This is a very old story. For more than 2,000 years people have heard this same Gospel story endlessly. Nothing changed. The same story. Quite boring, irrelevant… except for one thing. The only thing new or different is what’s going on for us, the hearers of the story. We, the hearer, are in a new space, like never before.
In our Rule of Life we say, “These hearts of ours are not empty vessels but inner worlds alive with images, memories, experiences and desires.”[i] God’s revelation to us will be a kind of synergy between what is going on with a very old scriptural story, and what is going on today in our own heart and imagination[ii]. And that creates a whole new story.
So we have Jesus in the region of Tyre, a town on the Mediterranean coast of southern Lebanon. A woman comes up to him. She is from Syrophoenicia, the Roman province of Syria. She is a long way from her homeland. Is she without a country? We don’t know. She may be without hope. She is certainly a person vulnerable and desperate or she would never, never alone have approached a man, a Jewish man, especially as she is a Gentile woman and a foreigner.
We take in this pathetic Gospel story in light of what is happening in our own world today. I – perhaps like you – have haunting images from the media of suffering, traumatized children: in Israel/Palestine, in the Ukraine, in Chile, Haiti, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, and in so many more places. Mothers holding suffering children, mothers standing at territorial borders trying to get out, or trying to get in. These are images evoked from this Gospel story about this desperate mother and her sick child.
There is no father in this Gospel story. Why is this mother alone with her suffering child? Here’s my own stream of consciousness. There are so many families who are separated and broken because a parent is in prison, or because of a parent’s death or divorce, or because a parent is in active addiction, or because a parent is working away from home. This mother almost certainly has more needs than the healing of her child. The desperate mother is alone.
We read that the child has a demon. The language used in the Greek is imprecise. Is this an extreme spiritual oppression, or is this a physical or mental illness that defies remedies, such as they are. What we do know is this mother is desperate. And so for us today: there are so many mothers in our own country and in countries around the world who share this story and this desperation.
And then, in this Gospel story, there is of course Jesus. Jesus who as much as calls this mother a dog. Then we read of his conversion. Jesus changes. Jesus recognizes something worthy in this desperate mother. Jesus accedes to the mother’s request. What do we do with that? What invitation does that give to us? At the very least we see how Jesus’ heart is broken open. So we pray our hearts out.
We have been left with this very old story, retold, retold for century upon century. And we have been left with the Holy Spirit who, in Jesus’ words, “will lead us into all truth.”[iii] The scriptural text is a written icon, a window through which to experience life today from a new perspective, from God’s perspective today. This then becomes the scripture of your life.
[i] SSJE Rule of Life: Chapter 20 – Holy Scripture: “…These hearts of ours are not empty vessels but inner worlds alive with images, memories, experiences and desires. It is the Spirit dwelling within us who brings the revelation of Scripture into a vital encounter with our inmost selves, and brings to birth new meaning and life. Gradually we become aware of the deep resources of truth that this inner process of revelation has formed in us, and are able to draw upon them for our own needs and for the building up of others….”
[ii] Praying with the Scriptures in this way is an ancient monastic practice traditionally called Lectio Divina.
[iii] John 16:13-15.
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