"becoming by grace what God is by nature"
-St Athanasius (De Incarnatione, I).
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
By Craig Wenmoth
Here we have a nice simple story, Jesus tries to have some quiet time away from the crowd, and a determined woman wants (needs) his help to heal her daughter, isn’t put off when challenged, and Jesus comes through for her.
The only complicated part of the story is when Jesus compares this woman, a Gentile, to a ‘dog’, and the Jews to ‘children’. Isn’t that insulting? Would you feel insulted if you were compared to a dog? Wow. What’s going on here? In the cultural belief of the time, this woman belonged to a group of people that Jews referred to as ‘dogs’ in a derogatory manner. What Jesus was saying here was that he had come to firstly feed ‘his people’ (the Jews) and bring them enlightenment. But He agreed with her belief that even the crumbs of bread that fell from the ‘children’s’ table (knowledge, teaching, understanding, etc etc) was of huge value and she wanted to ‘scoop up’ whatever she could, as she knew that everything that came from Jesus would be enough to bring healing to her daughter. And it was.
There are many surprises in this story:
· Surprise # 1. Jesus says something that sounds offensive to our ears (refers to her as a dog), and he says it to someone who is seeking his help.
· Surprise # 2 The Woman chose not to be offended.
· Surprise # 3 She understood what Jesus meant. She understood that she was not a Jew, that she was not one of the “children of God” but from a group of people that the Jews referred to as “dogs” . Most of Jesus’ listeners up to this point are always missing Jesus’ meaning. They didn’t get the implications with regard to the miraculous provision of bread. But this woman understood that Jesus gave out bread (good things). She was willing to stoop merely for the crumbs she knew she didn’t deserve. She appealed to his mercy, not his justice! Pride appeals to justice. Humility appeals to mercy! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the justice of God (however I’m sure that I will experience it at some point). I do want and need his mercy. So did this woman.
· Surprise # 4: She accepts what Jesus implies yet is persistent: (she is asking for something that she doesn’t deserve, and is out of order but this doesn’t stop her faith, or persistence.) She is not embittered. In fact she is the first person to speak to Jesus constructively about his mission. Jesus is talking about his mission, and the woman brings out clearly that what Jesus brings will bless everyone—Jew and Gentile. And what she was insisting is that the Gentile doesn’t need to wait. He was there now. All she wanted where the leftovers - the crumbs, the pieces that where tossed away, the pieces the ‘children’ wouldn’t miss at all.
· Surprise # 5: Jesus honours this Gentile’s faith and persistence
She was saying, "Lord, I know that I don’t deserve Your love; just give me a few scraps of blessings that have fallen from the children’s table, crumbs that they won’t miss." Jesus saw the woman’s faith and healed her daughter instantly.
Jesus will test you, but we take heart knowing he sent nobody away empty handed except for those who were so full of themselves they could receive nothing from him.
Jesus still offends the proud, and he still tests the humble. But the humble learn something from his tests.
There’s so much to learn from this. This woman was despised by the Jews, but she did not give up and pushed on to achieve what she knew was good, even though the religious people where being offensive. We now know that Jesus came and died for everyone, but at that time he was directing his teaching toward the Jews. This was God’s plan. She understood this and did not expect a place at the head of the table to get first pickings. She convinced Jesus that she was happy to be in his presence and receive whatever crumbs of his blessing that came her way. She was a humble person, but knew of Jesus’s greatness, and had faith in Him. And He honoured that.
How humble are we to go outside our comfort zones? How willing are we to wait (under the table) for Gods attention? How offended by these religious people would we have been in her situation? In what way may we be offending people today by our religious language and customs? How confident would we be to ‘discuss’ our wishes with Jesus, and not give up at the first sign of a barrier?
Prayer: Lord, I can identify with this woman. I have sought my own ways, limited myself to my own understanding, have done my own thing, and come before you guilty. While I don’t deserve it, I thank you so much for your mercy. You have given me the bread of life, not just the crumbs off the table. Thank you that I can bring my needs and talk to you about them. Thank you that you love me. I am truly humbled by the wonder of your grace.