The Rev. Sheila M. Scott, Deacon
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
No doubt, over the past week, many of you have seen on TV or on social media the heartbreaking image of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian boy’s lifeless body lying face down on the Turkish beach, after the boat they were in trying to flee Syria, overturned, and his father could not save him, his brother and their mother from drowning. It was a haunting image that should galvanize the world to work towards change, towards peace.
It is not like we needed to see one more innocent life lost. Unfortunately we are witnesses of these losses almost on a daily basis around the world, our country and even in our own backyards; but it was a stark reminder of just how universal the struggle for survival is, and how devastating the consequences of war and violence are.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard that a Gentile woman, of Syro-phoenician origin came to Jesus, and begged him to heal her daughter who had an unclean spirit. It was a very courageous act from this woman, since she had two strikes against herself to begin with. She was a woman, and she was a Gentile, asking a Jewish Rabbi to heal her daughter.
Courageous, yes, when you are faced with no choice, or with a life or death situation, you gather the courage that is needed to take care of the child, the family you love. As a mother, she was willing to face the consequences of her bold act of speaking to a Jewish Rabbi, just like the thousands of families who flee for their lives, face the dangers of their journeys, for a chance to find safety and live in peace.
To be honest, I struggle with Jesus’ response to this woman “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. It is not exactly the response I would have expected from Jesus…
We Americans love our dogs, think of them as our companions, we love them as our own families, and we would do just about anything for them, but that was not the case in Jesus’ time. Being called a dog was a grave insult. So why would Jesus want to insult this woman?
I struggled with bible scholars various explanations of this. Some believe that Jesus was just testing the woman’s faith, while others believe Jesus himself initially believed that the Jews were the chosen people, the children of God, and they deserved God’s blessings, above all others, but his heart was changed when he realized by God’s grace, that all people deserve God’s blessings, not just the Jews.
I would like to think it was an epiphany for Jesus; that his earthly mission is for all the children of God. I may be wrong, but I do not believe Jesus ever asks anybody that he touches or interacts with what their religion is, what they believe in, he heals all those who come to him in faith. The next person that is brought to Jesus, is a Gentile man who is deaf and with speech impediment. Jesus heals the man, he opens the man’s ears and releases his tongue, so he can hear the word of God and proclaim it.
While we may think we Christians are special, and we deserve special treatment, we need to understand, God has no favorites. In God’s eyes, all humanity is special and deserves respect.
That brings me back to the refugees, whether they are fleeing violence in Central American countries and trying to find refuge in the US, or Syrian, Iraqi, or Afghan refugees fleeing horrendous conditions, war, or genocide by the hands of ISIS, and are trying to find safety in Europe, they are all God’s children, and deserve respect.
You heard me express my discontent with the way many Americans responded last year to the refugee situation at our southern border. Today, I have to tell you, I am ashamed of the response of the current Hungarian government and some of the Hungarian people to the refugee crises unfolding there. Their treatment of the refugees is inexcusable. It is very sad what is happening in Hungary, more so, because in 1956, during the Hungarian revolution, a quarter million Hungarians sought asylum and were welcomed in many countries around the world.
Hardness of heart is a disease that knows no borders, it is seemingly everywhere.
Be it race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, we have no right to discriminate; but we do, on a daily basis, here in America, in Europe and all over the world. Injustices happen every day, not just far away, but right here, in our city. Wishing and hoping for these things to go away, and resolve themselves is useless.
Prayer and faith alone does not lead to results, only action will. As the reading from the letter of James says: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them. “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill”, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
Should we throw up our hands and say, the problems of violence, homelessness, poverty, racial discrimination are too great, too hard to make an impact on, so we will not work on them? If we say we are Jesus’ followers, we all need to act!
There are many great local, national and international initiatives that hold great promise for a brighter future, but they all have one thing in common, they need dedicated, determined people to put their God given talents to work to make this world a better place for all God’s children.
Will you be one of them?
I would like to close with a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero: “We know that every effort to better society especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us”