And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Then came she and worshiped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. – Matt. 15:22-28
Keep the above words in mind. Their significance will become apparent shortly. In the meantime let me make a quick rundown of the current situation. We’re in the sixth year of a war we should never have gotten into, America is technologically advanced but morally retarded, it’s an election year (which can make you want to cut your ties with the country, humanity and your wrists) and gas is over $3.00 per gallon. While different people are in varying degrees of agitation about the war and morality, it’s the price of gas that’s slappin’ everybody upside the head with equal opportunity mercilessness. If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck or are on a fixed income, there’s not a shade tree in sight.
In the past we’ve had our recessions, our booms and busts, our slow economies, wars, downturns and stock market crashes. But, relatively speaking, they didn’t last that long. This is different. And from everything I’m reading from people I believe really understand the case, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Yes, my friends, we have a genuine problem on our hands that isn’t going to go away if we close our eyes, go back to school for that third degree, or hope once again that they will kiss it and make it better. They got us into this. And worse still, in a very real sense, they are us. But that’s another write and I don’t feel like going down that alley right now. I don’t like the characters I see hiding in its dark doorways and there’s enough depressing stuff going on to make sure people pop Prozac like breath mints.
Every now and then your world gets rocked. From something as small as your first teen-age romantic shipwreck to the discovery that you have cancer; individual worlds implode. Collective worlds implode, too. Think Pompeii when Mt. Vesuvius exploded in AD 79, Germany at the end of WWII, Rwanda in 1994 or the many lives affected on Sept. 11, 2001.
Here in America we’re not used to any collective worlds imploding. Despite the bad things that happen we depend on or institutions, economy and outlooks to be relatively stable because they always have been in our lifetimes. That is changing fast. And, quite frankly, it’s scary. It’s supposed to be. This is all uncharted territory as far as experience goes. The question is how are we going to react? That’s why the verses about the Canaanite woman coming to Jesus have always fascinated me.
She obviously viewed Jesus as her only hope of getting her daughter healed and was prepared to worry whoever she must to get attention. She gets an audience with the Master and what does He do? First He ignores her. As if that weren’t enough he calls the woman a dog! If that had taken place today the scenario would have played out this way; “What did you call me? Oh, it’s on now!”
But this woman’s reaction was truly amazing. Jesus’ response would have crushed normal expectations and hopes, sending the woman off to consider other ways of relief. But she sidesteps Jesus’ jab with a move like one of the characters on The Matrix sidestepping a bullet. She basically said, “I’m a dog? Fine, I can live with that. And if I have to eat crumbs I can live with that, too. As long as I get something from You I know it’s all I will need.” As it turned out Jesus’ response was designed so that only faith was trim enough to enter this straight gate and turn things positive. Positive thinking, wishful thinking or anything else would have been too large to enter. And Jesus calls her faith great.
As I see it there are two things we’ll need to face these unstable times if we expect to live as anything other than bitter complainers. One is faith. Not the magic we’ve heard about in some church circles for years or that we’ve been told will give us a hundredfold return if we “sow” into somebody’s ministry. But the flexible, elastic faith of the Canaanite woman that enabled her to roll with Jesus’ punch and turn a knockout blow into a victory.
Is life as we know it over? Fine. Then it’s time to redefine life. It’s time to start looking at things from a totally different perspective. It’s time to consider things we’d never have considered before and put a knife in the heart of some things we held sacred through haste or inertia. Only those who will do this can expect to overcome.
I’ve used this reference in the past so forgive me if you’ve read it from me before. But it’s so powerful in its simplicity and just as applicable to our time as when it was written that I feel compelled to use it here. In 1943 the distinguished Chinese scholar Lin Yutang wrote a book entitled From Tears to Laughter. The book appeared on the brink of WWII. In the preface Mr. Yutang writes…
"The purpose of this book is to say something that must be said and say it with simplicity. The age calls for simple statements and restatements of simple truths. The prophets of doom are involved, those who bring light must be clear. Our problem is the problem of moral decay and regeneration. From a handful of dust faith must come…The shadow of another war already looms before us. We have to think straight and think fast."
Surely you see that Mr. Yutang’s words could have been written now as well as when they were written. I find particularly powerful the words from a handful of dust faith must come.
It is the business of faith to turn nothing or little into something. Our present unstable times offer that chance. It’s either that or get used to some very frustrated living. There is yet one more thing I believe must be joined to the faith we need. Humor.
If we forget about joy this is going to be a very long and difficult time. We can’t afford to let the overhanging dark cloud of high gas prices and the other high prices it births to bleed us of joy. No, it’s not easy but we simply can’t afford to let it happen. We have to make space for a good laugh and not let anything else take that space. The devil is not a fan of genuine laughter.
Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell. – Senior Devil Screwtape, from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters
Finally, let me not be negligent to put you in remembrance of what you know but may have forgotten (2 Pet. 1:12). I give you the words (more words from the 40’s) of one of the most prophetic Christian writers you’ve never heard of, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.
"Yes, Christianity is bankrupt today. But not refuted. Christianity has repeatedly been bankrupt. When it goes bankrupt, it begins over again; therein rests its power."
And that’s where our power rests. It may be that we must begin again. If so, we know how even if we don’t think so. What it means is that we are going to have to learn the true meaning of the words “born again”. For once it’s going to have to become more than just words that fall from our lips like lose change. Sorry. I forgot. With the price of gas lose change is a sore spot. Gotcha.
But the reality is that we’ll have to apply some faith and finally believe the essence and real meaning of the words we use. Faith is an action, not a feeling.
Finally, I leave you with the words of Father Ignacio Larranaga from his book Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy With God. These words have always moved me.
"On the cloud of illusions you have built your house. Because of this, it has fallen a thousand and one times, at the whim of the waves. The sand of the beaches was the foundation of your building, and ruin was inevitable. The rules of your game were probability and psychology, and the end results were clearly in sight. But I have a final word to say to you this morning: You can still hope; hope is still possible; tomorrow will be better… Come, let us begin again…"
"I, hope, was born on a dark afternoon, on a barren hill, covered with blood, when everyone repeated, All is lost; there is nothing left to do; the dreamer has died; the dreams are over. I was born in the womb of death; because of this, death cannot destroy me… Although you may tell me a thousand and one times that all is lost, a thousand and one times I will answer you that we still have time."
"If up until now success and failure were alternating like day and night, from now on Jesus will be resurrected in you each morning, and He will blossom on the dead leaves of your autumn. He will conquer selfishness in you, and death. Yes, the Brother will take you by the hand and lead you to the transforming hills of contemplation. Your old banners will fly again: Strength, Love, Patience…"