Changing the world

Pentecost 15

Mark 7:24-37

Marian Free

In the name of God whose shoulders are broad enough to bear our complaints and whose love is wide enough to respond. Amen.

I’m sure that most of you will have heard the extraordinary and moving story of the young Australian woman whose fiancé is living with locked-in syndrome as a result of a football injury. My google search failed to find the story, so I will call the couple Rachel and David. Rachel and David were preparing for their wedding when David knocked his head during a football match. When he woke from his coma, he was unable to do anything. Though fully aware of what was gong on around him, he could not move nor could he communicate. He was suffering from locked-in syndrome for which there is no known cure. For Rachel this situation was not good enough. She loved David and was determined that he should have the best life possible. In order to achieve this, Rachel moved into David’s parent’s home to be able to help care for him. Then, with David’s Father, she spent every spare minute researching a cure.

Hope came when, after extensive searching, they discovered that a doctor in South Africa had discovered that a particular sleeping tablet sometimes had the opposite effect that is, with particular patients it caused them to be more alert than usual. Rachel contacted the doctor to see if the same drug might assist David. After a number of discussions and a full consideration of the risks involved, she decided to give David a small dose of the medication. To their joy and amazement, the drug brought David out of his locked-in state! For an hour, he was able to communicate, to share how he had been feeling, his frustration and hopes. Sadly, at the time the programme was shown, the family had not been able to increase the times of alertness nor was there an clear understanding of how the drug worked. However, at lest for a short time each day, David is able to communicate and Rachel has her partner to talk to. No one knows what lies ahead for David but the determination of his fiancé has meant that his quality of life will be so much better than had she given up hope or given up on him.

People will go to amazing lengths for those whom they love. Magazines and newspapers are filled with inspiring stories of families and friends doing all that they can to ensure that the person whom they love has access to the best possible care even if that means taking them overseas. Others raise money to build care facilities that enable young people to receive care without going to an old people’ home. Many spend hours helping a family member or friend to recover from accident or stroke. Others establish funds or foundations to assist other people who are afflicted in the same way as their loved one and yet others challenge the laws to see justice truly done. We have all witnessed the way in which Daniel Morcombe’s parents responded to the disappearance of their son. They have spent years keeping their story in front of us in an attempt to make sure that their son was found. As well they have established programmes to educate children about “stranger danger.

The list of stories could go on and on and on. What is clear is that love doesn’t see the barriers that are put in the way, but pushes through sometimes with unexpected and astounding results. Very often the changes that result form such persistence help not only the family concerned but have much wider implications – changes to the legal system or to treatment regimes, funds for ongoing research all benefit the wider community.

Such is the case with the woman in today’s gospel. She is not even supposed to know that Jesus is in the area and, as a woman and a Gentile, probably shouldn’t even being trying to approach him. However, she is driven by desperation. Her daughter is unwell and like, most parents, she will do whatever it takes to save her. Even when Jesus refuses point-blank to help, the woman is undeterred. She breaks through Jesus’ argument to persuade him that even those outside the chosen people are able to access “the crumbs” that fall from the table. Jesus is unable to resist this logic and the woman’s daughter is healed. The long-term result of the woman’s persistence is that the community that formed in Jesus’ name was not restricted to those of Jewish birth, but was thrown open to people from all backgrounds and from every nation. Jesus’ mind was changed by the woman’s word (teaching) and history was changed as a result!

Too often we feel powerless to change our situation – either because of our physical abilities, societal restrictions, family background, income or other reason. Some of us assume that our situation in life is “the will of God” and submit, sometimes grudgingly, to the hand life has dealt us. The example of the Syrophoenician woman challenges these negative assumptions. While it is true that it is not always possible to bring about change – the cure for our disease might not be found in our life-time, it may take years and years for a refugee to find a country that will them – that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to bring about change or that we shouldn’t challenge society (or even God) about the way things are.

Often it is the most unlikely people who effect change – sometimes on a huge scale. The Syrophoenician woman was an outsider, with no position in society and almost certainly no income to boast of yet, according to this account she was able to change the mind of Jesus, and as a result, to change the course of history.

We may not be able to change the world, but it may be possible to change our small corner. Things don’t always work out the way we hope but whether they do or not, let it not be for the want of trying.

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