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Quality Of Life

Matthew 15:10-28

The Rev. Jon Roberts

17 August

2014

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[a] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ, Jean-Germain Drouais, 1784

It is not your living conditions that determine your quality of life
but rather your living companions.[1]

There is a true story about the unfailing love and sacrifice once offered by a wife for her husband. It’s a legendary story repeatedly unseen in countless others. In this story, the two were living companions for 61 years. It is the story of Harold and Janie Grelan who met December 1952 in Sunday school at Immanuel Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas.[2] Harold would always say Janie was his reward for staying pure until marriage. When they met, Harold was posted to Fort Bliss and was in charge of the bakery on base. He always had a sweet tooth. Having recently finished his training at Fort Lee, VA he already received his orders to go to Korea for a six-month tour. They abstained from marriage until his return and fortunately for them the war practically shut down three weeks after he left. After six months of courting they knew they were made for each other and tied the knot.

Together they set out to live the American dream. They planted roots, literally as Harry became a forestry scientist for the U.S. Forest Service in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Janie gave birth to one boy and two girls and they hoped to live happily ever after. Twenty years later, Harold retired but his quality of life changed. He complained about losing sensation in his fingers and toes, saying it was getting worse and then he began to trimmer and become depressed with his condition. He began to get diagnosed: Parkinsons, neuropathy, dementia. He lost his agility and cognition. For a man who could build a house with his own hands in his prime, now he couldn’t even patch a hole in sheet rock. It was sad for the children to watch him go through this. It was even sadder to see their mother tend to him. Luckily she used to be a nurse. Who knew she would have a life-long patient as a husband? Even when he became completely bed-ridden and could not manage himself or sit up, she never left him. The doctors, friends of theirs for years, even the children warranted the option of assisted living for their mother to take.

Somehow, even at the age of 83, she managed to roll him in bed, change his sheets and his clothes. She always read him the paper after their morning devotion. He just sat there and sometimes would show a grin. When the kids and grand kids came over and wanted to talk, Janie had them go into the room where Harold sat so he could at least listen. When she spoke she always referred to herself in the plural as “we” and “us.” When his condition worsened and he could no longer swallow the doctors urged a feeding tube but Janie refused. She liquefied all his food, even his desserts. Oh how he had a sweet tooth. She gave him his coffee by the teaspoon. She said prayers before tucking him in and would then go to sleep herself in the room across the hall, with the door always open.

The day the ambulance came and took him to the hospital was the last time he was in the house where he lived for half a century. At his death, the doctor and a life-long friend were in agreement. They said, “Harold is in a better place. His quality of life here was not good.” They meant no offense and were basically saying his days of suffering were now over. But the son disagrees that his quality of life was not good. He said that he had the best quality of life, not because of his living conditions but rather because of his living companions. To the end both Harold and Janie lived out the roles God gave them. For 61 years they lived until death did them part. If they separated for any of the obvious reasons years prior, Janie would not have lived into her purpose as a nurturer. The children and grandchildren would have never seen sacrificial love of a wife for her husband where the fidelity to God and to one another was served at its best. By the faith of one in loving another so much, it gave the best quality of life one could ask. At the final hour before Harold’s death, Janie was, “at his bedside spooning broth from a bowl, nourishment for a soul and not only its vessel of clay.”
More and more reports today show that if a person can be allowed to live at home throughout their old age then there is great evidence of a good quality of life. Why is that? Could it be that even though the body fails, something else is very much alive? It takes living companions to see this. A husband and a wife make a likely pair to stick with each other. If there are several children in the family, then they could possibly take turns looking after mom or dad. At home care where others are invited to love them is an option. An environment provided where there is dignity and feels like home are also possible options but it isn’t the living conditions as much as it’s the living companions that make the difference. There is more to the quality of life than just the physical body, those fragile vessels of clay.

In the Gospel this morning we hear about a mother who is taking care of her daughter. Matthew refers to her as the Canaanite woman whereas Mark refers to her as the Syro-Phoenecian. She is an outcast, belonging to a race of people besieged and conquered by the Israelis many years ago. Her kind do not own property nor do they have respectable positions of any authority. They are allowed to live there but do not belong. It must be painful for her. Her family must have one time owned a field and planted a vineyard perhaps. Now she waits for scraps, the hand-me-downs of Israel. Akin to a dog that would beg for food from the table. Jesus acknowledges she is an outcast by saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs.”[3] He also warned his disciples that it is not what goes into the mouth of a man that defiles him but rather what comes out. This woman may be defiled by the law invented by men, but she is an earnest caregiver for her child. Look beyond. Look into the heart and what comes from the mouth. There is no shame in this mother but rather earnest love. She is desperate for healing and has turned to Christ. Jesus says to her, “Woman, great is your faith.” From this her child was healed immediately. We do not know what that means. Perhaps she was released from her own torment of seeing her child suffer and from that her daughter pained for her mother no longer. Perhaps that was what was necessary for healing; forgiveness.

Whether Jesus pardoned her sins, absolved her from worry or actually took away the demons within, we know he healed. He crossed over national and religious boundaries to do so. Even when others told him the right thing to do was to turn away. Let her kind take care of her. She is defiled. Well, if she is defiled then so are we. We belong to a heavenly country where the master has set the table in which we receive eternal life. There, he tells us we belong to the King. There is no torment and pain in the place in which he lives. And Jesus has brought this kingdom to us on earth. He says when you abide in me then I abide in you. This is the true living companion. As Christ lives in us we draw our loved ones near, no matter, even if you’re getting the scraps in life.
Remember, it is not your living conditions that determine your quality of life but rather your living companions.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Jay C. Grelan, World, July 26, 2014, pp.42-46.
[3] Matthew 15:10-28

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