Matthew 15:21-28

Hang In There

August 20, 2017

 

            There is a  popular cross stitch with the picture of the cat hanging on to a rope that says: “When you get to the end of your rope – tie a knot and hang on”. Some of you may have that cross stitch on your wall. Some folks, when asked how they are oing, will answer “I’m hanging on”.

Hanging on.

“When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on”

            I think that cross stitch is popular because there are many times we find ourselves “hanging on the end of the rope” – not able to do much more than hold on for dear life.

 What can you do when you have endured a long period of hopelessness and you are about to lose hope? What do you do when every attempt to find help has ended in disappointment? What do you do when you need so badly for something to happen and it doesn’t happen? What do you do when something that was very important in your life is taken away? What do you do when it seems that your prayers get only as high as the ceiling and then stop – and that God is not listening at all? What do you do when things get so bad that you just want to curl up and die?

You hang in there. You keep the faith.

No matter how hard it is, the secret is to not give up , even if all you can do is “tie and know and hold on.”

Our scripture passage for today tells us a story of a woman, a mother, who came to Jesus who was certainly at the end of her rope, who was certainly just hanging on.

At first glance this passage makes the Jesus look  like something of a jerk My first reaction is to want to find some way of explaining away this conversation that will put Jesus in a bit more flattering light.The commentaries I looked at were all over the place in trying  to explain Jesus’ behavior and His words here.

Some have said that Jesus was just having a bad day.He and the twelve had gone north, out of Galilee. He had been having trouble escaping the demanding crowds; things were dangerous politically (King Herod had recently beheaded his cousin, John the Baptist); he was frustrated in his efforts to make any headway with the religious establishment and he was regularly misunderstood by his own closest followers. Now, he heads out of town for a little “R&R,” a place where perhaps he could get some peace and quiet – but no – he is confronted by this insistent Momma, and instead of reacting to her as he normally might, first he ignores her, then he tries to blow her off, then he insults her, and finally, he wises up and acts decent again.  

A bad day. Even the Son of God is entitled to one every so often. That is what some commentators say.

I’m not so sure of that explanation.

Other commentators say that this bantering back and forth between Jesus and the woman was merely the Lord’s way of teaching something. By His initial reluctance to care for any Gentile, he was simply giving voice to the not-so-quietly harbored feelings of his Jewish followers. By finally coming around and acceding to the woman’s cry for help, Jesus was demonstrating the inclusiveness of God’s love and thereby taught his disciples that racism had no place in the Kingdom. This encounter was simply one more of Jesus’ parables, this time, come to life.

 I read  story a story that helped this passage make sense to me. It was a story he had heard from a Medical Missionary to India. She told of a time she was a physician’s assistant in India 30 years ago. They had been trying for a long time to encourage the Harijan (the outcastes) to come to the clinic, as they (being toilet sweepers) were at high risk for disease. The Harijan, for whatever reasons, at that time were willing participants in the caste system of India. They had their own interior and social structures for dealing with it. They were comfortable knowing their place in the system – and were not willing to fight for a better place. But one day a Harijan finally did come to the clinic. The very fact that he appeared there, among the 280 casted persons in the waiting room, told us that he was unusual. His good grooming, his body stance, and his speech told us that he was a man of dignity, self- respect, and appropriate entitlement. Speaking what was on everyone’s mind, she said to him loud enough for everyone to hear, “What’s a pig’s son (standard form of address) doing here? I thought only casted people got sick.” “Even pigs bleed red,” he replied, holding up a bloody hand. So – the missionary concluded, If folks took caste seriously, why were the casted people willing to come to an outcaste – an American — for treatment? If they could come to an outcaste American for treatment, then they could jolly well welcome another outcaste who came for treatment. It was an absolutely brilliant reply on his part and brought the house down. From then on, the Missionary reported, they had no trouble with the Harijans hanging back from seeking medical care.

The truth in this passage is in the faith and persistence of this mother – her ability  to hold on – to “tie a knot and hold on” when she was at the end of her rope – her ability to somehow keep trying to get help when it seemed that there was no help coming – even from Jesus.

Here was a lady – the kind of mother we wish every youngster had – who would go to any lengths on behalf of her child. She had enough chutzpah to go up to someone she had never met, through his whole entourage, and every one of them of a nationality that despised hers. On top of that, remember that this was a woman … and women were not permitted to address men in public in that society. But this woman did. Once those hurdles were climbed, she got this healer of whom she has heard so much to actually acknowledge her existence but — He does so by calling her names.But this lady hangs in there. She banters right back. She finally hears those words that, deep in my soul, I know she knew she was going to hear. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

The lesson in all this is that there is no substitute for faith. As Jesus said on another occasion, it can move mountains. The lesson is: “When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on”

            Saint Augustine, befre his conversion, was a hopelessly debauched prodigal. Many parents would have thrown up their hands, yet his mother absolutely refused to give up hope that be could become great in the sight of God. As he went from bad to worse she prayed day and night, sharing her broken-hearted pleas with her priest and her bishop. Even the most distressing news of his last escapade could not break her faith in his eventual salvation. Finally, the weary bishop concurred and wrote to her: “It is not possible,” he said, “for the son of all these tears to perish.”

How right he was. How right she was. Augustine became a leader in the Church – one whose writings are still treasured.

  How right was the mother of our lesson. “And her daughter was healed instantly.”

After World War II the Jewish Holocasust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel s[oke  on the subject: “After Auschwitz, Can We Still Believe!” People filled the hall to listen to the recollections of one who survived the furnaces of Dachau. Thin and fragile, Wiesel stood at the podium for nearly an hour telling one story after another of the horror and despair of those bleak days in the ’30s. His stories were of people confused with their imprisonment and sometimes destroyed with their release. Painfully, silently, the audience relived the events of Wiesel’s young life when he was the only surviving member of his family. Finally the stories ceased. His eyes dropped to the floor. There was no sound at all in that mammoth room for what seemed an agonizing eternity. Then he repeated the question, “After Auschwitz, can we still believe!” He shook his head slowly, sadly, “No, no,…” before concluding powerfully, “but we must!”

Yea – “When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on”

You see – when we are thinking about whether to have faith in God or not – when things get so bad that we can’t imagine them getting any worse – but they do – when we feel that we are making our prayers and trying to live faithfully but that God is not listening of paying attention to us because our lives do not improve — we really have 2 choices – we can give up or we can tie a knot and hold on – sure that God will some day – somehow – come to us.

The Canaanite mom chose to hold on – to “hang in there” – and knew that Jesus would eventually bless her. Elie Wiesel chose to hold on – to “hang in there” – despite the cruelties and hardships – and believe that God was with him – even if the experiences around him told him otherwise.  We can choose, also, to “hang in there”! You can choose, also, to “hang in there”!  The message of this wonderful mother is “Hang in there!”

What can you do when you have endured long hopelessness – and you are about to lose hope? What do you do when every attempt to find help has ended in disappointment? What do you do when you need so badly for something to happen – and it doesn’t happen? What do you do when something that was very important in your life is taken away? What do you do when it seems that your prayers get only as high as the ceiling and then stop – and that God is not listening at all?

What do you do when things get so bad that you just want to curl up and die? You hang in there. You keep the faith.

When you have endured long hopelessness – and you are about to lose hope – hang in there. Keep the faith.

When every attempt to find help has ended in disappointment – hang in there – keep the faith.

When you need so badly for something to happen – and it doesn’t happen – hang in there – keep the faith.

When something that was very important in your life is taken away – hang in there – keep the faith.

When it seems that your prayers get only as high as the ceiling and then stop – and that God is not listening at all – hang in there – keep the faith. 

When things get so bad that you just want to curl up and die – hang in there – keep the faith.

 

“When you get to the end of your rope

tie a knot and hang on”

 

You see, there was this woman…a mother… who came to Jesus… and hung in there until she found hope. Amen