Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that this is an election year. There are currently four men trying their best to secure the Republican presidential nomination to run against President Obama. One reality about which every single candidate is fully aware is the intense scrutiny they face for every word that comes out of their mouths. Every sentence is subject to intense dissection and criticism. It could be the death of their campaign to let something slip that is not deemed “politically correct.” One misplaced word, one misspoken phrase, could turn thousands of people against a candidate.
Somebody forgot to tell Jesus that.
In his bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie includes a section “Six Ways to Make People Like You.” Here’s what he says it takes:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely
Jesus didn’t read that book.
We live in a nation driven by “rights.” Every group seems to be fighting for their own rights. And human rights should be upheld and contended for by all means. But when our rights are trampled on, when we feel like we’ve been humiliated, degraded, or put down in some way, our first reaction is offense. We get upset because our rights have been withheld or undermined. So in this country we try our hardest to make sure that everyone has equal rights and that no subgroup is placed above or below any other group. We are trying our best to rid our nation of discrimination and racial prejudice.
Maybe we should fill Jesus in on what we’re doing.
Mark records a story that the church doesn’t really like to preach. We don’t know what to do with it. It makes us feel like we must apologize for Jesus!
Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and crossed the border into the region of Tyre. They just wanted to get away for a while, catch a little R&R in privacy. But a woman from that area heard that Jesus was there so she came to him. She was a woman. She was Greek. She was born and raised in Syrian Phoenicia. Her daughter had an unclean spirit. This lady had no business approaching an orthodox, male, Jewish rabbi. But parents will do whatever it takes when the life of a child is at stake.
Mark says she came to him and begged him – lit. kept on begging – to drive the demon out of her daughter. In Matthew’s account we’re told that Jesus didn’t even bother answering her at first. The disciples wanted to send her away, but she kept on begging (Matthew 15:23).
And then it goes from bad to worse:
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
This is where we want to start saying, “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean…” or “I’m sure he was just kidding…” We want to make excuses for Jesus. But there is no denying the fact that in the parable, the woman (and her daughter!) are in fact the dogs.
Call someone of a different ethnic background a dog and see what happens. No, wait. Don’t.
So, he completely ignores her. He doesn’t even ask her name or anything about her daughter. He doesn’t take stock her her feelings or interests. And then he uses a severely degrading term. By all accounts, this is a PR disaster! We would expect this from the Westboro Baptists, but not from Jesus.
Most of us would have stormed off angry. Next thing you know Facebook and Twitter would be lit up with thousands of people saying how racist this Jesus guy is. His reputation would be destroyed. His followers would turn into protesters. His ministry would have dissolved away into nothing.
But this woman…she was different. So different, in fact, that she has two “firsts” in Mark’s gospel. 1) She is the first to refer to Jesus as “Lord.” 2) She is the first to actually understand a parable.
She recognized Jesus’ authority and position in relation to her own. She didn’t hold onto her rights, only her determination for her daughter. She humbly accepted her status but also realized that Jesus’ words were not a flat denial of services. Jesus challenged her, but there was an offer in the challenge.
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
The disciples didn’t get it. Herod didn’t get it. The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t get it. This Greek Syrophoenician woman got it. She understood Jesus’ mission and power more than any other human thus far in Mark. That’s because her only expectation was healing. She didn’t have any baggage. She didn’t have any rights to stand on. She didn’t consider herself to have special privileges. She simply and humbly placed herself and her daughter at the mercy of the one who could help.