"When Our Commitment Is Tested"

Meditation Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 6, 2009

Psalm 121; Mark 7:24-37

    Recently, President Obama and his family went to Martha’s Vineyard for a vacation.  Almost as soon as our first family’s plans were made public, there was public outrage from some people in our society that the president should not be leaving Washington for such a posh resort area when there were so many hot button issues that needed his attention.  Beside a host of issues that the President had to deal with, Senator Edward Kennedy died extending the number of distractions that prevented the President from having quality time with his family.           

     Most of us have a tremendous amount of empathy for the person who occupies the oval office.  Regardless of unemployment closing in on 10 percent, or the status of his Health Care initiative, the President and his family need time to shield themselves from the constant barrage of criticisms and alternative points of view that come from so many power brokers and special interest groups.  Every President and his or her family need private time like the rest of us.           

     What we have in our lesson today is an episode where Jesus was trying to get away for a brief vacation.  His reputation as a healer, however, followed him wherever he went.  His favorite rest stop was Bethany where he frequently went to be with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  However, perhaps even this favorite hide-away had become too public.           

     Jesus decided to travel through Samaritan territory, near the eastern Mediterranean seaport cities of Tyre and Sidon, cities that are very similar in their restful beauty to Martha’s Vineyard.  A clue to what was happening in our lesson can be found in the verse, “He went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not stay hidden.”            

     A Gentile woman had discovered that Jesus had come to town and she seized the opportunity to meet him and to seek his help.   He was on vacation and no doubt looked upon this as an intrusion.  Most of us do not want a working vacation.  We want to get away from work-related issues.  We do not want to think about what is happening at the office.  Admittedly, I frequently miss the mark on this one.           

     There is a recent television commercial with which Lois really identifies.  This mini-drama unfolds at a beach setting where presumably a family had gone for their vacation. As the wife is returning to their umbrella she notices that her husband is discretely doing e-mails or busy work on his laptop that was perched on the beach chair.  He quickly covers the laptop with a towel as she approaches.  She gets under the umbrella and abruptly sits on his laptop.  The expression on her face says, “Oh, was that your laptop?” 

     There have been plenty of occasions when Lois would have enjoyed putting my laptop in the microwave and setting the timer for one hour.  I am sure she is not alone with the frustration of sharing personal vacation-time with the addictive behavior of family members who are constantly emailing, texting or having their I-phone glued to their heads.

    There were times when Jesus wanted peace and quiet.  He routinely withdrew from the crowds who appeared unrelenting in their need for his unique gifts.  The Gentile woman threw herself at Jesus’ feet and begged him to heal her daughter.  Jesus responded, “Let us first feed the children.  It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”            

     The word “dog” was not used to describe the much loved pets that are the constant companions to many of us.  The term was a symbol of dishonor.  To a Greek, the word “dog” meant “a shameless, reckless, daring and bold woman.”  To Jews the term was equally a word of contempt.  In Matthew, for example, Jesus once said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” (Matt. 7:6)           

     At first, we are shocked that Jesus would respond this way to a woman in need.  As we learn, however, Jesus never intended to turn her down.  Today we would say that he was only messing with her to see how she would respond.  She understood Jesus’ intent because of the attitude he used when he said it. For example, we can call a man “an old rascal” and be extremely critical of him or we can use the same words as a title of endearment.  The meaning of our spoken words is often defined by our attitude and facial expressions.           

     She responded, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t I even gather the scraps the children throw away?”  In Jesus’ day, obviously there were no napkins for people who needed to wipe their hands after eating.  What they did was wipe their hands on bread that was later thrown to the house dogs.            

     This lesson has meaning for us today. We are constantly being tested by inconveniences.  We are tested when people want something from us when we are busily engaged in doing something else.  We are tested when our car is loaded for a lovely Labor Day weekend at the beach and we become involved in a fender bender with a driver that was in a bigger hurry than we were.  We are being tested when we come to the church and find that we no longer can enter through the main door during the week or when we are asked to fill out another survey during our worship service!  A question that emerges for us in this lesson is this:  “What beliefs and values do we make visible when we are tested during one of life’s irritating moments?”           

     We have bending as well as breaking points.  Most of us have an attitude that we display in public and another one that can be a tad more explosive and aggressive when we are alone or with close friends.  Even so, why do so many of us persist in allowing anything in the external world to rain on our parade, to control our joy and happiness, or to change our mood so that very hasty responses are possible?  We were not created that fragile or that overly-sensitive.           

     In our lesson, Jesus was still teaching when he said to the woman, “Because of that answer, go back home where you will find that your daughter is well.”  Jesus could not prevent sharing what heals even while vacationing.  During his next encounter in our lesson, we see this identical response. He was confronted by a man who was deaf and could hardly speak.  

     Realizing that these days were his vacation time and wanting to preserve his privacy, Jesus tried to be discrete when he healed this man.  Our lesson says, “Jesus took him away from the crowd to be alone and healed him.”  No doubt he did not want to create a sensational public spectacle that could have caused a stampede of curiosity seekers to come to the home where he was staying.           

     Again, a question for us is:  Who are we and what will other people witness when our commitment to what Jesus taught us is being tested?


     Loving and always merciful God, we are humbled by the responsibilities you have given to us as your sons and daughters.  We live in a world that radiates calls for love from nearly every quarter and few of us understand what we are seeing.  We confess that many times we do not feel up to the task of responding to others with compassion.  We have made convenience look attractive.  We frequently run from the struggles that would make us strong.  We think beautiful thoughts while in church.  We admit that following through by making those thoughts visible is a test that comes everyday.  Help us recognize, O God, that often we are healed when we become the healer.  We ask that you give us the wisdom to turn every awkward moment, every painful experience and every challenging personality into our personal trainers for increasing our skills of spirit.  Amen.


     Loving God, we thank you for these moments together.  We thank you for the wisdom that tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things we cannot see.  Yet, how many times we react and respond because of what we can see. Our thoughts are kind, until the words of others hurt us. We remain faithful to what we believe until a major inconvenience appears to overshadow our peace.  We love without counting the cost until that cost becomes a steady diet that irritates us. 

     It is humbling to realize, O God, that we may not be as wise in our spiritual development as we had thought.  Help us to understand that failures, set-backs and life-reversals are part of what it means to be fully human.  Our world will never be as we would prefer.   However, when we really think about it, we would not want to live anywhere else.   

      As we celebrate a magnificent Labor Day weekend, we are keenly aware of those who build our homes, pave our highways, string electrical cable, maintain communications, bring us the news of unfolding events, fight fires, maintain order, attend to our medical needs, feed our souls, teach our children, coach us into greater accountability, fly our aircraft and pick up our refuse.  Help us to understand with renewed appreciation, that every worker in America is a needed asset that has afforded us a standard of living that is second to none in the world.  We thank you that our country has made “serve one another” into a working reality.   We all pray for a day to come soon when everyone who wants to work will be able to do so.  We pray these things in the spirit of Jesus, our Master and friend, who taught us to say when we pray . . .