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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

A Trail of Crumbs

Kathy Douglass, Music Minister

Scripture: Matthew 15:10-28



I’m following a trail of crumbs through the readings today,

crumbs that provide a sense of place, a taste of nourishment,

crumbs that act as a compass to guide me home.

Home, for me, is the heart of God.


When I read scripture, it is this home, this heart I’m seeking.

Today, the prophet declares that outcasts will be gathered,

the psalmist sings of God’s expansive love shared among the nations,

the apostle teaches that mercy is available to all.

And in our gospel, a woman completely loses it on Jesus.

Her story is also part of this trail of crumbs.


She is a Canaanite woman, meaning, a woman who was not a Jew.

Meaning, she is an outsider.

This outsider is a mother, at the peak of desperation to find help for her cruelly afflicted child.

Hearing that Jesus was nearby, aware of his power to heal and trusting that he could help her,

she tosses decorum to the curb, makes a lot of noise and unabashedly begs Jesus for mercy.

The disciples, recoiling at the intrusion, cringe and tell Jesus to shut her up and shoo her away.

She, apparently, is a bit too demanding for their tastes.

When the disciples don’t want you around, you know you’ve struck a nerve.

And are possibly on the right track. Just sayin’.


In the midst of this clash,

with the atmosphere already charged, Jesus, upon hearing her request, hesitates.

Oh, that’s a bit mild. He renders her invisible.

Have you ever felt the blinding ache of invisibility?


Being initially ignored by Jesus only strengthens her ferocious resolve

and not backing down one inch, she comes right back at him.

Her despair visceral, she falls to her worn knees and pleads with Jesus to mercifully throw her a bone,

spare her a crumb from the figurative feast that’s been prepared for the invited guests.

This guest list does not include her.

She knows it. So does he.


Losing it. I get that.

I completely lost it a few weeks ago.

My mom is in the early stages of dementia,

and my siblings and I are doing our best to both provide and seek the extra care she needs

as her way of being, always independent, needs reframing.

Much of what she dutifully oversaw for a lifetime now requires a second,

a third set of eyes and ears. To keep her safe. To manage our panic.


We were having one of those ‘if it’s not one thing it’s another’ weeks with mom,

when we found out that her water heater died.

Thanks Universe! That’s just awesome.


A bit of scrambling landed us a plumber who could do the install the next morning.

I made it very clear to the scheduler that I needed to be notified first

when the plumber was on the way so I could make the 5 minute drive to mom’s house.


I have educated myself about vulnerable people being taken advantage of,

about scams preyed upon the elderly, about safeguards that provide protection.

I did not want my sweet mom to have to deal with strangers

and appliances and credit cards by herself.


Early the next morning, I was advised by my sister who lives out of town

that mom had called her, frightened, saying some repairman

had shown up at her home and she didn’t know what to do.


You may not see my wings, but let me tell you, this girl can fly.

I raced out of the house and made the 5 minute trip in 3,

rehearsing the verbal takedown I planned to deliver,

interspersed with several “Lord, have mercies.”

It was an all inclusive prayer. You know, I just laid it all out there:

“what the ?? Help me, help me, help me!”


I know I carry a bit of a gentle vibe, which is the truth of who I am,

but a thin stream of rage runs deep inside me also,

and if I perceive a threat to someone I love,

that stream can widen and erupt into a torrent.

I allow people who’ve earned my trust to see this side of me.

I just didn’t know until that morning that my mom’s plumber was one of them.


I roared into her driveway, jumped out of the car and met him,

standing there looking all courteous, a young man in Carharts and a baseball cap,

his toolbelt slung around his waist,

his shirt stained with faded grime from previous installs,

a patch on the chest pocket embroidered with his name, Grant.


He greeted me with an eager “good morning, ma’am”. Ma’am. Ugh.

I greeted him with blame and frustration.

My heart pounding, my tone aggressive, I reminded him that I was to be notified

before anyone came to the house.

“My mom has dementia. She cannot handle this. I will not have her left alone with strangers”.

Desperation seeped through every word, and, because I tend to cry when I’m mad, (dammit),

tears started dripping down my face.


Poor Grant. He stood there, eyes wide, arms at his sides, hapless.

Removing his cap, he listened, intently, to me.

After unloading the contents of my anxious heart on him,

he told me he’d never been advised that I was to be called,

it was a miscommunication, he was so terribly sorry for the distress

and would do everything he could to make it right.

He then turned his cheek and said I’d be welcome to slap him

if it would make me feel better.

I’m pretty sure he was kidding,

but since I’m more of a screamer than a slapper, I declined.


I lost it. Upon reflection, I didn’t lose it on Grant. I lost it on God.

I was exhausted and afraid.

The woman in our gospel today, I imagine, was exhausted and afraid.

For her child, for herself. What we bear can exact a toll.

We are in need of mercy, and sometimes, starved for help and respite,

we trust that a morsel, a crumb will do.


I appreciate the lesson in digestive system function

offered in the first part of the gospel, yet what resonates most

comes when Jesus says that the content of our hearts is revealed by our words.

What comes out of my mouth, reveals what’s going on in my heart.

What’s going on in my heart comes out of my mouth.


There is so much a heart can hold: love, trust, hope. Loneliness, betrayal, grief.

Anger, jealousy, rage. Each tethered to a root, a stirring, a source out of sight.

We ask ourselves, “what’s the thing beneath the thing beneath the thing?”


Where did it come from, my desperation targeted, in futility, at the plumber?

Where did it come from, this woman’s desperation, targeted at Jesus?

How many times had she cried out, also in futility to someone who could not help her?

How many obstacles had blocked her from the mercy she craved?

How often, in response to her unwanted noise, had she been shooed away?

How might all this have led her to risk scrutiny by letting the contents of her heart be revealed?

Desperation increases exponentially when pleas for help fall on deaf ears.


In a curious and, to me, troubling turn in the story,

it seems at first that Jesus’ ears are indeed deaf to her cry.

Yep, our ‘lover of souls’ kind of ghosts her for a moment.


John Nolland, theology professor at Trinity College in Cambridge writes this about that:

“It is not at once clear what he ought to do.” Ya think?

I do not like it at all when someone I love and respect doesn’t behave as I think they ought to.

Does Jesus’ lack of response bother you? It feels callous to me. I’d say it freaks me out.

Until I remember the incarnation, God, taking on our marvelous and messy flesh in Jesus,

Jesus, somehow both human and divine,

carrying what we carry, feeling what we feel,

facing encounters that shape him, and yet without sin.


At Bible study on Tuesday, Lainey beautifully reflected on the teaching

that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and knowledge, in favor with God and humankind.

Growing in wisdom and knowledge is not always lovely or smoothe. It can be rocky and awkward.

In this encounter, Jesus’ humanity is on display.

His laser focus at this point in his ministry is on the Jews.

The table had not yet been widened.

Names and nations had not yet been added to the guest list.


It feels, to me, that in this encounter, the moment was lost in the mission.


An uncomfortable exchange unfolds between them as she pleads again for his help.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he tells her.

Her humanity now on display, she persists in telling him a thing or two:

“yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’table.”


I wonder, if in that instance, Jesus grew in wisdom and let the moment come before the mission.

He saw her for who she was - in the shouting and the sorrow, in the plea and the persistence, in the

weariness and the wits, he saw a woman of anguish, a woman of audacity, a woman of faith.

And her faith being honored, she walked home to find

that Jesus had indeed answered her cry for mercy, and her afflicted child had been healed.


My trail of crumbs leads me here:

When you scan the space you inhabit, who do you find afflicted?

Is it your child, your partner, your parent, your friend? Is it your neighbor?

Is it a stranger? Is it you?


Who are you willing to risk scrutiny for, who are you willing to plead for,

praying, “Lord, have mercy”.

I’d like to take my cues from this woman,

be willing to embarrass myself for the sake of the mercy I long for.

I’d like to be unashamed in advocating for the afflicted and invisible

who are mine to cry out for.

And, taking a cue from Jesus, I’d like to find the moment in the mission.


When we are in need of mercy, for another, for ourselves,

there is room at the table that has, by God’s expansive love,

been enlarged to welcome all.


Just as the prophet, the psalmist and the apostle said it would be.


This story tells me that my desperate cries,

and my repeated cries,

are not a sign of futility, but a sign of faith.


When I call out to God, when I express that I have such trust in his goodness

that even a crumb will do, I am revealing the contents of my heart.


A mother pleading for her afflicted child, “Lord, have mercy.”

A child, pleading for her afflicted mother, “Lord, have mercy.”

My faith is seen in my cries for help.

Our faith is seen in our cries for help.

You, in need of mercy, mercy is yours.

This community, this city, this world in need of mercy, mercy is ours.


And if you are in need of a plumber, I know a guy.


AMEN

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