Responding to Jesus

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It’s all in the Reply Jesus carried on countless dialogues. Some were with the arrogant elite. Some were with the desperate and hopeless. Some were with the apostles at their best and worst. Some were with kings and governors and leaders in general. Some were interestingly, with demons and even Satan himself. Some were contrastingly with the Father and a glorified Moses and Elijah. I can’t think of anyone in the world who has carried on a wider array of dialogues with a wider array of people than Jesus himself. All of Jesus’ exchanges are interesting. One that has often grabbed my attention is between Jesus and a Greek woman from Syria who had a troubled daughter (Mark 7:25-30). It is a brief encounter. Most of Jesus’ dialogues are. This one, however, has an unexpected and rare turn- actually two of them. For the sake of brevity, I will paraphrase it in summary form. The woman made a conventional request and Jesus responded with what seems to be an initial reluctance to meet the need. The first interesting turn occurs when the woman responded with a witty but what could be perceived as a cheeky reply, “Yes, but . . . .” People, particular among the common class, generally don’t talk back or argue with Jesus. However, the second turn occurs when Jesus surprisingly grants her request and is seemingly impressed with her reply that to most of us appears to be rather tart. Many who read this encounter are puzzled by the outcome. “Jesus must have been tired.” Or, “She must have convinced him in some way with new or more compelling information.” Or, “It was her love for her daughter and compelling emotion that moved Jesus to grant the request.” Any of these may have played a factor, though I suspect not a major role. The first is least likely. We do not have a situation where Jesus’ exhaustion dominates his compassion. He never gives the impression that he will hastily do anything for anyone simply to get them off his back, or because he is too tired to think through the implications of answering a request. The second is not very likely either. It is not as though anyone prior to or after this event successfully stumped Jesus. More brilliant minds (religious rulers, Pilate, Herod and even Satan) tried. The third is more likely since Jesus was often moved with compassion to do something- the paralytic, the leper, the adulterous woman and the widow from Nain who lost her son. However, this case is a little different. We get no hint from the text that Jesus was moved by compassion at all. In fact, his reply to her seems abbreviated at best and dismissive at worst. Mark is not shy about narrating Jesus compassion in other circumstances as the motivating influence in the healing. But, not here. In fact, it is something in the reply that prompts the healing. I would suggest a fourth option. It is not really the words of the reply, the heart of the respondent that catches Jesus attention. Of course, one could say “touché” to her continued use of Jesus own metaphor as turnabout to him. But, I don’t believe that Jesus was ever delightfully surprised by the wit of anyone. In fact, he could outwit the sharp wit. But, something stands out in the nature of her continuation of the metaphor. Jesus used the terms bread and dogs. She responded with “little dogs” (most likely pups) and “crumbs.” The metaphor is the same, but the approach demonstrates that she is not trying to go “toe to toe” with Jesus and somehow correct him or outsmart him. She is simply agreeing with him- not at all trying to reroute his priorities or question his generosity or turn his own logic on its head. She agrees with the metaphor. She simply pushes it to a hopeful conclusion for her and her daughter. There is something about referring to inconspicuous dogs and meaningless bread fragments that catches Jesus attention. The smaller dogs are unable to wrestle the bread from the stronger. The crumbs are unfit for a meal and require too much effort to stoop and pick them up. Her response was something of an agreement with Jesus accompanied by pleading for mercy. It is not too distant from blind Bartimaeus. I think there were likely scores of wounded and needy calling Jesus’ name outside of Jericho on that day. Bartimaeus, however, was pleading for mercy. Though he faithfully acknowledged Jesus’ stature as a son of David (Mark 10:46-50) who was qualified to grant a request, it is the cry for mercy that always seems to catch Jesus’ attention. In the Greek woman’s reply, there is clearly humility though the request seemed bold. She concedes Jesus’ priorities. There is an understanding that it is Jesus’ right to grant or deny the request. But, this unique mix of boldness and humility is powerful and attractive to God. Her tenacity is certain, as is her submission to Jesus. This is unfortunately a rare way of responding to Jesus. Many today seem to feel that they have a right to remind God of his promises and follow the reminder with a demand that he fulfill them. There is an uneasy air about prayers that turn the “confidence we have in approaching the throne” into pressuring or cajoling God into doing what he is supposed to do. There is a difference between being bold and being demanding. There is a difference between commanding God and pleading with him. There is a clear difference between coming to God, stating his promises, yet realizing that those promises are sometimes beyond our immediate ability to see how they are best shaped in our lives. Let me use other relationships to get my point across. Abusive husbands often demand and rarely plead with their wives. Tyrannical employers often demand and almost never appeal emotionally to their employees. Spoiled children are notorious for their demanding and inconsolable cries for whatever it is that they want. They never make heartfelt requests. On the flipside, loving husbands often plead with their spouse and rarely or never demand. Benevolent employers will often appeal to their employees and eschew the habit of forcefully demanding certain behaviors. Well mannered children often plead with their parents for favor and will never stomp as though they deserve it all. Miles separate the demand from the plea. There is deep passion in both responses. But, they are contrary passions. One is red-faced with frustration. The other is tear-soaked face with love, hope and reverence. When Jesus said to this woman, “Because of your word (reply), you can go home, for the demon has left your daughter,” it was because of the word and what that word said about the woman herself. Her word leaves us no doubt that she loved her daughter deeply. Her word gives us a clear impression of her boldness that will not easily let go. Her word also imprints upon our minds that she was not about to try to argue with Jesus, defy his logic, try to outsmart him, or try to shame him into changing his priorities. She was pleading for mercy. She was calling upon Jesus to do something that he had the ability to do and she was helpless to do without his voluntary willingness to do it. I pray that we will have the tenacity to ask, the passion to plead and the boldness to approach God with that kind of confidence. However, let us do it in a manner that bleeds of humility and willingness to receive whatever favorable reply we might receive from the Lord.

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