September 9, 2012
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
1st Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a
2nd Reading: James 2:1-17
On Tuesday afternoon I was drawn to my office window by some shouting down below. They’ve been paving Thiessen Road out here, and the delays can be quite long. I was trying to piece together what was going on. A red convertible sports car was stopped here at the end of this little private road and the driver was shouting and cursing. Then suddenly the driver took off up the hill and it was all over. I think what happened was he wanted to go left and there was a big backup of cars. I don’t know if no one would let him in, and it is hard to blame them since the delays were 10 or 20 minutes going down the hill, or if the traffic just never moved so they could give him an opening to go in. Whatever the problem, this guy was irate. His wife or girlfriend was embarrassed by his shouting. The drivers and passengers of the other cars were shocked. And an older gentleman on foot almost tripped as he was walking down to the post box to get his mail because he couldn’t take his eye off this ranting and raving driver.
I don’t know what it is about being behind the wheel, but I have occasionally flown off the handle in a similar situation. Maybe it is the expected convenience of driving and when we don’t have control of the situation we flip out. I don’t know, but I think you tell a lot about a person by how they behave behind the wheel. It tells a lot about how we deal with conflict and that’s what I want to talk about today: Conflict and how we deal with it.
Let’s look at another scenario of conflict. A healer sits at a table. He would really like a quiet moment alone. He’s been followed and harassed. People are making demands of him. He’s got limited time and energy. It didn’t always use to be this way. Once he was without limits, speaking a word and worlds appearing, organizing the stars in the sky, bringing people out of dust, and shaping animals and plants. Now he’s taken on limits and finds himself face to face with the very people he made and eating the plants and animals he created, and trying to meet all these different demands, and he’s exhausted. He’s trying to show them how to live life abundantly and how to share it. Sometimes they get it. Usually they don’t.
Here comes this woman that wants something more from him. He asks her, “Why should I help you?” He’s got a long line of people wanting his healing and wanting him to make dinner for them. Why should she go to the front of the line? And he calls her a dog.
He doesn’t call her a puppy. The Israelites didn’t keep dogs as cute pets. Dogs were like large rats to them. This isn’t a very nice thing to say.
Let’s look at it from the woman’s perspective and see how she deals with conflict. Her back is against the wall. She’s got her eye on one goal—healing for her daughter. She’s got one hope left, and that’s Jesus. She goes to him. She doesn’t waste his time but gets right to the point. He brushes her off. She has several choices at this point. She could give up and go away. She could get herself in a huff and lash out at him in anger. Instead she stays focused. What good would either of those things do? She is steady. She doesn’t get sidelined by his insult. Instead she uses that insult and uses his analogy to make her point. Her point is that she isn’t asking much. Her point is that Jesus has enough healing to go around. She has faith in his abilities. He isn’t going to scare her away. She isn’t going to let hurt feelings keep her from getting what her daughter needs. When I am at my best, I can be like this woman. She is the way I always picture the conflict going later in my mind if I could have said what I wanted to say and remained calm.
So what can we learn that would be helpful to us from these examples of how to deal with conflict? As far as the guy in the car, I think it has to be this: Don’t do what he did. We all lose it now and then. But that yelling didn’t help anyone. It didn’t change anything. Forgive yourself. Move on. And don’t repeat this scene too many times.
As far as Jesus goes, yes, he said something he probably regretted. He was making distinctions between people like it says in James not to do. But he also stayed and heard this woman out. He listened to her. And then he changed his tune. He granted the healing. He learned from his mistake and went on to do other healings of Gentiles as it points out in the second part of the Gospel with the deaf man. From Jesus we see how we can learn from our mistakes.
As far as the Syrophoenician woman goes, we can learn several things. She really is the hero of this story. Maybe we can also learn from Jesus to let someone else be the hero sometimes! She asks for what she needs. We can learn from her to ask for what we need. She has her priorities. She is totally focused on this priority and nothing is going to distract her from her goal. We sometimes let our ego get in the way of meeting our goals. We sometimes have too much pride to ask for what we need or to admit we don’t know all the answers and need help finding them out. We can also learn from this woman to have a thick skin. I think that’s what Jesus recognized in her that he really connected with. This woman is a survivor. She has gumption. She’s not going to take no for an answer. And this is why it is worth it for him to help her. He casts the demon out from her daughter, knowing that it isn’t a waste of his time. This woman has what it takes to feed her family, to stand up for herself, to demand what is right. This is the kind of person Jesus wants to free up to kick some butt. If she’s not spending every minute of her day tending to this child’s every need, she is going to be a firecracker in her community. She will say what needs to be said. She will call people on their BS. This is just the kind of person Jesus wants active in the community, bringing in the Kingdom.
You’ve heard the quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I don’t know if you know, that’s a quote by Nobel Prize winner and Harvard University Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a feminist and Mormon.
Jesus frees us from having to be well-behaved, whether we are a woman or a man. Jesus frees us to make a difference, to speak truth to power, to be active in our communities, to stand up to those who mistreat us and others like us.
It is so easy when someone insults us or tells us no, to just crumple in a heap or to give up on them immediately, label them evil or stupid. What is harder is to stay engaged when you’re in a conflict. Keep focused on the goal. Know what you want. And don’t let someone’s hurtful comments get to you. Let it roll off your back. Be more mature than that other person. “Be strong. Do not fear!” Be sassy.
When we were coming back from our vacation at the coast last month, we were stopped by a flagger about a half hour into our way home. They were trimming the bushes and trees along the side of the road. She explained there would be a wait of 3-4 minutes, then we would cross into the other lane. We’d pass one road crew vehicle, then we should get back in our lane. Also we should not exceed 30 mph. While we were waiting the man behind us got out of his truck. He said thank you to the flagger for letting him through the other day. He had to get his daughter to the hospital. She had injured her leg and punctured her lung. The man told the flagger his daughter was going to be all right.
Yes we have procedures to keep everyone safe and to make sure we all have the chance to get where we are going. We have flaggers and road signs and an order that directs traffic. But there people who are injured and hungry waiting in those lines who will die if we don’t move them on through. Jesus is the flagger, deciding that it isn’t about what’s fair but what is right. He stops this woman with his stop sign on the stick and says, “Wait here.” And she says, “I can’t wait any more. Please let me through.” And he finds the energy to give life to her.
Jesus should have been at the front of the line and got an easy life. He did everything right. Instead he let everyone else go ahead of him and gave his life rescuing us. Now we who are most privileged in the world get the chance to make sure God’s saving power reaches those who need it most. It is our turn to let others go ahead of us, even though it might not be fair, but because it is life-giving. In our lives there will be conflicts. May we learn from them. May we grow from them. May we stand up for ourselves. May we stand up for those at the back of the line and let them move forward into life abundant.