My next door neighbour and I have a friendly bet going. The grass in both of our backyards is all brown and dried out because of the great deal of sunshine, heat and lack of rain we’ve had this summer. We were wondering what to do about it.
My suggestion was to do absolutely nothing. The grass is merely in a dormant stage, I said. It would come back eventually, with enough rain and less intense sun, probably later in the fall. So, I’d do nothing.
He, however, was thinking about doing something: getting new soil, laying down new sod, the whole nine yards. Total lawn replacement. He definitely was thinking about doing something.
Later, as I thought about it more, my neighbour was probably closer to the right answer. There’s always something I could be doing to help the grass heal, even if it’s just getting out there and pulling out some of the weeds, or aerating the lawn, or throwing down some grass seed, or watering the grass a bit. Doing something to help the improvement process is better than doing nothing.
This morning we have a fascinating story of Jesus healing two different people; one, a troubled daughter of a Gentile woman, and the other, a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.
And the question about healing that I have from this story is this: Does God do all the healing, while we just passively do absolutely nothing? Or, is there something we also could be doing in the healing process?
I like the story of a man who comes into the lunch room of his work place, and tiredly plops down at the table, and opens his lunch bag, looking weary and exasperated.
He pulls out a sandwich, opens the wrapping, and peers down. “Yuck!” he says to his friend next to him. “A cheese sandwich! I so dislike cheese sandwiches,” he says, and glumly starts choking it down. “They’re awful. So dry.”
The next day, he again sits down next to the same friend, and opens his lunch bag. “Oh, I can’t believe it,” he says. “Another cheese sandwich!” His friend shakes his head sympathetically.
On the third day, the man once again sits down next to his friend and opens his lunch bag. “Oh brother,” he says. “Another cheese sandwich!”
His friend finally says, “Boy, you really don’t like cheese sandwiches, don’t you? Tell me something, if you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you just tell your wife to stop making you cheese sandwiches?”
“Oh,” says the man, “I’m not married.”
“Oh, well then,” says his friend, “who makes your cheese sandwiches every day?”
“I do,” he says.
It’s kind of a funny, quirky story, but it shines a light on how we so easily can slip into bemoaning about a problematic situation – at home, at church, at work, or poverty in the community, world hunger, wars and suffering of all kind. We complain, but we do nothing about it, expecting somehow that God or others quickly should make things better.
But then we have today’s scripture readings, from the author of James in the New Testament, and the Gospel of Mark, which say something else. The author of James writes: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, `Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, it is has no works, is dead.”
God calls us to action, asking us to take some responsibility, for our own healing, and that of others.
Let’s look what’s happening in the Gospel text. The Syrophoenician woman wants her daughter healed from her troubles. What does she do? Does she just stay at home, withdrawn, waiting passively for something to happen and wallowing in her suffering? No, she gets out there, and persists in searching out and finally finding Jesus, who apparently that day wasn’t easy to find as he was away from everyone alone in a house.
Then, she continues to persevere, even after Jesus at first brushes her off with an uncharacteristically off-putting remark about Gentiles, saying that healing Gentiles is like throwing good food to the dogs. But she doesn’t give up, and persists with a smart retort: Even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the good food.
Impressed by her wit and perseverance, Jesus then heals the woman’s daughter.
And then, the man who was deaf and had the speech impediment: Those around the man, presumably his friends and family, “brought” the man to Jesus, and “begged” Jesus to heal him. These are all action words. The man’s friends and family were doing something for the sake of this man’s healing.
Nowhere here do we see passive and helpless persons just sitting around doing nothing, and waiting, until, by chance Jesus might just happen to pass by and heal. No. Instead, we see people turning to Jesus, seeking him out, persistently asking for help, trying to follow him.
If we want healing, for ourselves or for the world, if we’re bothered or troubled about a problem in the world, we too need to be doing something about it. I think God honours that, and turns toward us. Then healing is immediate, unquestionable, and overflowing with grace and mercy. God’s healing love reaches and embraces all people. It is the most powerful force around.
Cardinal Carlo Martini, in his last interview just before he died at 85 years this past August, said how discouraged he felt about the state of the Church in North America and Europe. He described it as 200 years behind the times, as tired and weary, with old empty buildings and a cumbersome, slow-moving bureaucracy.
But he said what ultimately gave him hope, was the love that he continued to experience, not only personally over the last while as his care-givers and nurses physically helped him in his aged and dependant state, but also in the loving actions of the many faithful in the Church. This personal experience of love – in tangible, real and ordinary ways – was stronger than any feeling of discouragement that he had about the Church or anything else.
He said, “Only love conquers weariness.” Only love conquers weariness.
We turn toward, and rest in God and God’s love for us. And God turns toward us, and we will know healing. We will know the courage to express love to others in ways we wouldn’t have anticipated.