Stories Seldom Heard
Mark 7:24 -
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.
I especially would like to welcome the parishioners of Our Lady of
Lourdes Parish in Atlanta, Georgia.
Anne Lamott is a well-known author.
She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, many of
Anne’s books have been on the “New York Best Sellers List.” One of
her books is entitled Help, Thanks, Wow. It doesn’t sound
like a religious book or a book about prayer, but it is. Help: Anne
prays for strength and courage to meet the difficulties in her
life. Thanks: God hears her prayers. Wow: God does more than Anne
could ever imagine. Help, Thanks, Wow.
sounds like a good title for the
Syrophoenician woman’s story too.
When we meet the Syrophoenician woman
she is certainly in need of help. Her daughter is seriously ill.
We understand the woman’s desperation. If someone we love were
suffering physically or emotionally we would do anything in our
power to help them find healing. In fact, recently, a friend of
mine whose daughter was going through a tough divorce said: “Even
though the doctor cuts the umbilical cord, your child is always a
part of your life. It’s as though you wear their heart on your
sleeve.” Our children’s joys are our joys. Their agonies are your
agonies. Their transitions, divorces, child-birthings, successes,
promotions are all part of our lives. This is true for us and it
was especially true in Jesus’ culture. In fact, it was even more
pronounced because childbirth and life were so precarious in those
However, even knowing this, it still
must have taken much prayer and courage for the Syrophoenician woman
to approach Jesus and ask for help. To ask help from anyone is hard
even if we are asking a family member or a friend. No one wants to
admit their neediness. But nothing was going to stop this woman
because the stakes were too high. Her little daughter, her own
flesh and blood was seriously ill.
The woman must have felt she was
walking into a lion’s den when she went to the house where Jesus was
staying. He was not only a stranger, but also there was a history
of bad blood that marked the relationship between the Jews and
Gentiles. That alone could have been enough to cause the woman to
second guess her decision, but there was more. This preacher had
traveled to Tyre, a Gentile region, to secure his anonymity. Right
before this passage Jesus was teaching, healing and preaching. So
he went to Tyre for some peace and quiet. Even he could feel
preached out, prayed out and tuckered out.
Some people say that God is the gift
of desperation. In other words, once we have tried every creative
plan we can think of and all of our best ideas have failed, it’s
only then that we turn wholeheartedly to God. Some people might
question if this kind of prayer is really prayer, but that’s not a
question for Jesus. Jesus didn’t ask the Gentile woman how often
she prayed or to whom she prayed. After their initial
confrontational conversation all he said was, “Because of your
words, your daughter is cured.” What an amazing story! What a
trusting response from the woman! The woman didn’t ask for proof.
She had no evidence. She just trusted.
She believed more in Jesus than she
did in the death-dealing powers that were encircling her daughter
each day. She might have been desperate, but she trusted him and
his power to heal, more than her fears or the demons that threatened
her daughter’s life. She didn’t need the whole loaf of bread. She
was convinced that even a crumb from the table would be more than
enough. And she was right!
It’s a tough story because we don’t
like to hear of Jesus being so harsh and prejudiced, especially with
a woman, a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon. Even
though it’s so unlike the other scripture passages, it’s still
disconcerting to hear of Jesus’ impatience and blindness. But the
woman’s faith changed everything. “Because of your words, you may
Her faith changed Jesus’ mind and
because of that she’s our ally. She’s a Gentile like us and an
ordinary person. She’s a person in need of help, help that only
Jesus can give. Her circumstances might be somewhat different from
ours, but she’s our ally because like her many of us or our family
members are threatened by demons. These demons disrupt our lives
and destroy relationships. Unresolved anger, anxiety and fears can
cripple us and control our actions. She is also our ally because
she teaches us about God - about surrender and openness to God’s
Spirit. She teaches us what it means to have our love for another
person drive our prayer, deepen our faith. She reminds us that when
we pray for others, even if they are at a distance, healings do
occur. She teaches us that healing doesn’t always come the way we
expect. Jesus didn’t go to her home. He didn’t touch her child.
He didn’t demand the demons to leave her daughter. No, it wasn’t
the way she thought it would work or the way she had planned if
Jesus even responded to her plea. Yet, she trusted and healing
Don’t you wonder what she was
thinking and feeling as she left Jesus to walk home? We know the
end of the story, but she didn’t. Yet, she believed in him. Like
the woman, we too, pray and trust in Jesus’ promise. Even though we
don’t know the end results of many of our prayers, we too, believe.
The Syrophoenician woman is our true
ally. She reminds us once again that God does not play by our rule
book. God is not limited by our expectations. The God we pray to
isn’t a magician who will pull peace out of a hat. God is not a
genie who will make our every wish, even the good ones, come true on
our time schedule or in the way we expect. Rather God is a God of
mystery. Every time God fails to meet our expectations another one
of our idols is destroyed. With each failed expectation, we are
lured deeper into the mystery of God.
The Syrophoenician woman is a great
teacher. She teaches us that we are blessed when we do not let our
expectations blind us to what God is doing in our lives. We are
blessed if we keep a list of what God is doing and forget what we
think God should be doing. We are blessed if we can let go of our
stingy imaginations and be surprised by God’s vision for us. We are
blessed if we can revise our expectations and trust that God will
never abandon us, especially in our darkest hour.
The story of the Syrophoenician woman
ends rather abruptly and without much elaboration. But that doesn’t
keep us from imagining what she heard when she arrived home. Cries
of joy and celebration -- prayers and songs of thanksgiving must
have met her as she entered the courtyard. If the Syrophoenician
woman was with us today and we asked her to simply tell us of her
experience, she might describe it in three simple words. She might
use Anne Lamott’s description of prayer: Help, Thanks, Wow.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green
and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a
monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a
Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered
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