The Sometimes Shocking Side of Jesus

Have you ever been reading through the gospels enjoying all the amazing stories of Jesus’ powerful miracles and suddenly been stopped in your tracks by a seemingly random and shocking statement or action done by Jesus Himself? I have to admit that the more I read the gospels, the more this happens to me. The more I aspire to understand my Savior, the more of an enigma He seems to become. Maybe that is because I am beginning to see how completely Other He is. Although completely human, Jesus was also completely God, the God who says, “My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”

The story that has me pondering today is the one where the Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon. JesusĀ  says to her, “First let the children eat all the want; for it is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” OK. so my first thought is that sounds entirely raciest. Jesus is referring to Israel as “the children” in this word picture, and to this Gentile woman and her daughter as “the dogs”. And my second is that it sounds completely demeaning because he refers to this woman and her child as “dogs”. And my third thought is it sounds totally indifferent to this woman’s genuine need. Shocking! Jesus saying something racist, demeaning, and indifferent? This is where I have to stop and consider an alternative because the truth is Jesus is neither racist, demeaning, nor indifferent. So what was He intending with this somewhat cryptic and seemingly harsh response?

The amazing answer of the woman plays a key role in my understanding of Jesus’s shocking comment. She replies, “Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table.” Now what in the world does that mean? First of all I’m amazed that she is not insulted. She realizes that she is needy and undeserving. She did not come to Jesus thinking she had something to offer. She is desperate and she is helpless. This is not offensive to her. It is merely the truth. Thus with no scrap of pride to keep her from truly encountering Jesus, she is able to understand his comment and respond in kind. She knows Jesus was sent to Israel. But she sees His power as completely capable of including her too. She is convinced that even His leftover power is enough for her! Keller in his book, “Kings Cross” says she is essentially saying,”Give me what I don’t deserve, on the basis of your goodness…”

So what I am left with is the thought that Jesus knows exactly what each one of us needs. His encounter with this woman is followed by a commendation of her faith to all of those around him. And yes, her daughter was healed. He knew the challenge he offered her would result in a passionate response on her part. It would draw her “further up and further in.” That woman received not only her daughter whole again, but recognition for her faith–a recognition that was recorded for generations to read and know about. This woman’s encounter with Jesus was a gift. His conversation with her drew her in. She came to Jesus with open, empty hands, and went away full.

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