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Divine opponent, Divine friend

March 8, 2010

Joseph Prince brought out some great insights in his devotional today. It was about the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought Jesus’ help for her demonized daughter. This passage can be hard to understand, and many skeptics have used it to paint Jesus as uncaring and even racist, or at the least, temperamental. For anyone who really knows the Gospels, those charges are impossible, but they have been used to sow doubt in those unfamiliar with the Savior’s character.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

The Prince piece started me conjecturing what was really going on. First, he pointed out that the woman, though a Gentile, approached Jesus using his Davidic messianic title, Son of David. Why did she do this? Desperate for her daughter, she sought to incur Jesus’ favor by pretending to be a Jew herself, or at least by showing that she knew and respected the Jewish religion.

But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

And what did trying to massage Jesus get her? Silence! Hmmm. The woman gets persistent (just as Jesus teaches us to be), but now the disciples want to get rid of her! From the woman’s perspective, things are going downhill, fast.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Finally Jesus answers. But how does He answer? He further stonewalls the woman. This is the story’s crisis point. Everything the woman had planned to do had now been done, to no effect. Out of ammo, the woman was either going to have to give up on her miracle or do something unplanned and desperate.

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

Remember, the Jews would have nothing to do with these Gentiles, yet still the woman dares to cast herself before Jesus. It’s no longer the “Son of David” appellation from afar. It’s now “Lord”, in an intimate voice, up close and personal.

And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus stills opposes the woman, but Prince points out that the Greek word used for dogs here signifies a little dog – we would call it a puppy. Though His words still say “no”, the tone of Jesus voice expresses tenderness toward the woman. She sees a ray of hope and is encouraged.

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  – Matt 15:21-28

All the while Jesus seemed to be uncaring, and even adversarial, He was masterfully drawing the woman out of herself and towards himself. He wasn’t satisfied with distant, impersonal worship, and He certainly wasn’t impressed with religious titles or knowledge.

He pressed the woman to reveal her true self, not out of callousness, but so that she could enter into intimate relationship with her Savior. His actions were borne of love, not disdain. All the while that He seemed uncaring, He wanted her to take up the challenge and overcome the obstacles, and He was delighted when she did so.

As always, Jesus was in perfect control of the situation at all times, and He perfectly engineered the conversation so that the woman – His seeming adversary – not only could gain the blessing for her daughter, she could be forever changed in the process!

There is no one like our matchless Jesus, and there never can be. We can take an important lesson from this. Whenever the Bible presents a difficult passage, adopt the view that there is an explanation even if we don’t know it at this time. God is still in the business of drawing people out, to prove what’s in their hearts and to draw them close to Him.

And whatever our need in life, even when Jesus seems to be silent, even when He seems to be adversarial, He’s really on our side advocating for us the whole time. Never doubt the kind intentions of the Savior. Press in and receive the blessing!

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