Prayers for Others

The healing stories in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 7:24-37) demonstrate both the abundant mercy of Jesus and of others who care. In both stories, it was other people who brought the needs of the afflicted to Jesus. As it turns out, in Mark’s gospel there are two healings that occur as the result of Jesus initiating contact with the afflicted, four that happen after the afflicted persons ask Jesus for help, and seven that occur because others brought the need before Jesus on behalf of someone else.

I like that ratio, especially the four to seven part. God wants to hear from us about ourselves, our concerns, joys, and struggles. But it might be as good for us as for anyone if about twice of what we ask God for is on behalf of someone else. Somehow the leg pain I occasionally feel and want relieved is put into a better perspective when I realize some people no longer have a leg or can’t go for a run with their good legs for fear of violence. They deserve my prayers, too. That’s not to say my pains (or yours) aren’t worth lifting before God, but it is to say to focus on it to the exclusion of others can be to give it outsized influence over my life and to miss the significance of another’s need. When another’s need also gets our attention, we remember that the world isn’t just about us.

The mother and friends in yesterday’s healing stories had needs of their own, but their attention that day was on raising their loved ones’ needs before Jesus. And their abundant love for those they cared about inspired Jesus to reach into his abundant mercy and bring healing, which neither prevented his helping others or limited his capacity to do so. That was the wisdom of the Syrophoenician woman’s retort in verse 28 ( “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”) – our prayers for others, Jesus’ mercy to others, in no way inhibits his mercy to us. In fact, it could well be just the opposite: Jesus’ willingness to heal that gentile child may have made him more enthusiastic about healing that deaf-mute gentile man. Whatever the case, we never need to restrict our prayers on behalf of others because God’s mercy is inexhaustible.