A dead child, pulled from the sea.
A dead three-year-old, a Kurdish refugee, originally from the Syrian city of Kobane which was flattened by IS last year, drowned with his brother and mother off the Turkish coast because his now state-less parents were desperate to reach relatives in Canada.
It has taken one dead child, one among hundreds of others, one sickening set of heart-breaking images among thousands, to start to change a widespread view that in Europe we have no space, no place, no healing, to offer those refugees in desperate need of help.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is a stranger in another land. He’s more like a holiday-maker, than a refugee or migrant. He’s travelling through a non-Jewish region, apparently alone without his disciples, one of those periods in his ministry where he needed to re-charge his spiritual batteries. There in Tyre, (now on the Lebanese coast) and in the Decapolis (ten communities on the south-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where the borders of modern day Syria and Jordan meet), people seem to have been quite happy to take him into their home.
But Jesus was already well known by repute even in these non-Jewish regions, and try as he might to avoid the public, people sought him out. Word of his healing ministry was ahead of him, and people brought word of their ailing loved ones, or brought the loved ones themselves, to him.
They may not all have understood the source of his healing power, but the conversation we see recorded between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, tells us that some of them most certainly did. Today is not the day to grapple with the detail of what Jesus said to her, and whether he was rude to her or not. If she thought he was, the woman never said so, calling him Sir, or Lord, and treating him with respect. What is important, was that this woman recognised Jesus as someone who was bringing hope and healing, not simply to his own community, the Jews, but through them to the world in general. Whilst he knew that the process of redeeming the world would not be fully inaugurated until the completion of his earthly ministry, she saw no reason why her daughter could not receive that healing and hope now; and in the face of the woman’s faith and her daughters suffering, Jesus saw no reason to with-hold the love of God, through whom that healing was manifest.
We have no idea if the Syrophoenician woman was rich or poor, we know only that she was desperate to see her child made well. The Jews did indeed regard Gentile’s like her as poor, in faith terms at least, and yet she recognised and understood the possibilities offered by Jesus mission in the world. In this instance, when his disciples as well as other followers were confused about who he was, and what he was bringing into the world, “God chose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to [encourage Jesus by recognising themselves as being] heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him”.
As the Messiah, the beloved Son of God, it was not enough for Jesus to simply be who he was, he had to act the part; people believed in him not just because of what he said, but because of what he did. If they recognised him as the means of God’s love and hope being shared throughout the world, they demanded to see that love and hope living and active among them, shared without favouritism among both Jew and Gentile.
If you’ve ever doubted that God speaks through scripture, or the ordering of our Anglican lectionary, then today in the face of a refugee crises that our Archbishop has likened to that of the Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, and Vietnamese boat people of the last century, then doubt no more. Christ came into the world to bring healing to those of all nations, and of none; to fulfil for all, the prophesy of renewal in Isaiah 35; that blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, and silent tongues given voice to sing.
How long have we been blind, how long deaf, how long silent? How long have we looked at the poor people in dirty clothes camped out on our borders, and feared them? How long have we displayed partiality between invaders, migrants and refugees with our lazy and judgmental use of language, tarring all with the same brush? How long, as those who profess to “believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”, have we ignored the “naked lacking daily food”, because they lie on other shores?
Am I the only one who this week, in the face of a dead child lying drowned on a foreign shore, and a wealth of scripture that calls us to offer practical love and healing to our neighbour, finds the authenticity to their Christian faith feeling like it is in tatters because they have thus far done nothing?
But, it is never too late to seek God’s forgiveness and make a new start, to listen to scripture and respond like we’ve heard it, to see need, and do our best, in some small way, to meet it. Letters can still be written to political leaders. Money can still be donated to people who can use it wisely on our behalf. Shopping lists can still be lengthened to include a sleeping bag and mat, a tarpaulin, blanket, if we don’t already have spares lying in a shed, a garage or a roof. There are Amazon wish lists for aid organisations, and people collecting soft toys to take to children. As always, it’s amazing what we can do if we can only find a way.
I think that whilst the Syrophoenician woman, a Syrian, was desperate for her daughter to receive healing, her words show she knew that God’s healing was available to all, to us who have been blind, deaf and mute to people’s need, just as much as to those around the world who have left the decimated remains of what was once their home and country, desperate to live and work without fear of violence from any source. It has been written that “healing can never be simply a matter of correcting a few faults in the machine called the human body. It always was and is,… a sign of God’s love breaking in to the painful and death-laden present world.” This week, we can no longer ignore that death-laden present near our shores; nor can we receive and worship as the body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, without acknowledging that “for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
Let us pray:
Prayer for the Refugee Crisis (CofE)
you are the source of all
goodness, generosity and love.
We thank you for opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,
and reach out our hands in support.
That the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ
Your Son, our Lord,
who fled persecution at His birth
and at His last, triumphed over death.