August 16

Resilient Love

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 15:21-28

Click here to hear just the sermon

In the 1992 classic movie, The Mighty Ducks, a successful lawyer was sentenced to 500 hours of community service. He ended up coaching a ragtag group of children how to play hockey and how to be a team. In typical Disney fashion, this helped the coach, Gordon Bombay, to connect with the childhood loss of his father. Before the team’s success though, Bombay lost the trust of most of his team. In a pivotal scene of the movie, he revealed to one player that he frequently replays losing the championship game for his childhood hockey team. Bombay was selected to take a penalty shot which he missed and the team went on to lose the game in overtime. He says that he missed the shot by a quarter of an inch. Throughout the movie, the missed shot is shown multiple times and the viewer sees the puck hitting the goalpost.

While missing a shot in a children’s hockey game by a quarter of an inch seems utterly insignificant given everything going on in our world, the movie viewer is given the sense that things might have been different for Bombay if he had just scored the goal. After recounting the missed shot and saying that, a quarter of an inch would have made the difference, one of Bombay’s players says “‘Yeah, but a quarter inch the other way and you’d have missed completely.” Bombay responds, “I never thought of it that way.” Just like that, Bombay’s outlook is re-oriented by this line. This new perspective changes him. He can’t go back and take the shot again, but he has some say in how the memory shapes his life. He permits to accept that he missed the shot and that changing what happened, either for success or for greater failure, was impossible. While a quarter of an inch one way would have led to success he could have just as easily missed completely if it went a quarter on an inch the other way.

Throughout life, we must learn to deal with failure and success, as well as the margin between success and failure. As a hospital chaplain, I consistently listen to stories that people tell me. These stories often contain triumphs and despairs. Part of my chaplain training is to learn to recognize the degree to which these memories shape the present. It is clear to me that the past continues to impact the present. I have learned not to take for granted the impact that memories or events can have, even ones that seem insignificant to others. Unrequited love from 30 years ago, moving to a new state, the loss of a pet, or a missed hockey shot. People respond to events in life differently. We are unique and people interpret life and events out of their individuality. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how events or memories shape us. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how much pain or for how long painful events linger.

What is clear is that tragedies and hardships of varying magnitudes, can leave marks on our minds and souls. Some have taken to calling these marks soul wounds. Soul wounds are invisible marks left from traumatic or troubling events. They can be memories that refuse to be integrated into identity. Events that linger far beyond what is considered conventional. Feelings that flood the mind at unwanted times and overwhelm the sense of self. Strung out emotions and isolation pervade as powerlessness and a lack of agency abound. Soul wounds are serious. Sometimes, the wounds are so deep and strong that they make people question their whole understanding of reality. Then, there are times when people are unaware of the potency of soul wounds. Often times because they remain hidden beneath the surface. In these situations, they are hidden but powerful and impactful. Escaping recall and language but shaping reality.

Soul wounds can impact anyone regardless of race, class, or gender. They are not bound by geographical location or education. Numbers 1-9 on the enneagram, any combination of letters from Myers Briggs INFJ, ESTP, anyone can be hurt and that hurt can linger far beyond the initial wound. Recognizing the ongoing impact of soul wounds, of losses and failures would be easier if we could see the scars that these events leave. Unlike our bodies which often retain marks of serious injuries that can be seen by others, soul wounds are invisible. You can ride the T with a train full of people experiencing myriads of misfortune and not know. Certainty, there can be the visible signs drooping heads, sluggish shoulders, and misty eyes but for the most part soul wounds are obscure. Their obscurity helps them persist. Their obscurity also reminds us that soul wounds are often outside of our direct control. Soul wounds can lead to a sense of powerlessness and a lack of autonomy over the self. These wounds though, do not determine who we are nor are we completely defenseless against their impact. Coping tools and resiliency, of which faith can be a major contributor, can help in times of trouble. Certainty, new perspectives, love from others, and other forms of support can mitigate the impact and effects of the wounds. Yet, it is hard when every day it feels like pieces of the self are under threat from various sources.

The encounter recorded in Matthew 15 with the women in the districts of Tyre and Sidon is complicated. The text says that she is a Canaanite woman. Like many of the women of the Bible, her name was not deemed worthy of being written down, after all, papyrus was expensive.

While her name was not worth mentioning, her ethnicity was worth recording. She was a Canaanite. The supposed ancient enemy of the Israelite people. This marker of identity, this label given to her by the narrator, is not polite. It isn’t even neutral. It is downright troubling. It is, to be frank, an ethnic slur. A racist slur. The mistreatment and prejudice did not end with the narrator though. After revealing that her daughter was being tormented, she was ignored. She was not deemed worthy of a response, other than by the disciples who want to send her away. Her suffering was deemed an inconvenience. It was deemed an inconvenience to those with privilege. Even when her suffering was named and put out in the open, there was no compassion from the disciples. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” They do not even say, heal her daughter and send her away, for she keeps shouting after us. Just send her away. Her shouting, her suffering is bothering us. They did not want to see or hear it. Her wounds, her tragedies, her very life and the life of her daughter were measured and deemed inconsequential.

With all the resiliency and tenacity that comes from living on the margins where a quarter of an inch is the difference between life and death, this woman pushed. In the midst of an unsafe situation where she was outnumbered by a group of men who do not care what happened to her or her daughter, who do not look quite like her, who do not speak quite like her, she risked her life out of love for her daughter. Beloved, if you want to know what Gospel love is, perhaps in Matthew 15 we ought to look at this woman who refused to accept what the world and religious people told her about herself. She refused to accept what the people in places of power said.

If we want to see Gospel love, perhaps it is the insistence that Canaanite lives matter and that when one group has the means and resources to save others, “no” is not an acceptable answer. She refuses to accept “no”, she refuses to accept that the position has been filled, the house has just been sold, or that things will be better for the next generation. She offered her daughter resilient love that would not stay unseen and unheard.

She pushed. We cannot say exactly why but she pushed surely partly out of love and desperation for her child. What loving parent would not push for the sake of their child? We must be careful though not the make her suffering redemptive for that too easily becomes co-opted by power and privilege. There is such a thing as redemptive love and suffering can be redemptive but here we see resilient love. It is not suffering that saves but resiliency in the face of adversity. Resilient love that demands to be seen and demands to be heard. Resilient love that claims a place at the table. Resilient love, not a feeling that comes and goes, waxes and wanes, but a way of being. This is resilient love. Resilient love is Gospel love.

The story is complex. This encounter is complex. People are always more complex than they are made out to be. Jesus is more complex than he is often made out to be. It would be a much easier story without versus 24 and 26. You see, these verses seem to reveal that Jesus bought into the racialized ideologies of the time.  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is not only Israel first, but it is Israel only. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Nevertheless, she persists. She came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” These are not the words of the narrator, these are not the words of the disciples. These are red letters and that does not stop them from being another racial slur. Jesus refuses to heal when he can and refuses to see the women in front of him as a person. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Sure, the Greek is diminutive which is perhaps more appropriately translated as puppy instead of dog but the inference is no better. He does not see her because he does not have to see her. He compares her sick daughter to a dog.

Michelle Obama, in a recent podcast, shared that she feels the ongoing racial strife, and lack of response to the pandemic in the nation, has left to her experiencing low-grade depression at times. While I do not think that depression and soul wounds can be correlated or equated, there certainly can be similarities. And, her sharing her experience names the wider truth of what is going on across the country and world. Whether it is soul wounds, depression, or trauma the nation is facing a challenging time. People are facing challenging times. A time when a quarter of an inch in any direction can have monumental ramifications. The ongoing water in which we currently swim, the soil in which we are attempting to draw nutrients, provides additional challenges to individual and communal thriving. How can plants thrive when the soil is sick? How can fish swim when the water is poisoned? Although, many of the challenges have always been present and have been unacknowledged by those in places of privilege.

Between the myriad of pandemics the country is facing, and the personal challenges, this season feels a bit like the state of Narnia is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe. When the Pevensie children first arrive, they learn that the fictional country of Narnia is in a perpetual state of winter. They are told that it is always winter and never Christmas. We have had summer without beaches and barbeques, virtual fireworks for the Fourth of July, and empty churches for Easter. We have watched death and destruction on the news and streamed on the internet. We are living in an age of dislocation. It is almost as if someone forgot to turn the calendar from Lent to Easter and then to Eastertide. Always winter and never Christmas. Christianity has a place for trauma, tragedy, and soul wounds but we usually prefer it to stay compartmentalized. Death and silence are acceptable topics on Good Friday and Holy Saturday but Easter has come and gone. It is now time for hope, joy, and love. It is now time for the resurrection. But what do you do when it seems like the resurrection just will not come? Perhaps even harder, what do you do when the resurrection has come and gone but it does not seem like anything is different? Is it now a time when it is always lent and never Easter? Sorrow, grief, anguish, despair, and isolation are refusing to be contained and controlled. They are refusing to stay silent. The impact of their discordance is seen across individuals and communities. In the face of such, we must learn resilient love. Resilient love clings to hope in order to fan the flames of change. Resilient love recognizes brokenness, trauma, and tragedy. It does not force joy and triumph before they are welcome but it does not give up.

The power of the cross is a location of redemptive love in triumph but the cross is also a location of resilient love in brokenness. The cross is a symbol of tragedy, and not just triumph. Life is a process of interpreting meaning. There are times when events and situations align. There are times it seems that nothing goes right. Everything seems broken beyond repair. Sometimes the difference between the two is just a quarter on an inch. Faith reminds us that life is meaningful and purposeful in seasons of Lent and seasons of Easter. Faith calls for redemptive and resilient love.

I sometimes wonder how different life would be if people were able to see soul wounds. We can show each other physical scar and wounds. We can see when people are physically bleeding and hurt. When pointed out, people often share the story behind the wound but soul wounds often remain unseen and un-narrated. On the one hand, this protects the agency of the person by preventing unwanted vulnerability, on the other hand, it too often allows the harm that caused the wounds to persist. Would we be more compassionate to each other if we knew the weight of pain and sorrow we bore? Would we bear each other’s burdens with more care if we knew? We cannot see soul wounds but we can learn to be more attentive to emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of those around us, including our own. We can learn to give and receive resilient love.

Like many outside of places of privilege and power, the woman in Matthew 15 learned to survive on crumbs. She learned how to glean on crumbs that others did not want. Crumbs from the masters’ table. This is what she asked for from Jesus. She asked for crumbs and knew that she would work hard to live on less. On the one hand, she gets what so many others miss. That a crumb from the Messianic Banquet is enough to sustain life, on the other hand, her story asks why do some get seats at the table and others crumbs that fall.

 I confess that as a white person, I am tempted to want to celebrate that Jesus changed here. I want to make the story better by saying that the ending ties everything up; however, we must resist such interpretations of texts and life. It is too neat. The change does not negate the harm. It is good that Jesus did change as a result of his encounter with this woman. He affirms her faith. He heals her daughter. There are other sayings and stories that reveal a more inclusive ministry; however, Jesus’ changed perspective may not be what the text is about for us today. This is a story of a mother’s resilience who persisted in the face of prejudice and privilege. This is perhaps a time, where Jesus learned about Gospel love from another person. From an outsider who was written off. This is the Gospel as the resilient love of a mother who advocated through adversity, who refused to accept no as an answer. Thanks be to God for the Gospel of resilient love.


-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Comments are closed.