The Children’s Food (lectionary musings for Proper 15, Year A)

It was another hot day in Sidon, especially in the marketplace where the winds from the Great Sea could not give us refreshment.  I had just purchased a loaf of bread – after having to endure ten minutes of ranting about how because of me, the baker’s children would have no wine to drink that night – and was headed back home to my daughter.

Ah, my poor daughter.  The demons began to torment her last year, when she turned thirteen.  She should be a young wife now, maybe with a child of her own, but no man will have her.  She screams and cries from their voices.  She rages at me and throws things at me.  She even struck her father!  I don’t know how to help my little girl.  I tried to take her to the temple, to have the priests look at her, but they called her unclean and sent us away, shouting and spitting at us.  Last night, when we lay down to sleep, I heard her muttering and tossing as the demons pricked at her.  She is my only child, my beloved, and I don’t know what to do.  We may lose her to the demons.

I was shoved by a man in the marketplace, pushing through the crowds, and realized I’d been lost in my own thoughts.  I started walking home again, and then heard a wave of excitement run over the crowd.  I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, and then it got quiet… well, as quiet as it ever gets in a marketplace.  There were still merchants shouting out their goods and prices, and there were still men and women haggling with them, and there were still children running here and there among all the legs, some of them stealing purses and bits of food.  But the people in the center, the ones who had just raised their voices in excitement, seemed to grow more still, as if they were waiting for something.

Whatever.  I kept walking.  It would be another long night if we couldn’t sleep, and I wanted some bread and wine in my belly first, maybe some nice broth or even a bit of meat.  I heard a bunch of men’s voices behind me, laughing and shouting out at each other over the crowd.  I tried to push toward the outside of the market, so that I would be out of their way.  The last thing I needed was for some Roman or tax collector to tell me I owed him something.  I just wanted to get home to my girl, to clean her up and feed her and make ready for her father to come home again.

The knot of men pushed past, and all of us in the crowd felt ourselves pushed to the sides.  And then I heard the name the men shouted.  Yeshua, Yeshua! Could it really be?  I had heard of this Yeshua.  My husband had told us he was a dangerous man, trying to stir up rebellion in Jerusalem that would make the Romans push down on us all the harder.  The Romans didn’t know an Israelite from a Samaritan or a Canaanite – they didn’t care as long as we kept quiet and obedient and helped build their palaces.  But from the women, I had heard something different.  Some of the women told me that Yeshua talked to everyone about love and forgiveness.  But even better, they talked about the healing miracles Yeshua had performed – even on the Sabbath!  He had called demons out from more than one person – even the woman Miriam from Magdala, who sometimes journeyed and taught with Yeshua’s disciples, as if she were a man!  If he could do that, I just knew he could heal my daughter, my girl.

I dropped my bread and pushed through the crowd, shouting his name, “Yeshua!  Yeshua!  I need your help!  Please, Yeshua, hear me!”  None of the men turned around, but I kept following them.  “Please, Son of David, have mercy on my daughter!  Yeshua, my daughter suffers the torments of a demon.  Help us, please, Yeshua!”  Still they kept walking.  I raised my voice even louder, pleading for his help.  Somehow I knew, knew down to my bones, that Yeshua was the only one who could help my daughter.  And my only chance to ask his help was disappearing into the crowded marketplace.  “Lord!  Lord Yeshua!  Have mercy on my daughter!  Please stop the demon from tormenting her!  Please, Lord!  Son of David, you are her only hope!”

I heard the men muttering, “Send this woman away!  Surely she is a demon, the way she torments us!”  I bit my lower lip as tears sprang to my eyes, knowing that my daughter’s only hope was now walking away from us.  But suddenly, the men stopped.  Most of them shook their heads in wonder, but one pushed through them and came back to look at me.  Everything grew silent around me, and all I could see was his face, Yeshua’s face.  His eyes were deep, as deep as the Great Sea, and I knew they could see right inside me.

I stumbled forward and knelt before him.  His feet looked so dusty, so tired.  I took my scarf and tried to wipe them off as hot tears rolled off my nose and onto his dusty, tired feet.  I tried to speak through my tears, but only a quavering whisper came out.  “Have mercy on me, Lord.  Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon.  I cannot help her, only you can.”

I heard the men all around us laughing and calling out names at me.  Unclean.  Canaanite.  Silly woman. I wept harder at their derision, humiliated before them.  One stepped out from around Yeshua and addressed me scornfully, “Woman, do you know who this is?  This is Yeshua, the Messiah.  He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, not unclean whores like you!”

I squeezed my eyes shut tight, scarcely believing his words.  I just kept whispering, “Please, Lord.  Please have mercy on me.  If you cannot have mercy on me, then have mercy on my daughter.  She is a good girl.  Please help her, Son of David.”

I heard Yeshua speak in a low voice.  “Peter, this is not right.  You must not treat her thus.  What if your daughter were tormented by a demon?”

I looked up a little, just enough to see the men through my fingers.

“Yeshua, it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it onto the ground, for the dogs!”

I saw Yeshua’s expression change, as Peter said this.  His face had hardened, and I was afraid he would grow too angry to help us.

“Sir,” I began, looking up into his deep, deep eyes and finding within them compassion, and courage.  I straightened my back and looked up at him.  “Lord, even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

I watched as the man Peter’s face turned red.  He opened his mouth as if to speak, and then closed it again.  Yeshua began to laugh.  “You look like a great fish, Peter!”  He clapped Peter on the shoulder.  “Look at you, my brother!  Gone from fisher of fish to fisher of people, and now a fish yourself!”  Peter began to smile as the men around them laughed.  I got the feeling this wasn’t the first time Peter had found himself red in the face and laughed at by these men.

Then Yeshua looked at me, and held out his hands to help me stand.  My hands warmed and tingled at his touch, but I did not want to draw them away.  “Ah, my sister!” he said.  “Your faith is great!  Let it be as you wish – your daughter is healed, right now.”

I did not know what to say, but stood there mutely, wiping tears from my face.  Yeshua smiled at me, and I smiled back at him.  I whispered, “Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, Yeshua.”

Yeshua motioned with one hand, and one of the young men rushed up, holding my bread and my purse.  Yeshua took them from the man’s hand, smiled and thanked him, and then held him out to me.  “Now you must get home to see her.  She will greet you with smiles and great gladness, because the demons will not torment her any more.  Be at peace, sister.”

I bowed my head and began to rush home.  The men made room for me to pass by, and I nodded in thanks to them.  My daughter!  My girl!

My footsteps slowed as I neared the house.  What if -?  No!  No, I must not doubt this Yeshua.  He had told me I had great faith, so I must keep it.  He said my girl would be healed, glad to see me, smiling, and I must believe him.  I began to laugh as I remembered his eyes looking into mine, seeing straight into my heart – how could anyone not have great faith, when they looked into those eyes?

Then, the door opened, and my daughter stood there, smiling, and wiping her hands on her apron.  She had washed herself, and was clean and pretty once more.  “Amma!” she cried.  “Oh, Amma!  The demons have gone!  I am me again!”

I dropped the bread again, as I reached out to hold her to me.  “Ah, my girl,” I breathed into her damp, clean hair.  “Yeshua has healed you.  The Lord is good.  Thanks be to God!”

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6 thoughts on “The Children’s Food (lectionary musings for Proper 15, Year A)

  1. Hedwyg, I like this very much. Even though you have used Peter rather than Jesus to speak the harsh words, the test for the disciples is still there. And I think that is at the heart of this section. Jesus knows the Pharisees won’t hear and understand what he teaches about clean and unclean but surely the disciples will. Then, when they don’t either, he becomes angry. This woman becomes for them the lesson enfleshed. And for us, too.
    It’s a good story. Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. Hedwyg,
    I love this! not sure if you are one to try doing monologue sermons, but this woud be so great! You could dress the part, have a loaf of bread, etc.
    This would be so, totally, cool!
    Nice work on delving into scripture

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  3. Thank you so much, ladies! I’m glad that this story touched you.

    I’m a layperson, and not (yet?) licensed to preach in my diocese. So I share my reflections on the lectionary each week here, but I don’t get to deliver them out loud on Sundays. I’m hoping to be licensed to preach someday, though.

    After I typed this story – I really felt through much of it like I was merely the typist – I was really intrigued by Peter being the one to say those harsh, cruel words. It seemed so very like poor Peter to me, stumbling and bumbling, always speaking before his brain could click in. And it seemed so very UNlike Jesus. Given how many years after this happened that the gospels were written, it’s entirely conceivable to me that some of the stories didn’t get written down quite as they happened.

    Most of all, though, I like trying to turn some of these gospel readings on their side, so that we have to look at them in new ways. It can be hard to do with readings we’ve heard for so many years, but I think it’s important to keep engaging with them, and to not let them grow stale for us. After all, I’ve changed, so why shouldn’t my way of hearing and understanding these stories change, too?

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