Meow-ing at the Door

From time to time people ask me about my cat, Leo, who, as some of you know, was brought to me as a kitten who’d been found on the streets, abandoned by his mother.  To be honest, a year and a half later, I am still much more of a dog person than a cat person.  My dog Baxter hangs around church with me and others all day, every day.  He accompanies me on walks all over the city, and sometimes goes on trips with me.

Leo, on the other hand, although perfectly nice when he is alone with me, is a scaredy-cat.  Whenever Baxter is around, Leo hides behind a sofa for hours at a time, and mostly comes out at night to patrol the Rectory when he knows he is in no danger of running into the sleeping dog, who is behind a door in the bedroom with me.

This summer I have discovered, however, that Leo is not always the archetypically aloof cat.  On the several occasions that I have been away for more than a few days, although Leo is true to form in avoiding Baxter – and so, unable to greet me on my return home – once the lights are out on my first night back, and a door closed between the dog and him, Leo comes to the bedroom door and meows loudly and pathetically for attention.  “Hey! he seems to be calling, What about meee!”  And I realize that I cannot reserve all my affection for the dog.  Even this frightened, ill-socialized cat needs me to come spend some time with him.  He needs his ears scratched and his tummy rubbed, and to walk around me in circles, rubbing his back against me and purring.  And he even allows me to pick him up and hold him in my arms – which is not his usual thing.

When I came home from my recent trip and heard Leo meow-ing loudly outside the bedroom door, I had the story of the Canaanite woman we heard today already in my head.  And though it was late, and I would have liked to go straight to bed, and I had not thought much at all, to be honest, about doing anything for Leo except cleaning his litter box, there was his plaintive cry – “What about meee?!”  And I realized that this is exactly what the Canaanite woman was doing.  She had no reason to expect Jesus to pay much attention to her.  But she believed that he could do for her what she needed – that he could heal her daughter.  And her crying must have been every bit as pathetic as Leo’s meow-ing.  “What about meee?!”

It is a moment of truth for Jesus.  His disciples – his entourage – are asking him to send her away (she’s just someone else encroaching on their time with him).  And Jesus’ initial response, is roughly the equivalent of kicking the cat aside and telling it to go back behind the sofa where it belongs.  But she will not stop meow-ing – this woman – “What about meee?!”

Some parts of the church these days are practicing a faithfulness to the New Testament that seems to begin and end with an imitation of the disciples who quite regularly ask Jesus to get rid of people who bother them.  “Send her away!” the disciples say of the Canaanite woman, just as they did of the 5,000 hungry souls gathered at the lakeshore to hear Jesus teach.  Send them away!  This is another way of saying, “Jesus’ gospel: his forgives, mercy, love and hope – all of which the world desperately needs in every corner – are not for you! Go away!”

Do we doubt that there are quite literally millions of people who believe that this is the message the church is broadcasting?  Many people see in the church too many examples of hypocrisy, abuse, self-interest, arrogance, and a ready willingness to slam the door in people’s faces.  And they are not imagining it; we still have plenty of disciples in the church who think they speak for Jesus when they say of people they don’t approve of, “Send them away!”

And of course, many who see in the church, quite rightly, too many examples of hypocrisy, abuse, self-interest, arrogance, and a ready willingness to slam the door in people’s faces, don’t need to be sent away: they have happily left of their own accord.  It is as though, tired of living behind the sofa and having to beg for attention, my cat Leo decided to pack his things and move out.

But he would still be meow-ing somewhere.  He would still need to have his ears scratched and his tummy rubbed, to walk around someone in circles and rub his back against them and purr.  He would still need to be picked up and cradled in someone’s arms long after he had given up on the possibility that anyone would do it.

So the cry of a Canaanite woman is a reminder to us, like the meow-ing of a needy cat.  And some of us here today may feel more like that woman, more like Leo, than like the disciples.  Or at least we know people who feel that way – excluded, ignored, unwanted by a church that is uninterested in sharing Jesus with them.  “What about meee?!”  While there are still voices crying, let us be clear about the answer.  Just imagine how Jesus must have felt as even he discovered that the answer was more generous than he imagined.  If he had something to learn about the expansiveness of his mission, chances are we do too.

And if we are able to hear in the meow-ing of a cat the need to be tended to, to have at least a little attention paid, and perhaps even to be picked up and cradled in our arms, how much more should we be open to hearing the sometimes subtle cries of a world that fears the church has nothing to say to them but “Go away!”

And would we send them away?  Or has God given us generous hearts and strong arms to find ways to respond to a world that needs more of Jesus not less of him?

And if you happen to be one of those who is feeling a bit uncertain about God, wondering if God knows you, remembers you, cares for you; if you feel like you could practically scream just to get his attention, or at least meow a little at the door; and if you are wondering if it is worth it, if it gets you anywhere, or if you should perhaps just pack your things and move out, because why should you have to live behind the sofa, after all…

… remember that Canaanite woman.  “Great is your faith,” Jesus said to her – which probably came as news to her.  She had no idea that her faith was strong.  But she knew what she needed, and what her daughter needed, and she knew where to go to find it: to the heart of God’s love, from which she simply could not be sent away.

There is apparently room in the many mansions of God’s love for what used to be called “all sorts and conditions” of men and women.  There is mercy and forgiveness and love and hope for all those who seek and – and even for those who are not looking especially hard.

There is an answer to all of us who cry out from time to time, “What about meee?!” when we are feeling desperate, lonely, unloved, beyond hope, excluded, or in pain.

There is a Lord of life who will not be hampered either by his disciples or by any doctrine that limits the reach of his love.  He hears our cry.  

He hears your meow-ing.  And his arms are open, he will let no one get in your way.  You had no idea your faith was strong!  But it has brought you to Jesus’ side, where all things are made new.  Thanks be to God.

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
17 August 2008
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on August 17, 2008 .