I am not one who approaches strangers, particularly homeless people, with gusto. Truth be told, I avoid eye contact and try to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
While volunteering as an adult leader for a youth mission trip in Oklahoma City, I noticed a man sitting at a street corner. I didn’t think much of him at first, but he was there the next day … and the next. By the third day, he had gotten the attention of all of us inside the church van.
On the fourth day, while stopped at the traffic light, I waved the man over and the teens gave him everything we had available, which included: three bottles of water, a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and a Tootsie Roll sucker. Not exactly a complete meal, but he was appreciative nonetheless.
The morning of the fifth day, prior to leaving the living center for our last day of mission trip, two youth asked if I thought we would see the homeless man again. They wanted to give him a bag of food. I thought it was a generous offer and agreed to drive along the same route in the evening. We completed work at the client’s home (repairs to a privacy fence and installation of a wheelchair ramp) and headed for the living center to shower and eat dinner. I drove along the same route and, to our delight, the homeless man was at his usual location. I pulled into a nearby parking lot and eight sweaty volunteers – six youth and two adults – got out of the van and approached the homeless man.
We introduced ourselves, the man’s name was Bill, and together we all sat in a circle on the sidewalk. To my surprise, in addition to a full meal in one bag, each youth saved a portion of their lunches and put those items in a separate bag. Bill shared a little about himself and the youth explained what they had been doing on mission trip. An hour later, we hugged our new friend and left him with two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, four bags of chips, three granola bars, fresh fruit, and several bottles of water plus a Ziploc bag of toiletry items. The youth had orchestrated this act of kindness all on their own; it was a proud and humbling moment for me.
I share this story from mission trip for two reasons. One, kindness make a difference and two, the youth gave me a lesson on persistence. It reminded me of a story in the Gospel of Mark about a woman – a mother concerned for her child – approaching Jesus with bravery, persistence, and great boldness.
Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” ~ Mark 7:24-30
Scripture about the Syrophoenician Woman is difficult to comprehend when you have been taught to treat people nicely. Even more disturbing is the disrespectful comment from Jesus himself. Let’s peel back some of the story’s layers:
First of all, she was extremely brave to approach Jesus, a Jewish man, being a Gentile (non-Jewish) woman. Sadly, she had probably been called a dog (or worse) so many times the remarks did not phase her. But her actions spoke volumes about her situation – a desperate mother trying to find healing for her daughter. When Kamden was sick and had night terrors last week, you could have called me anything if it meant my child got relief and felt better. But there is a silver lining to this story.
The majority of Jesus’s ministry focused on the feeding the lost sheep, the Jewish population in Israel. Yet this Gentile woman (the epitome of society’s outcast) had faith in God’s restorative powers. This desperate mother saw the ‘feast’ of healing available in mere crumbs beneath the children’s table. In other words, she did not ask Jesus for a 10-course meal of miracles because she believed His crumbs were enough. That kind of humble tenacity is powerful, as far as God is concerned. The woman asked Jesus three times to heal her daughter, which He eventually did, but not before teaching another lesson: remain faithful when your prayers are not immediately answered or life doesn’t go as planned.
At this point in the story, I think about Jesus’ disciples who had urged him to send the woman away. I think Jesus orchestrated this abnormal interaction between a Jewish man and Gentile woman to make a point to his own peers: God’s grace is extended to everyone, especially a Gentile woman.
There are many lessons to learn from the Syrophoenician Woman:
one // God hears our prayers and will answer them according to His will and timing.
two // Kindness matters, especially to those different than us.
three // Humility and persistence are a powerful combination. Don’t be afraid to approach God and expect miracles to happen!
four // God’s grace extends to ALL people.
five // Crumbs from Jesus are better than a feast offered by Satan.
God, thank you for crumbs because they are little reminders that you have not abandoned me and miracles show up every day, if I but open my eyes to your glory and majesty.