Love drove her.
Of course it did — an elemental, primal kind of love of a parent for a child, a mother for a daughter.
- And, no doubt, lingering memories of a better time.
- And hope for all that child could be, surely would have been, had not a demon taken possession of what was not the demon’s to take.
- And courage, yes courage to step outside of one’s prescribed role, to push against the deeply embedded expectations of others: the utterly courageous audacity to cross any boundary to do whatever it took, wherever it took her, to get what was needed most: this wondrous healing.
But behind it all was a clear, burning love which would not let go until it got what it came for at the hands and the heart of Jesus.
And yes, I cannot help but wonder what it was that Jesus saw and heard and felt when he turned to this one who had invaded his privacy to get what she needed most. I cannot help but wonder what crossed Jesus’ mind as he looked down to see this stranger, a woman, and a Gentile woman at that, bowed at his feet so that all he could see was the back of her head, so that all he could hear was the pleading in her voice.
- No one knows, of course, beyond what Jesus says here which seems to dismiss her before she even begins.
- No one knows for sure the tone of his voice or the intent of his challenge.
- All that we know is that the woman who has come out of love and hope rooted in courage will not leave until she has what she came to receive.
- Indeed, all that we know is that this woman’s love appears to open up even Jesus himself to the unending abundance of what God intends for the world… and that even the left over ‘crumbs’ of God’s transforming love will be more than enough.
So of course I know that the call for you and me as followers of Jesus is to pattern our lives after his. And yet today, I do find myself paying close attention to this ‘Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin.’ I find myself wondering at her resilience, her willingness to go up against seemingly insurmountable odds for the sake of love, not to mention the hope and the courage which brought her love to life. Indeed, I find myself wondering how might our own worlds also be transformed if we, likewise, were just driven by such love?
- Indeed, what might that look like even now in this particular confusing, demanding, exhausting time?
- What would it look like if we were able to recognize and name what and/or who we are called to love and to stay laser focused on simply, only that?
- What risks might we take, what barriers might we transcend, what world views might we also change if we were sent out by that kind of love?
And oh, I am grateful now that I cannot help but recognize at least glimmers of this kind of love lived into and out among us as it is focused and honed by our own lives… by the places where we have come up against challenges of our own, the sort that perhaps threatened to break us, too, but which somehow we overcame for the sake of someone else, or maybe many such someone’s…
Here is where I got a sense of this just yesterday. I was standing in line at the grocery store. The one checking us out was a young man, a boy, really, in training, an older woman at his back helping him to find the price of produce, giving the code number for bananas, assisting with the little device to take off the plastic casing which protects valuable items from being stolen. His pace was slow and the wait was long, giving me plenty of time to observe others who were also waiting. Directly in front of me was another young man. His t-shirt told me he works a similar kind of job. As the cashier handed him his change, he leaned in close with a word of encouragement, a simple offering of wisdom. He knew, you see. He knew and clearly remembered what a first day in such a job was. And that experience had somehow shaped him tenderly so that he could see what such a first day was in another. Driven by love? Probably not. But certainly by kindness which had been shaped by his own life experience. As we all are at our best, it seems to me.
And this, taken from the hard lived experience of my own life this last month or so. This with no clear resolution or direction yet.
My mother has lived with me, you see. Age and illness has made it harder for her to do some things she once did, but still she has plugged along, tending her own needs most of the time. Only a few weeks ago she fell. She broke a bone in her back which required surgery and coming out of that she was simply not strong enough to come directly home.
And so she has spent the last several weeks in a rehab facility. And whatever else may be true, this has been an eye-opening time for me. Oh, as a pastor I have spent many an hour in nursing homes visiting countless members of my congregations. I have gone, I hope, with a heart full of kindness, but it goes without saying that I have never felt so responsible for the well being of any one of them, never had the same kind of need to worry or to notice as deeply what was becoming of them when they were there. At least not like this.
So it is as we come to the end of this time of strengthening for her that I have a deep sense of clarity at how such institutions which are short staffed and whose staff are never paid nearly enough for what they must do, tend to no longer truly ‘see’ the beloved ones in their care, for all that they are in all that their precious lives have held. They do not, or they cannot, or some simply care not to really see the ones before them as those who are deserving of God’s love through them.
Oh, this is not true of all who find themselves working there, of course, and there have been bright shining exceptions for which we are grateful. Even so, because of love which is driving me now, I know what I did not more fully. I have seen and felt what it is to be dismissed, disregarded even, and I wonder what and where and how I will yet be called to transcend barriers for the sake of God’s beloved in such places.
Because this is how can work with all of us, it seems to me. Our hearts are broken and broken open (as was so with the woman in today’s encounter with Jesus) and then God has a chance to light a fire within us, to move us forward out of love for the vulnerable. Whoever they may be.
Indeed, I think of one I know whose child was born too soon and who spent many a day at his bedside in the neonatal intensive care unit before finally bringing him home. Today she is training to be a NICU nurse herself.
I think of the one who lost a child to a heroin overdose and who has since devoted her life’s energy to educating about drug addiction and advocating for families who find themselves where she has been.
I think of so many of you and and your stories and the particular loves which called you first to ministry — how love drives you each one in varying directions, but how in the end it that love finds the same root and source.
And yes, today I wonder how it is for you:
- What or who has it been for you in these last many months or even these last few days?
- What has so broken your heart that you are broken wide open in such ways that you find yourself driven by love to change what matters for the most vulnerable ones in your care. Because it doesn’t happen just once of course. No, it happens again and again as God leads us out to live in ever greater love for the world…
- A child or other loved one ‘possessed by a demon’…
- A young man on his first day on the job…
- The frail elderly in facilities everywhere…
- Or is it those lying in the path of or the wake of a storm or an earthquake?
- Those fleeing for their lives as their worlds collapse?
- Those who grieve seeming without end the many losses of this past year?
Who or what is it for you right now?
Today’s encounter between a woman driven by love and Jesus teaches us that God’s gifts are abundantly enough for all, to be sure. It also serves as stark reminder that those of us who also find ourselves driven by such love, even or especially such particular love as has been awakened in us in the midst of our own lives, we are called to keep moving forward beyond all the ways and places we have moved before. For the sake of a specific love, perhaps. But more than this for the sake of all the ones who are so beloved.
And yes, for the woman in the story now her love was a particular one for a particular child. But do you suppose she ever again looked at another mother in the same place as she found herself then in the same way? And don’t you wonder what she did with that deep compassion and hope grounded in what could be for those who suffer so?
Yes, of course we are to pattern our lives after Jesus. But I cannot help but wonder now if that was not exactly what the woman in the story was doing as she acted out of great love. And put herself at risk to do so.
For that is what Jesus did again and again in all the stories we hear about him. This was most especially true on the cross, to be sure, but it was also so in countless ways as he encountered the world on countless days before then.
Even as he finally did in the story before us now.