Reflections from the Pulpit

Bogged down in details or seeing the true message?

Telling stories or relating accounts of events will often bring variations. One of the exercises about carrying information was having a group form a circle and one member would start off with an account of something that happened; e.g. an auto accident. He would tell the person next to him, it would be repeated to the next person and on and on until it was finally relayed back to the person who originally told it. Usually, the first and the last accounts had serious differences. We add, we embellish, we forget details, we make decisions about adding something and on and on. One person who was a poor driver and was prone to have “fender benders” got advice from a friend. He said “paint one side of your car white and the other side black. That way you’ll surely confuse any witnesses!” Maybe a strategy for a bad driver but it wouldn’t prevent the accidents. One of my colleagues chased down a story that sounded questionable when he heard it. As he heard it, “nearly everyone” was in favor of a motion. The source he heard came from another source that said “most people” and that source reported that “a majority” were in favor, and then “barely fifty percent” voted for it. The actual numbers certainly varied. Editorial license can give a wrong impression. As I read the Bible, I find accounts of parables and acts of healing with variations. This is obviously acceptable; when there is more than one report of an event, surely something happened. Details differ but the similarities affirm that something took place worthy of our noting it. There are different sequences in the account of the last supper, the feeding of the five thousand (was it four or five or were these two separate events? Did they take place in different places and is that significant?) Again, the more accounts, the more likely the event was reported by people who saw different things, but they all saw something that was a key event. There is an account of a “Canaanite woman” whose daughter is ‘possessed by a demon’ (Matthew 15:22ff). She cries to Jesus “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely possessed by a demon. (v. 22).” Demon possession was the explanation of the day for illnesses; the current ‘diagnosis’ and quite appropriate. Today, we might say something else; we have better and more useful ways of describing diseases and better tools for treating them. Is there something wrong with saying ‘possessed by a demon’? Not at all; we’ve made great strides in medicine; chalk it up to God’s revelation to us! Some may feel that “demon possession” is still with us; if that explanation works for them, so be it. That’s not as useful in pointing to healing or what we can do today, thanks be to God. But the story goes on and elicits a detail that may be more important than the healing. Jesus’ disciples tell him “Send her away, for she is crying after us (v.23)” and He replies “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v.24). The woman becomes direct; “Lord help me.” The answer was about being fair; not taking the children’s bread and throwing it to the dogs (v.26).

The woman makes an observation; Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. (ibid.). Jesus replies “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” and her daughter was healed instantly. This woman knew faith! Her perspective on faith differed from those of the disciples but it was a strong faith.
There is a variation of this account in Mark’s gospel; the woman is told “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (Mark 7;27).” The comment is more about priorities than rejection. This latter comment underscores the place of the old testament faith that preceded Jesus’ call to everyone.

Those who have a faith rooted in the earliest traditions are called to lead others to the Lord first, Jesus has come to them in hopes that their traditions and background will support the strong faith that is needed to bring the world to Him. That’s not a rejection but a message to those disciples who are saying “send her away.” “You have the first part as my followers, but your faith is to bring those that lack your heritage and traditions to Me as well.” – “I’ve come to you, you are a priority, but never forget to feed the others from wherever they come.” Jesus’ pronouncement was not about how the woman believed but about her great faith (Matthew 15:28).

I’ve encountered people of many different faiths. I think we’re all on the same journey. That journey will lead us where God wants to go; we’ll hammer out the details along the way. But first and foremost, faith makes a difference. We’ve all heard different stories; sometimes the details get changed even in the earliest of Biblical accounts. But the story is there; and the faith is rewarded.

Have faith; nurture it, rely on it, share it, live it. That’s ultimately what matters.

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