What we always have here is a failure to want to communicate

Updated: Jan 30

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, the famous line was spoken by actor Strother Martin, when he said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”


What we’ve got here today, in these readings, is a theme of a failure to communicate.

In the story of Joseph telling his brother, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here.”  They could not say anything.  The guilty brothers were “so dismayed at [Joseph’s] presence,” they were failing to hear his words and believe them.

I imagine their minds were caught between, “Is this Egyptian prince going to kill us, or will dad kill us for selling his favorite son and lying to him that the lions ate Joseph?”

They heard words, but that could not have faith in them.  They did not understand.

There was a failure to communicate.

In the first part of the reading from Matthew, we have entered into a setting that keeps us from realizing that the Pharisees had just complained to Jesus about his disciples eating food without washing their hands first.  They complained that the tradition of the elders was not being maintained.

Jesus then “called the crowd to him and said, “It is not what goes in the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

The disciples then whisper to Jesus that the Pharisees took offense at what Jesus just told the crowd.

The Pharisees had missed the point of God’s Law and had forgotten the warning of Isaiah.

The words of the Torah had been read, but the Pharisees had a failure to communicate the intended meaning properly.

Jesus then used a parable about the blind leading the blind, when he told the disciples why the Pharisees were offended.


Peter stood up and said to Jesus, “Explain this parable to us.”

Obviously, there was a failure to communicate the precise reason how Pharisees with working eyesight and a crowd without any blind people could be called “blind.”

What we’ve got here is another failure to communicate.

Even in the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans, there was doubt about how the Jews could still call themselves “the chosen ones of God,” when they had screamed out that Jesus should be killed.  They sold Jesus into the slavery of a punished prophet.  Paul explained how disobedience today does not mean disobedience tomorrow; so even though the Jews killed Jesus, they are still called God’s children BECAUSE of that disobedience.


I imagine there were a few Roman Christians that had to read those words more than once, in order to understand how sin in the world is good, simply because sin is a requirement before one can receive mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus had explained to Peter and the disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.”   That statement reflected verbally and vocally that one’s inner level of defilement – or righteousness – presence of or lack of either and both – comes out through the words you use.  We speak from the heart – good or bad – as Jesus spoke; but his words did not sink into the disciples’ hearts.

As they walked into Canaan, some crazy Canaanite woman began shouting at them.  “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.”

The disciples urged Jesus to shoo her away, causing him to say, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Jesus was a Jew, with only Jews following him.  He was, in essence, a Jewish ram leading twelve mindlessly lost sheep, who were now frightened by a woman that was not one of them.

Before anyone could tell the woman to shut up, she ran before them and knelt down before Jesus.  She said, “Lord, help me.”

She prayed for mercy.  Her words spoke the truth of her heart.

Jesus told her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.”

At that moment, Jesus had just come up with another parable.  Peter had asked Jesus to explain the “blind leading the blind” analogy.  Now, Jesus was talking about children, and food, and dogs, none of which were a part of that present reality.

Once again, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

But, the Canaanite woman understood what Jesus was saying.

Her immediate response was, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

She understood she was like a dog, begging for help, completely dependent on the master.

table scraps

She understood that she was not invited (yet) to sit at the table with the master, able to have a full bowl of food (plenty replacing famine), meaning she was not allowed (yet) to follow Jesus as a disciple and be fed by his words so they filled her heart with understanding.

She understood that she would be happy if only one crumb would fall her way, a crumb that would save her daughter from demonic possession.

Jesus exclaimed, “Woman, great is your faith!”

Finally, someone who gets it!  Jesus said (in essence), “You understand because my words have missed your mind and hit your heart.  Therefore, we are communicating!”

We see how the outpouring of emotion, between Joseph and Benjamin, where there was hugging and weeping and kissing taking place in front of the other brothers, that was when the brothers could begin to talk to Joseph once again.

When they processed his words in their minds, they were speechless.  There was a failure to communicate.

But, when their minds were triggered by their hearts, they cried, realizing their level of defilement, while FEELING how amazing it was to be forgiven for their sins.

The brothers wept before the words could come from their mouths.  Their heart would then be the source of their confessions and repentance, realizing they had been dogs, blessed by a crumb of forgiveness from the master’s table.

The focus that needs to come from today’s readings is we are all in one or more states of being that the words of Scripture highlight.

We are blind, until our eyes are opened to see the truth.

We are headed to a fall in the pit, until we see the right path that must be taken.

We lead others to do as we do, as examples of failure, when we have no clue about what it is we should do.

We sell our souls because of hard hearts, led by evil intentions more often than by righteous emotions.

We take offense at those who understand things we misinterpret.

We like to feel special as lost sheep, crying out for our leaders to run off outsiders.

We ask Jesus to explain everything for us, rather than becoming emotionally one with God, so our mind speaks as Jesus, knowing in our hearts what God’s plan is.

In the Gospel reading, it was a stranger that readily recognized Jesus as “Lord” and as a “Son of David.”  She knelt before this presence and prayed, not for herself directly, but for her daughter, whom she loved with her heart.

Her prayer was answered because of her faith.

I am sure we all have experiences where our prayers have been answered.

When we pray we pour out words from the heart.  Still …

Many times, we do not realize how well our prayers have been answered, until years after the fact.  It is in hindsight that our eyes can be opened so we can see.

The length of time between prayer and realization of a crumb being within our grasp, depends on how much failure to communicate with God we allow.

I once prayed earnestly to God for a sign that I was doing the right thing, making radical changes in my life, while trembling like a leaf that everything I was embarking upon would collapse in failure.

My prayer was answered.

It was answered so clearly that I was completely tickled with joy.

“This is so cool,” I thought!

I am doing the right thing.  Then I thought … so everything will be smooth sailing from here on out.

What I had there was a failure to communicate God’s intent, pretending that my fantasy was God’s plan for me.


My future certainly had very little clear sailing in it, as for the next nine years it was like being on the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm … fighting to stay afloat … fearing I was going to sink into oblivion.

By the time Hurricane Katrina came into my life … a true storm of great magnitude and real destructive powers … I already had been shaken like a rag doll in the jaws of a pit-bull.

Hurricane Katrina had the effect of tickling me just like the sign God had sent to me long before.  As difficult as Katrina was to swallow, I could only laugh at how foolish I had been.  I was no longer misunderstanding what my future would be, although I could see all those affected by Katrina’s wrath believing it was a sign sent by God, implying “The future has to be better than this.”

I no longer had a failure to communicate with God.

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, everyone remembers the Cap’n standing on the top of that hill, having just beat Luke into submission once again, saying, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

But later in that movie, shortly before Luke is shot, we glimpse a cycle completing.  Luke finally gets to end his struggles that had begun years before … when he cut the head of a parking meter off, while drunk.  He was never going to earn freedom by obeying a system he did not believe in.  Before finally being freed, through death, Luke stated the same words he had heard before, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Luke’s rebellious actions spoke like words from the heart, saying, “I do not believe in your rules.”

Paul wrote, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”

Make sure you understand the conditional use of the verb “to be,” as “may be.”

There “may be mercy” granted, once your failure to communicate with your brain is replaced by a faithful heart.  You effect the outcome.

Otherwise life will keep beating you down, keeping shackles around you ankles and wrists, so that what the law originally deems “to be” a two-year imprisonment “may be” changed into a death sentence.

Before you can be reborn, you must die.

Life must have the blind leading the blind towards the pit, due to a failure to communicate … it is all part of a grand plan.

But for Salvation to be the surprise that leaves us speechless, we have to stop playing “follow the leader” and open up our hearts with faith.


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