We are all beggars
Shortly before Martin Luther died, a piece of paper containing his handwriting was found in his pocket. Among other words on the paper were these: “This is true. We are all beggars.” (James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1986, 2003), 297.
We are all beggars. That came to mind this week as I reflected upon desperation. That is what I hear in the Canaanite woman’s plea that Jesus heal her daughter of demons. Desperation. Begging. In great despair and need the Canaanite woman calls out to Jesus. She will not let her plea go unnoticed. She shouts. She crosses boundaries and breaks rules. She kneels. She begs.
What drove her that day to behave in such a way? Was it her failed attempts to help her own child, her weariness, was she at the end of her rope? Had she heard the rumors of a Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth who taught and said things such as :
7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8.
Had she heard about Jesus welcoming children and sinners and standing up to Pharisees? Had she heard of the miracles of feeding thousands with just a few fish and loaves? Had stories of Jesus made their way up north of how he healed the sick, calmed seas, and spoke truth to power? What had she heard and what did she know of Jesus? Or did she even know anything?
There are many unanswered questions. Yet, we do know that in her deep need, the Canaanite woman pesters and persists. She is unwilling to be dismissed or set aside. She acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Son of David. Have mercy on me. She begs.
She has strikes against her; female, Canaanite, Gentile. And she is desperate. She won’t let it go. This desperation is apparent. She gets on her knees. She begs “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”. “Lord help me”. And when Jesus brushes her off with the line that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, she kneels before him calling upon him as Lord. Lord, help me.
It’s not the plan, it’s not my purpose, it wouldn’t be fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Jesus’ response to her seems harsh or maybe he’s just worn down and worn out, there are lots of questions I have about that as well. When Jesus responds by comparing helping her to giving scraps to dogs it doesn’t deter her. She won’t let that answer just stand. She is relentless. She counters with, “even the puppies get the crumps from the table”.
And it is only her, in all of Matthew’s gospel whose faith is acknowledged as being “mega”- great. Great is your faith! That is how this back and forth dialog ends. Woman, Canaanite, Gentile, foreigner, enemy- great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed. Confusing, mysterious, odd… Yes. I appreciated this devotion by a colleague who notes how offensive Jesus' response is.
One commentator noted, “It is the only time in scripture that Jesus loses an argument, and he loses it to a woman who was a triple loser herself--woman, foreigner, and ancient enemy.” (John Petty). This is also the only time in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus describes someone’s faith as being “great”.
This week I struggled with the writing of much of this. There are so many questions and nuances. As Pastor Dave Risendal shares in his devotion linked above this is a disturbing and confusing text and yet also grace filled.
And as I have reflected upon her desperation and my own, along side the challenges and desperation of our time there have been many tears and much grace. I wondered how often the Canaanite woman might have cried in her fear, sorrow, despair of a daughter demon possessed? It got me reading about tears in my blog post writing, rabbit trail.
Did you know not all tears are the same, our tears can help connect us and emotional tears may help you? (read the full article here). I shed a lot of tears this week, for a variety of reasons, so it was good to read this article also about how crying may benefit your health.
Kyrie Eleison. Lord have mercy. Criste Eleison. Christ have mercy. There is something about the Taize song above that seems to have that calling out to God in our deep need. Reflecting upon a time of my own crying out in desperation many years ago, I was reminded that indeed we are all beggars. It has also been a time of deep gratitude for the grace that I have experienced as the tears have been of both sorrow and joy. For many years I have called tears “holy water” they connect us to God and one another. Another pastor I know calls them “liquid grace”. May your tears connect you to the Holy One who hears your cries.