Shoes, Dogs and God’s Grace

A pair of toddler shoes

SHOES

The small boy’s lifeless body lay face down in the surf. His red shirt flagged down the world’s fickle attention span in a way months of reports about thousands of drowned refugees had failed to do. The small sneakers his parents strapped on him that morning remained loyally attached to his tiny feet.

This three-year-old from Syria had shocked me awake. My heart ached for his grieving father, who lost his wife and two sons in the same day.

How could this happen? What could I do to help?

I and the rest of the world have known about this refugee crisis. This didn’t just start last week. Thousands have already died on similar journeys. But the image, this small child, those little shoes…I was seeing the situation with new eyes.

These thoughts and images accompanied me all the way up the mountain and followed me into the pew at Sugar Valley United Methodist Church in Albright, West Virginia, this week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.)

Front of sanctuary at Sugar Valley United Methodist Church, Albright, West Virginia

As is often the case, the concerns of my heart found reflection and perspective in a thoughtfully-crafted worship experience. And this worship experience was focused on seeing with new eyes.

Just after we sang “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me…,” the children gathered around the pastor to hear a message about giving the unknown and the unfamiliar a chance…to see things with new eyes.

She produced a small plastic bag containing some odd-shaped and unfamiliar-looking food items and asked the kids if they knew what they were.

A woman's hands holding two unripe paw paws.

“Spoiled pickles?” guessed one child.

They couldn’t identify the items and none of them appeared overly-eager to taste test.

The food turned out to be not-yet-ripe paw paws. The pastor promised to bring some back when they were ripe, and she promised that they would actually taste really good – sort of like bananas.

Moral of the story, kids: Give the unknown and the unfamiliar a chance…see things with new eyes.

DOGS

In this week’s sermon, the pastor reminded us that we all – even Jesus – sometimes need to see things with new eyes.

She based her sermon on the lectionary reading from Mark 7, the passage in which the Syrophoenician woman begs Jesus to heal her sick daughter.

To set the scene, Jesus is tired and has headed off to be away from the crowds. He doesn’t want anyone to know he is there. In addition, this woman who has discovered his location and reached out for help is not Jewish.

Jesus responds to her in a way that shocks us today. Frankly, it does not resonate as very “Christ-like.”

It sounds an awful lot like Jesus is telling this woman she is not his priority, he is here to take care of the Jews, she is the equivalent of a dog (not Jewish) and his time and resources should not be wasted on her.

Toddler shoes on a floor mat that says "Dead End"

If you want to read the exact words of the passage, here you go:

“He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’”

But this mom would not take “no” or “someday” for an answer.

“‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”

She was willing to humble herself, go along with his dog analogy, and still beg him to do whatever he could to help her daughter – even if it was just the crumbs of his time and resources.

She had faith that the crumbs would be enough.

With that, Jesus saw her with new eyes and he healed her daughter.

Something tells me if this mom lived today, she would lovingly put shoes on her child’s feet, and a bright red shirt on her back, and would launch out on a dangerous journey if that’s what it took to try and save her child’s life.

If this mom lived today, she and her daughter might very well be among the flood of refugees seeking the safe harbor of Europe via anything-but-safe waters.

GRACE

What would Jesus do? (What should we do?)

Perhaps his/our initial response would be that they are not his/our priority, that his/our time and resources are needed and demanded elsewhere.

But I believe, as in the Mark 7 scripture passage, he would soon see her with new eyes. He would realize that there can be time and resources enough to help her and the other refugees.

Even the crumbs would be enough.

That, after all, is a message of God’s grace.

That, after all, is what we are commanded to show others – even (especially?) to the unknown and unfamiliar others.

As I sat in the pew at Sugar Valley and reflected on the humanitarian crisis represented by a tiny child washed up on a beach, I welcomed the message of the morning’s worship service – that we all (even Jesus) need to be willing to see with new eyes.

New eyes that see the world from a new perspective:

A perspective of plenty, not scarcity;

A perspective of sharing, not hoarding;

A perspective of helping, not fearing the unfamiliar and unknown.

Armed with this new perspective, my thoughts returned to the little boy on the beach; back to the thousands – hundreds of thousands – of refugees who are risking everything to seek safety for themselves and their families.

Will we see them with new eyes – or with the eyes of our ingrained cultural assumptions, our prejudices, our fear?

Will we consider them unworthy “dogs” – or God’s children?

Will we recognize that these children of God have the courage to approach and ask for help – even if all we have in the face of overwhelming need is crumbs?

Seeing with new eyes lets us realize the crumbs will be enough.

The crumbs – when put into the hands and service of the one who fed thousands with a few fish and a little bread – will be enough.

Toddler shoes on a door mat that says "Welcome"


As I write this – the wave of refugees swamping Europe is the crisis du jour.

You may be reading this now and facing a different crisis in your own life or community. (There are so many variations on unknown and unfamiliar people to see with new eyes.)

You may be reading this many months or years hence while in the midst of any number of challenges.

Whatever the crisis or challenge, now or in the future, may you pause and reflect and see with new eyes.

Even Jesus allowed himself to see with new eyes.

New eyes that greet the unknown and the unfamiliar – not with slurs and fear, but with welcome and healing… with crumbs of grace.

Crumbs that will turn out to be enough.


 

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