The Dogs Under the Table
By Fr. Bill Wigmore
(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Once again, welcome. How’s everyone doin’ tonight?
They have an expression in the Program,
that if you can’t remember your last drunk
it might be because you haven’t yet had it.
Sometimes things happen during our last drunks that have a way
of staying with us for the rest of our lives.
Maybe we’re drunk and there’s a car wreck.
If we’re blessed, nobody gets killed;
and maybe if we’re really blessed,
we’re left with a small scar to look at
and to remind us of that night.
Or for some of us, that last drunk can find us doing things to ourselves or to a loved one
that we swore was never gonna happen;
but then, with that one last drunk, it did.
And maybe for others,
we wake up in some dirty bathroom near dead
with a needle hanging out of our arm.
We look in the mirror and we don’t even know the face
that’s’ there looking back at us.
We’ve hit a moment of truth and that truth has the power to
cut through all our defenses and all our lies –
Somehow we know sobriety is now or never.
I remember one fella being told by Dennis
here in our admission’s office
that there was a long waiting list to get in
and he’d have to come back again in about two months.
The guy said, “You don’t understand, Mister!!
If I leave here today, I’m gonna die.
I’m not leaving this place!”
Pain opens us up to change –
and that pain can sometimes change us like nothing else can.
When I crawled back into the Program my second time,
my old sponsor Floyd wanted to know just one thing from me:
“Does it hurt enough this time?” he asked.
“Was I now ready to do
what I wasn’t ready or willing to do the last time?
I told him: I was ready! He said, “Good, maybe this is your time.”
In tonight’s gospel we meet a woman who’s hurting bad –
Her time to change had come
and now nothing is going to stop her.
We hear that Jesus is passing through Tyre & Sidon –
and those are cities deep inside Syria.It’s a dangerous land for Jews to be traveling in
Today, it’d be like someone from Israel passing through the Shiite section of Baghdad.
It’s a region where suspicions of neighboring tribes are high
and where old hatreds run deep.
Now it’s not exactly clear why Jesus is here –
In last week’s gospel, we heard about John the Baptist being
killed by King Herod.
Herod had John’s head chopped off and now
Herod’s also coming after Jesus –
It’s no longer safe for Jesus to be seen;
But no one’s likely to find him in Syria where Jews are scarce
and where they’re mostly hated –
and surely nobody here is likely to ask Jesus for a healing.
But pain also has a way of trumping old resentments
and there’s a woman we hear about who’s in danger of losing her daughter.
The woman’s terrified –
She’s tried everything she knows to help her daughter;
but nothing’s worked.
Her own people have all given up.
But now she hears about this Jewish stranger – a healer
who, for some unknown reason, is passing through her home town.
If she’s seen talking to him she’ll create a scandal in the
neighborhood. People will probably call her a traitor.
“But you don’t understand,” she’d say;
“This guy’s my only chance – and if he leaves here without
helping me, my daughter’s surely gonna die.”
The gospel writer wants us to make no mistake about her – this is a gutsy woman!
The Jews would say she’s got “chutzpah!”
In Tex-Mex she’d have: “cahonnes!”
She’s one tough Momma
and Jesus can spot that in her right away.
Now some scripture scholars say that the dialogue that follows
between these two is meant to be read tongue in cheek. Both she & Jesus know what this meeting is all about –
It’s about “life or death;” and for them a little thing like the old hatred between their
two peoples isn’t gonna stand in the way of their doing business.
The woman makes her move – she throws herself at Jesus feet –
She begs for her daughter’s healing.
Jesus knows good & well that she ain’t leaving the scene
without getting what she came for –
And he knows good & well that her request is gonna be granted –
But not without first seeing what she’s really made of.
So Jesus answers her saying:
“You want a healing for your child?
But what about all the hatred & all the distrust that
stands between our two people?”
“My healings are reserved for the Children of Israel –
not for you people here in Syria.”
“Don’t you know what we Jews sometime call you people:
We call you: ‘the dogs!’”
But this “dog” is sharp & she’s ready with a comeback.
“We may be dogs,” she says, “and you Jews may be the rightful children –
but even us dogs can catch the scraps that fall from the
children’s table! Jesus, I ain’t leaving here without my scrap!”
The woman got what she came for.
Her daughter was healed.
And the guy who wanted into treatment here –
He got in that very day.
I remember the admission’s people telling me that just about then
one of “the Rightful Children”
one of the guys who already had a bed in detox and a place
at the table, he decided:
“Maybe he wasn’t really that bad after all –
Maybe he didn’t really need to be here!”
So he walked – and when he did, a bed opened up
and when that happened –
then that hungry puppy grabbed hold of the scrap.
He was hurting – and he was ready –
He trusted that somehow he was going to get what
he needed that day – and he did.
Recovery’s like that.
Recovery doesn’t come just because we need it –
It comes because something changes inside of us
and now we’re ready to ask for it and to receive it
like we’ve never been ready to ask or to receive before.
My first time in treatment – I was still very much in charge –
Not nearly enough of the ego-stuffing had been knocked out of me.
If I prayed for sobriety at all
my prayer didn’t sound anything like the woman’s in this story –
My prayer probably went something like this:
“O, God, I really hate to bother you –
as a matter of fact, I’m not even sure you really exist,
but just in case you do –
and in case your so inclined –
maybe you could possibly find it in your heart
to help me get sober.
But not to worry God,
cause if you’re too busy I can certainly understand
and I’ll take care of this thing myself –
just like I always have before.”
This alcoholic-puppy didn’t ask for any scraps –
and so I didn’t get fed –
I was drunk again within a few weeks.
I was doing some reading the other day,
and I came a cross a definition of humility –
It was a new definition for me –
but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
This guy said humility is made up of two simple things.
The first is knowing what it is you cannot do –
and the second is asking for the help you need to do it.
The woman in tonight’s story –
some people might say she sounds pretty arrogant.
She sounds like she’s demanding a miracle –
like she’s really got some nerve.
But according to that definition I just gave –
she’s really being very humble –
She knows what she cannot do – she can’t save her daughter
– and so she’s come to the one who can help.
Sometimes we’re taught to be very formal in our prayers.
Be respectful to God and all of that good stuff.
But if I’ve learned anything over the years in recovery
it’s really just the opposite that’s true.
God meets us where we are –
and when we cut through the formal prayer
when we get down to really asking him in our own
language and in our own way for the help we need –
When we don’t really care about what others think
or how it all looks
that’s when the change happens –
that’s when we get healed.
Jesus says to the woman: Your trust has saved you.
Where did she put her trust? –
She put it in God through the stranger he sent into her life.
She put it in Him when everything and everyone around her
was telling her not to put it there.
That’s the change.
God is everything – or he’s nothing.
We need to give him everything we’ve got –
and maybe that’s especially easy for us
if what we’ve got feels like we’ve got nothing at all.
About forty years ago my wife did what sounded like a really strange thing –
but she’s an Al-Anon and so I’ve learned that that’s OK.
She was new to the Program
and having a really hard time getting over her own religious upbringing
and finding the God who was real and who’d accept her right where she was. –
And so one day she closed herself off in a room
and she shouted out every filthy-dirty word she could possibly
think of – (and her vocabulary’s almost as extensive as mine!)
and then she turned and said, “OK, whatever God is still here –
I’m ready to do business with you!” (She’s got cahonnes too!)
God meets us exactly where we are.
When we want him badly enough – we’ll find that He’s there.
But that means making a change in how we do business with him.
Make God real – Talk to him just like you would a friend –
and if he isn’t yet your friend – then remember tonight’s story and talk to him anyway –
Everyone who asks gets fed at his table.
And we always wind up with a lot more than scraps! Amen.
Copyright 2008 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.