Sunday, August 20, 2017

Silence, Rejection, and Faith: 20th Sunday OT

The woman got what she wanted, and Jesus praised her very highly for her faith. Why the tortuous path to get there? Why the hard words, and repeated slights? I can’t 100% explain this conversation, but whatever Jesus did, he had good reasons for, and meant for some good to come of it. So maybe we can approach this tricky passage by asking what good does come from it?

There are lots of answers to that, but my favorite is the spiritual example and lessons that she gives us, and every other Christian until Jesus returns. Jesus praises her faith, so let’s let her be our teacher.

One way we can learn from her is to put ourselves in her place. Imagine yourself as her in this story. It shouldn’t be hard to do, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced everything she experiences.

Don't believe me? Let’s start at the beginning. She’s asking for help for her daughter. This is a mothers’ prayer, just as heartfelt and desperate as a prayer can possibly get. How does Jesus first respond?   Well, at first, he doesn’t, not at all, and that’s the first thing I mean when I say we’ve all experienced this. You’re asking for help, asking for something that you want so desperately, and you just don’t seem to be getting an answer. Jesus is silent.

If we were going to make up a religion, this would definitely not be part of it. But Christianity is about reality, and this is reality. We don’t always hear an answer to our prayers. If you want a comforting myth, look elsewhere! What in the world is Jesus thinking here? What good comes from treating her this way? What does she gain by it? What do any of us gain when Jesus remains silent? There's more here than I understand, but I can name some things: Persistence. Perseverance. The proving and demonstration of our faith. There is glory in these things. That struggle, and the glory in the struggle, are Jesus’ first gift to her. When you’re in the midst of this, you aren’t grateful for it. But one day you will be.

When Jesus does answer her, it’s to tell her that his mission is elsewhere, to the children of Israel. Now she’s standing there for everyone who’s ever felt like an outsider to God’s blessings. You hear people praising God for all these wonderful things that have happened to them, and you’re wondering, where’s my miracle? Maybe you feel like you aren’t asking for much, just some scraps maybe? Why are all these wonderful blessings for other people?

It’s easy for me to imagine how I’d react in her place. “It is not right to take from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Oh? Well,… heck with you. Forget you. My pride and defensiveness and prickly ego would never stand for that. I’d either be retaliating or walking away in a rage. Which just shows all the more how much we stand to learn from our heroine here. She is astonishing in her lack of ego, not a trace of prickly-ness, not a trace of defensiveness or pride.  She really is amazing.

Sometimes there are blessings that are for others, not you. Sometimes there are blessings that are for you, but not yet. This can be hard to accept. But if God allows it, it’s because He can bring good out of it. You can count on that. This woman had a tough encounter with the Lord, but because of it she won a victory that will never fade, eternal in the Kingdom, that much more luster to her glorious crown. To have proven herself through testing didn’t feel like a gift at the time, but it was.

And now for us, as for Christians ever since and until the Lord returns, she is now our teacher.

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