you some information.” “Here,” Miriam said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “let me find you a nurse.”  We can be a conduit of freedom, justice, life. (See this link for an article on an event many in our congregation attended Saturday out of concern for Alabama's recent anti-immigrant law:
            Miriam’s active assistance, however, is not her only role.  When we first meet Miriam, she is a quiet, unseen presence, wading along that reed-lined river bank, not taking her eye off the baby in the basket.  The gaps in this story make me wonder what exactly were Miriam’s instructions from Jochebed, her mom.   “I don’t know what to tell you, Honey,” Jochebed might have begun. “Just stay near your little brother, and for heaven’s sake, watch out for the crocodiles!” Our scripture reports with sparse detail that Moses’ sister “stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him” (Gen. 2:4).   Not much of a plan! Her job was to watch and wait.  Not much of a role.  Miriam must have wondered what good her quiet presence could possibly accomplish. 
            We, too, are called sometimes simply to be present with another who is as alone and vulnerable as a baby floating in a basket.  Some of you have stood vigil with friends and family in a hospital waiting room, just being there, not necessarily doing.  You have held the hand of a friend in trouble.  You have comforted a child who has experienced failure.  You have stood by and listened, just listened, to the outpouring of some anguish.  You have judged the right time to say something—but not much. 
            Now is the time, Open Table, early in our history, for us to consider ways we can be present to one another in those eventual times of tragedy or sorrow.  When one of us is hurting, physically or emotionally, what we may need from one another is simple, quiet, sensitive presence.  No platitudes that everything’s going to turn out just fine.  No advice when none has been requested.  No forced cheeriness that denies someone else’s honest feelings.  Sure, there are times when we need others to help us solve problems.  But most of the time we need to feel we have been heard.  Young Miriam stands at some distance from the child, possibly for a very long time, and speaks only once at just the right moment.  Notice she speaks in the form of a question: “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women?” At times it is appropriate to connect another to our ultimate source of help.  But often we simply stand alongside those in need or ask good questions that the other uses to reach her own conclusions.
            Thankfully, the ministry of presence is not a specialized gift for the few.  Some churches “deputize” and train certain lay leaders to care for the sick and bereaved in their midst.  Some churches have staff members hired for those purposes.  At least for now, each of us is charged with noticing others’ needs and reaching out to them.  All it takes is for us to be aware of another’s pain, and be willing not to run from that pain.  In our anesthetized culture we are not very practiced in being present with those who are hurting.  Our culture dispenses alcohol, food, entertainment, shopping, even sheer busyness as numbing agents that distract us from the hard work of facing life.  We can’t handle our own pain, and we certainly don’t want to be around the pain of others.  The most difficult aspect of my training as a hospital chaplain involved remembering that it was not my job to cheer up the patients I attended.  That training in listening went against my inclination to offer advice or cheer.  My instinct is to run from someone’s pain or anger.  But in ministry we sometimes are called just to BE with someone in pain.  Each of us is called, at times, into this kind of ministry.
            One woman tells the story of having to make a necessary trip to a dentist during the weeks she was spending at the hospital as her newborn child was slowly dying in the neonatal intensive care unit.  The only time this young mother had left the hospital in those weeks was for this emergency visit to the dentist.  Probably noting the woman’s exhaustion but not knowing her situation, the dentist asked her, “Are you okay?  Are you ill” to which the mother replied, “I’m not sick.  I’ve given birth to a child who has only days to live.”  And then her tears started to flow, unbidden.  Without a word, the dentist turned and walked out of the room.  At first the woman thought he’d gone to get some implement and would return.  Clearly he had not finished because she was left pinioned to the elevated chair with the dental tray in her lap.  But the dentist never came back.  She was left stranded in a dental chair because this decent man could not bear to be in the presence of that kind of pain. 
            When we minister to others in Christ’s name we sometimes have the very simple, very challenging responsibility of representing Christ’s abiding, unflinching presence. These are times to put aside our own needs to fix someone or to take care of our own discomfort.  These are times to watch, wait, listen with our whole heart, and perhaps speak at just the right time, in just a few words.  These can be sacred moments.
            A former seminary professor of mine illustrates the ministry of presence by telling about an unlikely exemplar of that gift.  Dr. Diane Lobody was raised in the Bronx.  Several family members worked in or near the World Trade Center.  On the day after 9/11, she was teaching a class at the seminary in Ohio, still waiting to hear if friends and family in New York had perished in the previous day's tragedy.  She tried to begin the class seated at the front of the room, but soon she was overcome with emotion.  Now in that particular class was a blind student whose seeing eye dog spent each class session beneath his master’s desk, as still and unobtrusive as the back packs that littered the classroom floor.  But as Diane began to cry, the dog left his master and approached the professor, placing his paw in her hand.  Instinctively, Diane began to pet the dog.  Gradually, Diane regained her composure and was able to continue the lesson.  And for the remainder of the class, the dog sat with her, his paw in her hand.  This service dog had sensed who really needed his presence that difficult day. 
            As disciples of Jesus ministering to a hurting world, you and I are sometimes called to simply bear witness to God’s loving presence beside a vulnerable soul among the dangerous river reeds.  We don’t need to offer simplistic solutions.  Sometimes, like Miriam, we can speak up at just the right moment.  We might recommend a spiritual book, invite a friend to Open Table, share a story from our own spiritual journey. Sometimes we suggest a creative solution so that a morally conflicted person can do the right thing.  But mostly Miriam shows me that we may simply need to be with one who is alone and vulnerable, be there when words fail, be there as a human manifestation of God’s loving presence. As Frederick Buechner has said, "It is no wonder that just the touch of another human being at a dark time can be enough to save the day."
            One reason we practice moments of silence together here is to resist our culture’s expectation that we fill every human encounter with words and noise.  The spiritually mature can appreciate the pregnant pause, can mine the silence for meaning, can draw strength and comfort from a gentle touch, a steady gaze.  The spiritually mature can feel deeply another’s heartbreak and yet remain bravely committed to standing alongside the heartbroken.
            This soul-satisfying solidarity is possible because we are not alone.  The Comforting Spirit that unites us is with us even as we are standing with others.  The Spirit of Jesus the Compassionate is with us “to the end of the age”—as he promised.  We are not alone among the river reeds.  We are not alone in illness, in loss, in financial distress, in emotional despair.  We are not alone.  Thanks to be to God!
Ever present God,
Teach us to wait and watch.
Grant us the loving patience to bear with those who are hurting, to be fully present with another in sorrow or pain.
May we be as Christ to all whom we meet. 
We pray in the name of Jesus and his enduring Spirit of compassion.   Amen.

Bellis, Alice Ogden.  Helpmates, Harlots, Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible.  Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox Press,  1994.

Buechner, Frederick.  Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized.  HarperCollins,  1988.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

But What Do YOU Think?

GOSPEL READING                                                                                                                             Matthew 16: 13-20
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

But What Do You Think?

            I suggested last Sunday that perhaps Jesus actually learned from the people to whom he ministered.  Today’s Gospel reading suggests Jesus also learned from his own disciples.  Jesus’s question to Peter—“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”— just might have been a genuine question.  As he and the disciples traveled into Caesarea Philippi, Jesus might have been curious about the scuttlebutt there.  What WERE people in that district saying about him?  He probably didn’t gather a 1st C. version of a focus group.  He probably cared not if his approval ratings were down.  He probably didn’t monitor the local pundits.  But maybe Jesus really did want to know what other people thought. 

            His follow up question to Peter might likewise have been a very genuine one for which Jesus needed an answer.  “But what do YOU think, Peter?” he adds.  We’ve been led to believe this second question was a teaching question to help Peter figure out a great truth.  Or a testing question to determine whether Peter, the prize student, deserved “the keys of the kingdom.”  But it is possible Jesus might have earnestly wanted and needed to know how Peter viewed him. 

            You see, group orientation rather than individualism marked the 1st Century Mediterranean psychology.  Cultural anthropologists tell us Jesus’s contemporaries depended on others to shape their identity.  Psychologically speaking, Jesus and company learned their identity primarily through their group—far more than we do today—we, who emphasize individuality, finding one’s self, differentiating self from others, being responsible for one’s own actions, thinking of each person as a “unique sphere of feeling and knowing, of judging and acting” (Malina 62).  Jesus lived in a culture in which one’s identity was forged in a group.  Our modern Western notion of individualism did not exist.  So it’s possible that Jesus needed Peter to tell him who he was.

            And it’s possible that the emerging postmodern culture is taking some of the edge off our excessive individualism.  One reason you and I gather here on Sundays is to say to one another—in the liturgy and songs and scriptures—“You are . . . a child of God.  You  are God’s own beloved.  You are a follower of Jesus.   You are the light of the world.  You are the salt of the earth.”  Here we tell each other who we are.  I need to hear that from you—as thoroughly individualistic as I am.  You need to hear that from me, as thoroughly 21st C. Western as you are.  That’s a counter-cultural practice we engage in here.

            But let me acknowledge that, though Jesus was a product of his culture, he also deviated from cultural norms and group think.  After all, he certainly opposed the authorities and defied others’ expectations.  In this dialogue Jesus wanted to know what the “others”—the larger culture—thought of him.  And Peter reported to him that he was thought to be in the prophetic tradition of John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or another prophet.  But Jesus also really seemed to want the individual’s answer.  Tradition remembers Peter as identifying Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Is that answer itself a product of an individual or the tradition or some combination?  Hard to say.  It’s certainly a phrase jam-packed with many possible meanings.   Though Jesus commends Peter, Jesus perhaps considers the answer incomplete and imperfect since he tells Peter at the close of that dialogue not to reveal his identity to anyone yet, perhaps implying Peter still doesn’t understand fully who Jesus is.

            But Jesus’s immediate response to Peter is this: “Flesh and blood have not revealed my identity to you.  God has revealed this to you.”  In other words, human culture/Peter’s in-group/his tradition could not have produced that insight.  Jesus is saying that only a personal, direct experience with God’s reality could have generated that kind of answer.  Jesus affirms that our own answers matter to him--even if they’re incomplete and imperfect. 

            And so today, though we value the Christian traditions passed down to us and we can never be fully independent of our own culture, we are also called upon to decide for ourselves who Jesus is.  When Jesus asks me the question, “Who do YOU say I am?” I take Jesus at face value here and trust he really does want to know what I think.  The living scriptures continue to ask you what YOU think.  It’s apparently important what individuals think—and that we can and should have different answers!  I imagine Jesus guiding us toward more authentic answers by adding, “I want you to know what others out there say.  But your answer should not stop there.  Don’t parrot back a phrase from a creed or an answer from your catechism.  Those are fine.  But what do YOU think?”  Twenty centuries later you and I are still being asked how we have EXPERIENCED the Christ event in our lives.  You and I are being asked what others say about Jesus—how books and religious leaders and parents and friends and the Church define Jesus.  But more importantly, we are invited to name who Jesus is for us out of our own lived experiences.  I think our different answers matter to Jesus the Christ because his identity is literally still, by the power of the Spirit, being forged to this day.

            Who do YOU say Jesus is?  That answer does not have to be Peter’s. Maybe the process of answering is what’s important.  Even the best of answers will simply lead to other questions.   But it’s a question worth devoting ourselves to.  It’s a question we continue to answer—both as a community of faith—and as individuals.  If you can at least make a tentative start on that answer, you, too, become responsible for building up what Jesus thought of as the realm of God.  Perhaps through our partial answers the very identity of Jesus is always being made. 
Who do YOU say Jesus is?

Malina, Bruce.  The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology.  
        Third Edition.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Lesson Jesus Had to Learn

GOSPEL READING                                                                                                Matthew 15: 21-28
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The Lesson Jesus Had to Learn
If you heard the Gospel Reading and were not bothered by the way Jesus and the disciples treated the Canaanite woman, you may need to hear it again, this time in a more familiar setting. 

Let’s imagine that a doctor in Mobile has received a grant to convert a bus into a free health clinic that travels to various under-served neighborhoods.  Stories of this doctor’s compassion spread, and soon large crowds gather whenever he and his 12-person medical team drive into a neighborhood.  One day a wild-eyed, dark-haired woman shoves her way to the front of the line.  At the open door of the bus, she screams for help.  “Ayúdame, Ayúdame!”she shouts up the steps of the mobile clinic.  “Mi hija esta muy inferma!”  The doctor’s assistants block her entrance and try to quiet the hysterical mother as others press in behind her.  While one assistant holds her back, another moves onto the bus and into the examining area where the doctor is lifting a child onto the makeshift examining table.  The assistant whispers, “Listen, Doc.  There’s a Mexican woman who broke the line outside.  Probably an illegal.  She’s creating a ruckus, hollering that her sick daughter needs help.  What do we do?”  The doctor, peering down the throat of the sick child before him, remarks with detachment, “Our mission is to our own citizens.”  At that moment the woman breaks free, scrambles aboard, and tumbles at the feet of the doctor.  “Señor, por favor.  Ayúdame.”  Clearly annoyed but returning his gaze to the child on the table, he replies: “Lady, it is not fair to waste my foundation’s resources on your kind.  It would be like . . . taking the children’s food and throwing it to the dogs.”  To his surprise, she counters, still on her knees and peering up at the examining table:  “, Señor.  But even the little dogs get to eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  The doctor and the woman at last lock eyes.  And then he laughs. “Lady, I have to hand it to you; you have gumption.  OK. OK.  As you wish.”  And in the next instant the woman’s daughter was being carried inside for treatment.  

Look back now at the story from Matthew.  What specifically bothers you about that story?  At least three things trouble me:
1)     I’m troubled because Jesus’s disciples, who are in the helping business, are annoyed by a woman seeking help.  Maybe they’ve simply succumbed to what some today call compassion fatigue.[i]  People who work on the front lines of charitable organizations can easily give in to this kind of despair and callousness--especially if they’ve signed up primarily to feel good about themselves and end up feeling used.  After all, needy people are often not pleasant.  I don’t blame the disciples for at times feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated.  The Bible doesn’t portray them as perfect and I don’t expect them to be.  And I find greater tolerance for the disciples when I admit that I can grow irritated with someone who shows up at church exhibiting annoying behavior—even though I know full well the church’s purpose is to minister to imperfect folks – like me. 
2)     But I do expect more of Jesus.  I’m troubled that he initially refuses to heal a child simply because she’s the wrong religion and race.  Over the centuries, commentators have tried to put a better spin on his words.  One of the oldest justifications for his rudeness is that Jesus was just testing the woman’s faith to see if she would persist, that he intended to heal her daughter all along.  That still doesn’t seem very compassionate.  Another theory is that Jesus actually compared the woman and her daughter to “little dogs,” which might have gentler connotations, but in the ancient and current Middle Eastern culture, calling someone a big dog or a little dog is never kindly intended.  Besides, other details in the story don’t support these attempts to make Jesus look better in this episode.  It seems more likely that the fully human Jesus, a product of his culture, like all of us, had some learning to do.  And as often happens, folks different from us often have important lessons for us.  So Jesus had to learn from a woman: a woman who broke social conventions by approaching a man in public, a foreigner, a non-Jew, a mother whose child was said to be controlled by a demonic spirit.  It was she who perhaps taught Jesus something so earth-shattering about God’s realm that a new religious trajectory began from their interaction.  More on that in a moment.
3)     I’m also a bit disappointed that Jesus was bested in this battle of wits.  He ALWAYS wins the war of words in the Gospels.  Try as they might, the learned Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes just can’t trip him up.  But an obnoxious foreign woman of an enemy race is the only person the Bible records as ever defeating Jesus verbally and changing his mind.  Midway into the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus veering from his original mission to the Jews only and crossing into new ethical, sectarian, and theological terrain even as he had crossed over into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon.  By the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is no longer ministering solely “to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt. 15: 24).  By the end of his ministry he tells his followers to bring good news into ALL the world and “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).  Jesus may owe his increasingly expansive vision of God’s mission to this outsider.  For me, Jesus was an extraordinary teacher not because he had all the answers but because he continued learning from others.  Jesus was a spiritual giant not because he was perfect and unchangeable but because he grew in his relatedness to others and could humbly change his mind and hear God continue to speak . . . especially in voices accented by difference. 

Like the earlier disciples, we may want to protect Jesus from the Canaanite woman and ignore her demands.  But she is shouting at us, absolutely shouting.  And she deserves to be heard today just as she deserved to be heard by Jesus back then, just as others today deserve to be heard when the church or the larger culture refuse them healing and wholeness and full access to the Table.  If Jesus can hear her, or an undocumented Mexican mother in Mobile, or other modern-day counterparts, so can we.  Think of other folks who are shouting to be heard by religious leaders today.  Think of other people on the margins who have the temerity to claim that the Church include and respect them.  Their ways may be different, but their words may liberate us all.

Think of the families we recently hosted through our participation in a fine organization that serves homeless families.  A few weeks ago eleven volunteers from Open Table gathered at another partnering church to serve a meal to three homeless families.  We were anticipating another heart-warming chance to make new friends with those can teach us with the wisdom from life’s margins, and who might appreciate the encouragement we offer as we enjoy an evening meal together.  But unexpectedly someone arrived to conduct a parenting class that, we felt, demeaned and stereotyped the families we were there to support.  The good this gentleman intended to do was not done—perhaps because he did not listen to the people he was trying to help.  He asked not a single question, spoke not a word to the families before launching into his lecture. He did not hear what the three single mothers were saying with their eyes as they dodged the speaker’s gaze and focused instead on their hungry children clamoring for their attention.  He did not listen to the embarrassed faces of the older children that shouted to him to stop shaming their parents with a lecture that implied they knew nothing about parenting.  He was deaf to the crying toddlers that told all of us a lecture on parenting was not meeting the real needs of families who had no place to call their own and little time just to be a family together.  Even with the best of intentions, religious leaders and groups can aim to heal and end up doing harm . . . when we don’t listen.  It’s a lesson for me and for us to bear in mind.

Think about the way the Church has for so long resisted listening to—really listening to-- gay and lesbian Christians, to women, to people with disabilities, to racial minorities.  Think about the soul-crushing silencing the Church has enforced against certain persons.  There are subtle ways even an Open and Affirming church like ours can fail to hear all voices.  It is the responsibility of all of us to speak our truth and hear another’s truth.  One way we do that is with gentleness so that we don’t declare by our vehemence that we will be upset by another point of view, and by bearing in mind there are ALWAYS other points of view. Our diversity at Open Table (theologically, culturally) is a gift, not an annoyance.

We’ve been speaking about the Canaanite woman—but it’s her child who needs healing.  Her child, never even seen in the story, is even more marginalized than her mother.  And the daughter has one more strike against her: she is said to suffer from demonic control.  Some scholars explain the New Testament belief in demonic powers as a 1st century experience that evil can be collective, not just individual, and often generated by system-wide oppression.  Persons living under the control of the Roman Empire became so psychologically and economically abused that many fell victim to physical ailments.  Certainly we understand the toll that stress can take on our physical health, and we can appreciate that sometimes cumulative stress is not the fault of one individual but rather of our whole invisible cultural milieu.  Jesus may have performed much of his healing by simply naming Rome’s demonic domination system for what it was and thus freeing the oppressed spiritually if not physically from the grip of that system.  The fact that Jesus and the unnamed Canaanite woman speak metaphorically about bread when she begs for her daughter’s healing suggest that her daughter’s condition might be poverty or poverty-related—and that poverty is a sign of that oppressive system that leads to economic, psychological, and spiritual disease.  At any rate, it’s interesting that Jesus associates healing with bread when he says healing the child would be like giving the children’s bread to the dogs.  At the end of his ministry, of course, he will break bread with his followers and tell them while breaking a loaf of bread that his body might be physically broken, but his spirit would endure in them.

However, in this moment Jesus himself had to hear and see the humanity in this foreign woman before her demon-possessed/system-oppressed daughter could be healed.  The healer had to be healed of his prejudice and converted to a broader understanding of God’s intentions.  His willingness to change shows us our own potential for growth.

At Open Table, we are hoping to cultivate a practice of holy and humble listening because we believe everyone has a unique perspective that only she or he can contribute.  Often the person most different from us has the perspective we most need to hear.  If the early Gospel writers weren’t afraid to show Jesus changing his mind, if Jesus himself was willing to be taught by the least of the least, then you and I can rest assured that someone who seems very different from us just might lead us to deeper faith.  May we, too, hear these words: “Great is your faith!”  That’s Gospel good news.  Jesus changed.  So can we.  Thanks be to God!

Healer of our Lives, we pray that we may listen to you speaking to us through others.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen