It’s a loaded word, because, when a lifeline is all you have, it becomes the single most important thing around.
A lifeline keeps you safe. It keeps you alive. It pulls you out of danger. It can rescue you out of a certain catastrophic end. It becomes your “best friend.”
Much like that rope that runs down the middle length of a white-water raft; the rope you reach for and hold on to as the raft bumps perilously down rough rapids threatening to throw you overboard.
Much like trail markers – those white or blue lines or “blazes” painted on the bark of a tree – indicating the way forward, the trail that hikers need to follow in order to avoid getting hopelessly lost and disoriented in the thick forest.
Much like that one special person, family member or friend.
Or that special group of friends to which you cling, you feel safe with, can say anything to without fear of judgement or derision, who will support you, encourage and uphold you no matter what.
The woman and the man in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark know exactly what it’s like to search for, yearn for, a lifeline, any lifeline.
They’re both – each in their own unique circumstances – in a desperate, despairing situation.
On top of the already distressing fact of her daughter’s illness – is the fact that she’s a woman, which in 1st century Middle Eastern society meant you were little more than a slave or servant, with little or no say, influence or rights.
At the bottom of the social ladder.
Add to that the fact that she is a Gentile … Gentiles were a despised group, outside the respected insider “sacred” group of the Hebrew people, the special “chosen” by God – or so it was thought.
And so, she is socially demeaned, culturally diminished, and now desperate for the healing of her ill daughter.
Now the man in this passage is also a Gentile from the Decapolis region.
And on top of that unfavourable distinction, he has serious physical challenges.
The text says he is not only “deaf,” but also has a “speech impediment.”
According to Hebrew scripture interpretations, anyone who is ill, or physically or mentally challenged, or blemished in any way, is considered “unclean” – not to be touched, to be kept away from, isolated and ostracized from human community.
In these desperate circumstances, the man anxiously searches and grasps for any Lifeline to help him.
Have you been there? You know that feeling?
Are you there now? At that point of needing a life line, any life line?
I think just by being alive, by virtue of being human, we all arrive at that point sooner or later.
And of course, established cultural patterns in society can either help …
… or not.
Our readings from the book of Proverbs, and the letter to James remind us that certain social patterns never change.
The age-old, deeply engrained problem of favouritism, of playing favourites, believing that some are inherently superior over others, namely the rich over the poor.
Those with more money and material goods, historically, have always been more favoured and honoured and noticed over those who have less or none.
This favouritism runs deep in our souls and deep in our society, both in Jesus’ day as in our own.
But here in this Gospel passage, we see a total reversal of this dominating social pattern.
And it’s Jesus who ultimately makes that happen.
To the woman and man, desperate and despairing social outcasts in every way, God extends the greatest gift anyone can receive: the gift of life, of health, of well-being.
Those who occupy the lowest possible “rung on the social ladder”, now occupy the place of greatest honour, favour and dignity.
Because in God’s eyes, there are no divisions or barriers between people, no superiors or favourites.
We’ve already been aware of the 60 million refugees – half of whom are children – fleeing bombs and war and violence in Syria and Iraq over the past several years.
Out of desperation, approximately 90,000 so far this year have made the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean on substandard boats, and as a result, more than 2000 have tragically drowned after their boats have capsized or deflated.
We’ve seen desperation on a large scale – ordinary people like you and me simply wanting to stay alive, and so they move to escape the bombs, the rapes and the murders, seeking a lifeline, any lifeline.
As people of faith, people who follow and worship a God who has created all, who sees no distinction between rich and poor, Jew and Greek, man and woman, who plays no favourites, who wishes only life and wellness and goodness for all, we respond in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
As someone involved in helping refugees said, “I cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others because there is ultimately no `other’.”
Instead, there’s only this sense of: We’re in this together.
We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.
We’re all made by the hand of God, and as the book of Genesis puts it, made “in the image of God.”
And all of us, as precious, created human beings, deserve basic protections, dignity and respect.
This deep spiritual awareness, growing out of that deep sense of the forgiving love of God in our own hearts, spills out into action for the sake of others.
We, in effect, become Lifelines for others: the helping hands and feet of Jesus for others in desperate need.
I’m impressed with the mission and ministry of certain church in Rome: St. Paul’s Within the Walls Anglican church in Rome.
One thing that impresses me, and I think it’s worthy for us to think about, is that they’ve been able to, as a congregation, focus their outreach service ministries to the wider neighbourhood community and neighbourhood, into predominantly one mega- effort.
And that is: Helping new refugees arriving on the shores of Europe to start a new, safer, better life in Europe.
They call it the “Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre (JNRC), and it is the primary outreach ministry of St. Paul’s.
The church opens their doors every weekday from morning to afternoon to about 200-250 refugee guests.
There’s breakfast, a distribution of toiletries, clothing and personal care items, language classes, recreational activities, medical services, budget/financial counselling, settlement and legal information sharing, interfaith prayer services.
In short, St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome provides a safe, hospital place for refugees to gather, to relax, to be together in caring community, to recharge and basically do what they need to do to get their lives in order as best as possible.
And as is evident from their mission statement, they see their personal involvement with refugees as a recognition of “our common humanity” – a befriending ministry on an equal basis, to “accompany and assist” refugees, as a way of “encouraging and empowering” them to build new lives.
And never in any kind of “top-down,” patronizing approach, or some sense of superiority, helping the “oh-so-poor” inferior refugees. No.
This is brother-to-brother. Sister-to-sister. Friend-to-friend.
All are seen with dignity and respect.
Equals helping equals.
Beggars helping other beggars find food.
Lifelines to each other.
As we, in our own desperate and despairing circumstances reach for Jesus the true Lifeline, we can experience Christ’s healing love and peace, and so be transformed so that we become, even in some small way, a lifeline to others.