I don’t know about you, but this summer has been hard. If you listen to any news reports – whether it is in print, radio, television, or social media it has been hard. One would have had to been on a news fast, removed from all contact with the outside world to be oblivious to all that has been going on. Hatred, bitterness, anxiety, and violence seem to be permeating our society, here in the U.S. and in the world. Rockets launched into neighborhoods and school yards in Gaza and Israel; Christians in fear of their lives in Iraq; tear gas on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri; and children held like prisoners on our borders.
All of these events make me feel uncomfortable in my safe life, far from the hardships and heartbreak of others around the globe. Why do these news flashes continue to interrupt my summer? Where is Jesus in the midst of all the chaos of the summer of 2014?
According to the second portion of today’s gospel, Jesus has gone on retreat. It’s summertime. He’s just done a tremendous amount of ministry – feeding 5,000, walking on water, stilling a storm, preaching and teaching all over the countryside with crowds not letting up on him. He wants a vacation! I would suspect most of us understand that any job (or ministry) can be exhausting and one needs some time away.
So Jesus has gone far from home to a place that no one will know who he is. He is seeking some respite time, a place to pray and play with the disciples – he’s on vacation with the guys in a foreign land – Vegas? Rio? San Tropes? Gentile territory!
Yet he cannot escape the world around him. Along comes a woman – a Canaanite women, at that – barging in to their men’s retreat. This Syrophoenician woman lives on the other side of the tracks in Jesus’ day: pagan, female, foreigner. But most of all she is a desperate mother seeking help for her baby. And the presence of this unrelenting, howling woman is too much to bear. Kind of like the news feed across my computer and airways – too much to bear, but too much to ignore.
But Jesus is silent. We all know how bothersome it is to be doing something privately and to be interrupted by someone from the outside. It’s hard to ignore. She’s willing to receive less than given a dog to support her child. Finally, the disciples beg Jesus to do something; they just wanted it to stop.
So Jesus attempts to send the woman away. But she persists, because she sees who he really is. Finally, Jesus points out the obvious to her: she is not who he has been sent to save. But she sees clearly that Jesus has been sent by God to preserve life. Her faith is great and she is not going to give up. Her life is worth it too.
Jesus never turns anyone away. Why does he in this story today? Is Jesus really trying to ignore her? Or is he testing her, and his disciples? Is he trying to get the disciples to expose their racism, only to pull the rug out from under them to suddenly heal her daughter? Does Jesus teach his countrymen a lesson about God’s all-embracing love and grace?
The despair of this woman seems to be the despair of so many in our world today. Perhaps we can learn from her stubborn, unstoppable love and be reminded of God’s love for all of us – Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, black, white, male, female, young, old.
This week our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, urged Episcopalians to observe today:
as a day of prayer for those in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East living in fear of their lives, livelihoods, and ways of living and believing.
Her call for prayer is in response
to violence in Iraq that has included the slaying of Christians, Yazidis, and other Iraqi minorities; the destruction and looting of churches, homes, and places of business; and the displacement of thousands under the threat of death.
Displacement is not only occurring in the Middle East. From a statement in July, Bishop Katharine also spoke of the border crisis in this country:
The influx of vulnerable people from Central America, including unaccompanied minors as well as mothers with children continues to challenge the United States to respond compassionately. Like Sudanese or Syrian refugees, these people are fleeing hunger, violence, and the fear of rape, murder, and enslavement. The violence in Central America has escalated significantly in recent months, particularly as a result of gangs and trafficking in drugs and human beings. These people are literally fleeing for their lives.
Of those crossing the border this year, more than 57,000 have been unaccompanied children.
What are we to do with all of this? Perhaps have faith. Accept the grace that God gives to all of us. And pray.
Eric Law, an Episcopal priest and author writes:
The faith of the Syrophoenician woman was her ability to get even Jesus to think outside the box of cultural, societal, and political limits. She challenged Jesus to move beyond thinking that he was a Jewish teacher/healer and therefore, he could heal only Jews. She convinced Jesus that even what he considered ‘crumbs’ could be the beginning of extending his healing ministry to all nations.
We hear this in Paul’s letter to the Romans; he speaks of the irrevocability of God’s gifts and calling. The Kingdom of God is for everyone – even “those” people – no matter who “those” people may be. God’s gifts are for everyone. God seeks the best in every situation, even the difficult ones. God has given us all that we need. Our call is to share what we have with others – whether it be food, water, safety, or freedom. Through God’s grace we can be examples of reconciliation in a world gone out of control.
Eric goes on to say:
In the midst of international conflicts over who controls which piece of land, who belongs to which country, and what resource belongs to whom, where are the faithful people, like this woman, who confront the powerful with the basic message of abundance? The message is: There is enough if only we share just our crumbs. When are we going to realize that this earth has enough land for everyone on earth to have a safe home? When are we going to grasp the fact that the earth produces enough food to feed everyone on earth? All we need to do is stop protecting, stop fighting, and stop sharing!
There are crumbs enough to go around for all of us. If we dare to call ourselves, and one another, children of God, perhaps we will find Jesus in these unexpected places. The places where we even might try to escape this summer or the coming months. The world is not going to go away, nor will the questions that call us to respond to those in human need.
Our Psalm today speaks of blessing and unity. Author Brenè Brown calls us to courage. She says:
When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginative pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: we can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion.
Although the events of this world may seem at a distance, the choices we make in our lives have consequences far beyond ourselves. Our words and actions can make the world a more dangerous and threatening place; we can instead choose our words carefully and listen for the truth. We can choose love over fear, abundance over scarcity. And that takes courage. Bishop Katharine calls us to prayer. Perhaps this should be our prayer for the coming days and weeks as this summer of 2014 begins to come to an end – from BCP p. 815:
in whose perfect kingdom
no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness,
no strength known but the strength of love:
So mightily spread abroad your Spirit,
That all peoples may be gathered
under the banner of the Prince of Peace,
as children of one Father;
to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
*A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT, August 17, 2014.
 August 12, 2014 press release from Episcopal News Service
 August 17, 2014 church bulletin insert from The Episcopal Church