Saturday, August 19, 2006

When People Just Won't Leave You Alone

It seems that it is almost impossible to get away these days. When you settle back in a secluded spot to read a good book or cast a fishing line or just spend a few treasured moments with a loved one, your cell-phone interrupts. Your automobile is equipped with GPS, which helps others to find you when you're in an accident and disabled, or any other time, for that matter. Meanwhile, work schedules grow increasingly more intense. You want a break. I know I do. Jesus did, too. On several occasions, he broke away from the crowds for some quiet time to pray, or fish, or just do what ever a Messiah does on vacation. In Mark 7:24-30, for example, Jesus makes a rare excursion outside Palestine. He goes to the vicinity of Tyre. If you have watched the news recently, you've seen reports of Israel's attacks on southern Lebanon. Among the cities bombed was Tyre. Jesus went to a house in Tyre and the Bible says that he wanted no one to know it. Why? Perhaps he just needed some down time. However, it was not to be. He could not keep his presence a secret, even far from home. A non-Jewish woman from that area, who had a daughter who was demon-possessed, heard that the miracle-working teacher from Galilee was in her city and tracked him down. How do you react when someone intrudes on your personal time? Are you more abrupt, perhaps even a little rude? Jesus replies to her initial request with a cryptic remark that seems almost rude and perhaps even racist. "First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs," he said. Gentiles were unclean, as were dogs. This woman was on a mission, however, and she would not be pushed aside. With just a touch of humor, the desperate woman responded to the curt dismissal, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Jesus was impressed. "For such a reply, you may go," he said. "The demon has left your daughter." She went home and found that her daughter had been healed. This story has much to say to us. First, like Jesus, we may have times when we want to be left alone, but people, maybe even people we do not like, really need our help. We may have to struggle to contain our frustration or even revulsion. They still need our help, and most of us have probably had a time when we needed help but it seemed that no one cared. We have to take a deep breath, and listen, then help if we can. Second, like the woman, we may be brushed aside by someone who is preoccupied or off-duty or on vacation. Their treatment of us may sting, may even cut deeply. This woman's grace when rejected speaks to us. Responding with anger or cursing rarely helps. Humor and good-mannered persistence may. We may even need to ask if we might come back at a better time. Third, Jesus's initial response may remind us that cultural values and environment influence our responses. Even if Jesus was just testing the woman (as many commentators suggest), his response was just what this Gentile woman might have expected from a typical Jewish man of the time. Later, Peter the apostle would have his own struggles with cultural bias (Acts 9, Galatians 2). Fourth, Jesus's ultimate response demonstrates that racial or ethnic prejudice have no place in a Christian's worldview. Jesus reached out repeatedly to people whom his cultural peers found disgusting: Gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, Roman soldiers.
Jesus helped this woman. It was not a good time for him (perhaps a fifth lesson here is that everyone needs to take some time off), but he still came through. Sometimes, we don't. It is at those times that we need to remember this woman and her statement that "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children's table." We're more like the dogs in those moments when we fail to show grace. We need the crumbs of grace, too. Jesus will help us, too.

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