You do not need a priest to tell you of the horrors of our world.
You do not need to attend church to know that are nearly 60 million displaced persons on our planet. You do not need me, a priest, to describe his little blue shorts, his little red top, or his little black sneakers. Facebook, NPR, newspapers and the television have more than adequately filled our eyes and ears with the sadness of little Aylan Kurdi's death as his father, Abdullah, and mother, Rayan, tried to get him and his 5 year old brother, Galip to a safer place. You know the story and you know the picture. The photo of a single little soul, face down in the sand at the water's edge. You do not need me to tell you that not since World War II have so many people been displaced, on the move, seeking sanctuary; you do not need me or the church to learn of these grim statistics.
What we may need in the grip of these grim realities is a community of faith, a church to challenge and cradle us as we figure out ways to exorcise these worldly devastating demons.
Why now? Because nothing ever happens, nothing ever changes until our souls are punched. Aylan Kurdi's little body is the jab to our collective jawline, shattering our resistance to caring.
Its not that we didn't care before, its just that we thought we had other things more pressing, things we needed to do instead of acting on this.
And regretfully or thankfully, we are not alone in wanting to go on with our lives as they are, in spite of the needs of the world around us. We are not alone, turns out Jesus is with us in this misstep.
The Gospel story (Mark 7:24-30) that the Episcopal Church assigns to this day in September is "heaven sent."
It begins with Jesus walking in the region of Tyre, a large Phoenician port city of Syria. Really--Jesus is in Syria -- and a woman comes to him in need. A gentile woman, one who is not of his faith. She comes to him and says, "Please my daughter is possessed by a demon. I need you to heal her. Make her safe, from that which would kill her."
And what does our Lord and Savior say? "The Children must be fed first. It's not right to take the food away from them and give it to the dogs." Yup, as Biblical Scholar Sharon Ringe says, Jesus was caught with his compassion down." Jesus likens the Syrian woman and her child to a dog -- not a cute pet-- but a wild scavenging dog stealing, and threatening the people.
Not a great moment for the Son of God. Apparently this was his fully human side talking. Ever said something aloud that you could not believe you let past your teeth and through your lips?
But our woman of Syrian origin is not deterred. Her child is at risk. She responds quickly and succinctly. "Sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat the children's crumbs," (Mark 7:28). Even the dogs under the table get to eat the children's crumbs.
I envision Jesus stopping, blushing, mumbling an expletive deleted or two -- as you do, when you have been justly called out -- then looking at her he says, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter."
The woman returns to her home and finds her daughter quietly, safely lying on her bed. She is healed. The demon is gone. Her child is well. Safe.
Like me, perhaps like you and like the countries of wealth in this world, Jesus needed a wake up call to do the right thing.
A version of this interchange is also recorded in Matthew's Gospel, indicating that this exchange or one much like it must have really happened. It is recorded, I believe, to offer all of us, who are human through and through, a record of the Holy One realizing he has limited his view, his love, his potential.
According to Jonathon Berlin and Rick Tuma of the Chicago Tribune:
220,000 people were killed in Syria as of January 2015;
which is twice the population of Elgin, a suburb in North West Illinois.
4.1 million people have fled from Syria as of August 2015 while
2.7 million people live in the city of Chicago.
7.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria.
And 7.5 million people live in the four counties (Cook, Lake, DuPage, and Will) that make up and surround the city of Chicago.
12.2 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian help.
12.9 million people live in the state of Illinois.
60 million people displaced throughout the world. This is an overwhelmingly massive problem. The U.S. has sent more than 4 billion dollars in aid, the largest amount of any nation. Yet we have taken in very few refugees, mostly because we are terrified that in admitting one of these people we may bring in a terrorist. No one wants that responsibility. No one wants his or her name on one of those documents. Yet the very people who are fleeing are the ones who want nothing to do with the terrorists of the Middle East.
As Bill Frelick of the Human Rights Watch said, "The haystack is being stopped because we are so afraid of the needle." Are the risks worth the benefits? Is it time for us to change our minds? Is it time for us to ask our government to rethink some of our stances? Should your community of faith begin a refugee resettlement ministry? What do you think? How much time do you have to care?
Are there crumbs on our table that need to be shared? Are there loaves of bread that need to be broken for all?
We have a lot to think on--but we cannot contemplate for long. There are little ones with their heads in the sand and their mouths filled with the sea.
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry September 2015