Begging for Help

Mark 7:24-37
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

“Help me. Please. Please help.” One thing we learn as we grow up is not to beg wrong to beg for help. It irritates parents and teachers and friends. So we learn to be self-sufficient or at least appear so. That’s good, but it has a bad side. We have people with serious mental illness who find it very difficult to say “I need help. I’m suicidal today.” We have people raising children, who reach the end of their rope, and losing control, they damage young innocents’ lives, because they were afraid to admit to anyone they needed help. We have folks addicted to alcohol or internet porn or prescription drugs, who need help, but who wants to beg for help? Nobody. Nobody really wants to say, “I’m desperate over here. I’m hurting. My life is a mess.” When we’re having financial difficulties or marriage trouble, we often go to great lengths to pretend otherwise, so no one will think we less of us.

Perhaps we even become self-sufficient in our relationship with God. “Dear God, please help my sick child, if it be your will.” That’s a little different from the psalmist who says, “I cry aloud to God...My soul refuses to be comforted...Give ear to my prayer, O God. Do not hide yourself from my supplication. My heart is in anguish within me.”

Perhaps our discomfort with miracle stories is our disgust at the thought of admitting to anyone even God that any of us are as desperate as those who approached Jesus. Just because we don’t talk about our daughters being possessed by demons does not mean that we don’t know something about mental illness.

Just because we don’t necessarily have speech and hearing trouble like the man who was brought to Jesus doesn’t mean that we don’t know about disabilities. If you live long enough, you will know dis-ability. Dis-ability in memory. Disability in physical activity. Dis-ability in hearing and sight and even taste and smell. We lose it all, if we live long enough. We lose even our awareness of how much we have lost. But we are in denial about that. Watch the tv advertisements which are most of them trying to talk you into spending money to feel younger or look younger or seem younger, so you can forget your dis-abilities.

Hear now two stories about people who were honestly struggling with life and how Jesus, despite his desire to have some personal space from the crowds, was moved by their expression of need, their pleading for help. We don’t like to think that we should have to impress our needs upon Jesus, but in this story, we see that being honest, even to the point of pushiness, was part of the healing process.

NRS Mark 7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go-- the demon has left your daughter." 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I used to feel sorry for this woman. After all, it looks like Jesus is really insulting her. But I don’t feel so terribly sorry for her anymore. Instead I’m proud of her. She stood up against culture in her humble self-assertion. I might have just backed off, after getting reminded of my place in society. I might have just said, “Okay, yes, I know I’m not really worth your time, Powerful Healer. I’ll just go back and accept the situation as it is. But no, she fired back at him, “Even the dogs get a little crumbs.” This woman has some ovaries, I tell you, standing up to Jesus like that and insisting on getting a few crumbs of healing power for her daughter. And in this narrative, we see God’s desire to save and make whole all people, not just the chosen ones of God, the Jews, the children as they are called. No, God loves everyone, even the puppy dogs.

And we should equally be proud of women from countries (and even in this country of ours) who demand help for their children, who say I am worthy of your attention. And Jesus says, “Yes you are. For asserting yourself on her behalf, I am now healing your daughter.” We should remember Jesus’ positive response to the Syrophoenician woman every time we see a mother humbly asserting herself to beg for a few crumbs of health care, or a few crumbs of education, or a few crumbs of decent food and shelter. Because she loves her child, and she knows her child has worth.

Of course, we don’t have the same lines dividing human beings from one another. We know all human beings are created in the image of God, so we treat everyone exactly the same. Well, unless that someone is in poor dress and smelly, and approaches the door of a house in our neighborhood. We treat everyone the same, unless we just can’t, because the person has difficulty with the dominant language of the world, our language, English. We treat everyone the same, unless the mentally ill homeless person on the street tries to engage us in a real conversation. We just wanted to hand off something to alleviate our discomfort. We did not want a relationship. We treat everyone the same unless the dark-skinned male with a toboggan on his head, approaches us at night in an empty parking lot at night. Then we have a different set of rules for different people. How quickly we judge Jesus’ reaction to the woman, but he was just playing by the rules of his culture, saying what everyone expected, until he was moved by compassion to break those rules and show compassion.

Jesus could not escape needy people. His very presence on earth drew them toward him. With the deaf man, who was brought by friends or family members, Jesus sensed the need to get away, so he removed the man from the crowd and through touching his ears and then with his own saliva on the man’s tongue, Jesus utters a deep sigh, and heals him. I’d love to know what that sigh meant. With that sigh was Jesus taking into his own body, the pain of a man whose communication had been so limited. We get much more detail about the healing process in this story than in the story of the woman and her daughter..

But the most striking part of this story is not so much the encounter with the man, as it is the reaction of the people. Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone” but the more insists, the more they tell. The Messianic secret: Jesus often says after a healing miracle, “Don’t tell.” Could it be that he wants people to hear his teaching and learn to trust him, without seeing amazing miracles?

I wonder if this has something to say to us about our worship. If we are actively trying to wow people with our worship, then we are not listening to Jesus, who says, “Don’t tell anyone.” Jesus doesn’t necessarily want people to be wowed into trust through miracles, through sensationalism. Jesus wants us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. There’s something very ordinary about that, but that is perhaps the greatest miracle of all – when that really happens.

Maybe the real miracles were not what Jesus did, because we know Jesus has the power to change lives. Maybe the miracles were the courageous love of that persistent mother begging for the health of her child, and the devoted love of those who brought the deaf man to Jesus and who were so pleased with his healing that they had to tell the world, despite explicit instructions not to tell anyone.

Jesus is always there to help those who call, though it seems that sometimes we must persist in asking. There is no shame in begging for help. Who knows Jesus may see in your persistent humble begging just the transformation in you that will inspire him to answer that prayer. There is no magic formula to prayer. There is only relationship with the Lord, and relationships are not always predictable, especially relationships with miracle-workers who rule the universe.