And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water

And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him

He said all men shall be sailors then until the sea shall free them

(Leonard Cohen, Suzanne)

We don’t often contemplate the necessary role desperation plays in the life of faith. Comfort, contentment, certainty, confidence—all work to keep faith from forming or bring about its quick demise. Cohen is right: only drowning men can see Jesus. Those who are safe, secure, and sheltered have eyes for other things.

The contrast in Mark 7 could not be more stark. The Pharisees and teachers of the law come to Jesus without any sense of need. They come to instruct Jesus, to chastise and rebuke him. Jesus needs them, not the other way around, to their way of thinking.

But in the closing verses of Mark 7, we meet a woman with a troubled daughter and a man who can neither hear nor speak. They are drowning. There is about them a desperation that clings like an odor. They come to Jesus out of need. They come to beg, not to chastise. And it is this desperation that makes the difference. It is where faith is conceived and confirmed.

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