Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost +9
August 14, 2011
My first foe was my father, who was horribly abusive to my mother and me. When he finally left, a new enemy surprised me: my mother’s demons. I was 13 when my mother’s mental illness drove her to lock me in a back bedroom of our house—without food or water. By the time the police broke in a week later, I was literally starving. – Laura, Former Foster Child and CASA Beneficiary
Children of broken homes are often demonized. They are tormented by their parents’ demons of physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, or mental illness. They often “fall between the cracks” in the foster care system, as they are passed from one family to another, each failing to meet the specialized needs of a child survivor. Repeated failures in the home environment often set these children up for failure at school and eventual rejection by society.
In the Gospel reading for this week, we meet a desperate Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. When the woman meets Jesus in the Tyre/Sidon region, she shouts, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” (vv.22). The Greek text, kakos daimonizetai, literally means “is being evilly demonized.”
Jesus “answered her not a word” (vv.23, King James Version). His silence was, first, due to the fact that pious Jewish men did not speak to unaccompanied women at that time. Secondly, the woman was a Canaanite, most likely a pagan, and regarded by Jews as ritually unclean. Her status was confirmed when Jesus said to her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv.24).
The Canaanite woman would not take “no” for an answer, however. She knelt before Jesus, saying “Lord, help me” (vv.25). Here was an advocate (from the Latin meaning “to speak for” someone) who would not give up. Modern children struggling with family demons need this kind of advocacy. Luckily, there is a national network of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on their side – volunteers who “Give a Child a Voice”. According to the CASA website (www.casaforchildren.org), CASA volunteers have helped more than two million children find safe, permanent homes, away from family demons.
In our Gospel story, however, Jesus was not impressed with Canaanite woman’s advocacy. He shockingly tossed an insult at her: “It is not fair to take the [Israelite] children’s food and
throw it to the dogs” (vv.26). Not only were dogs considered ritually unclean under Jewish law, but since she was a woman, Jesus was also implying that she was a b!#ch! Such behavior is almost incomprehensible from the Lord of Love and the Prince of Peace. The result of the comment, however, was that the Canaanite woman rose to the occasion for the sake of her tormented child. She turned Jesus’ insult on its head, saying “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (vv.27). Sometimes it takes opposition to bring out someone’s true strength and tenacity. And a little sass doesn’t hurt either.
Tenacity is the hallmark of CASA volunteers who defend children who are battling family demons. Frankye Hull, recipient of the 2009 G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year Award, is an elderly CASA volunteer whose age belies her iron determination. She tells parents whose children are being removed, “I’ll be very frank with you. I’m going to do what I think is right [for the child]. If it means that I’ve got to sneak around; if it means I’ve got to act like Dick Tracy; if it means I have to travel a thousand miles; I’m going to get to the bottom of what’s wrong.” She has no doubt faced a great deal of opposition in her efforts, but she is still determined to be “A Voice for a Child”: “As long as I can get out there and help these children, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing … as long as I can get out of bed in the morning, I’ll keep reaching for my cane, calling for a ride and asking the questions that need to be asked about the children.”
Upon seeing the Canaanite woman’s tenacity, Jesus exclaimed “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter was then healed instantly (vv.28). Note that it is not any action on Jesus’ part that triggers the miracle, but the tenacious faith of the Canaanite woman. This is made clear in the version of the story in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus says to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29). Sometimes we are the ones that end up opening the doors to miracles.
CASA volunteers are an embodiment of God’s chesed (Hebrew: unconditional, Covenant-backed love) for children who have been tormented by their parents’ demons. Through many travails, social workers, court dates and disappointments, the love of a CASA volunteer is often the only constant that these children have. As many judges have attested, it is that love that works the miracle and gets these children into safe homes. One Prescott, AZ judge said, “Since I’ve been a juvenile court judge for almost 15 years now, everybody’s changed. Nobody that I started with is still in the juvenile system … The one constant I see in children’s lives is the CASA. They are the ones that receive the graduation announcements. They are the ones still called upon to be mentors for children as they continue to grow and become adults.”
One CASA Volunteer from Norman, OK said of her efforts for the children, “I have gone out in the yard and kicked a few trees….but I’ve never thought about quitting.” What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
 All CASA-related quotes in this post were taken from the CASA website.