Jesus’ response to the woman who pleaded for help with her demon possessed and troubled daughter, appears at first to be cruel and rude! He turned her down flat. Among the charitable responsibilities of the church, we have be taught is that there are to be no refusals. The church is obligated to help everyone with every request made of the church and us as Christians, no matter what resources are requested, and regardless of the merits of the person making the request or the merits of the request itself. As a result the alcoholic who has no money thinks that the pastor is without compassion if he gives him no money (which will inevitably go on booze). The homeless man who left his home, wife and children, to avoid his responsibilities, and who has just lied about his circumstances, wants money for a motel, the casual caller who dials up churches every month looking for help with the utility bills (but who has not planned for the next month, and who does not control their budget), the two young people, dirty and smelly, who want $10 of gas for their car (a car that smells of cigarettes and has a carton in the door pocket), well, they all feel the same way. The church is supposed to help people, why are they not helping me? How can we possibly drive by the man or woman standing in the median with the cardboard placard, without emptying our change slots or purses?

The flip side is that the pastor is doing flips-flops in his conscience. He has scarce or no money of his own. The Christian believer is often helpless against the magnitude of the “need” and the only resources there are, are the church’s. Should we not help these people? But these are not real needs are they? How do you measure real need against contrived needs? Some of these people are undoubtedly where they are because they have chosen a path of self destruction. If I give them what they ask am I really expecting to make a difference? But when I say no I can’t help, I am treated to all kinds of abusive language and rotten attitudes, even threats. It is uncompassionate and mean spirited not to give everyone what they ask for, right? Besides, doesn’t the Bible say, “give him your cloak too” (Mark 5:40; Luke 6:29)? Invariably someone says, Jesus would not have refused to help me, and you call yourself a Christian! Jesus just would not turn someone down like that! Really?

No doubt Jesus is the most loving person that history has ever seen, someone who genuinely cared about people and loved the ones no one else cared for. He showed compassion and generosity, and constantly had time for people of all kinds. Yet even Jesus was capable of apparently refusing to accept the premise presented to him by some as a basis for their requests for help. There is the story of the rich young ruler that was looking for assurance of eternal life, but was unprepared to give himself sacrificially to God and others. His god was money and position, and when he walked away, Jesus did not run after him, in spite of the fact that he was moved emotionally toward the man and his plight (Mark 10:17-22). There was Nicodemus who struggled with Jesus’ assertion that he would only see the kingdom of God if he was born again. When the religious leader frustrated and crestfallen lamented he could never enter his mothers womb for a fresh start, Jesus didn’t change his demands but made them even more explicit and even reprimanded him for his dullness (John 3:1-15). He refused to obey his brothers demands to go up to Jerusalem, when they suggested it, but went on his own terms and in his own time (John 7:1-11). Jesus refused to let the demon possessed man go with him, whom he had healed, but sent him home to testify, even after he begged to go (Mark 5:18; Luke 8:38). The woman who touched the hem of his garment just wanted to remain anonymous, but Jesus called her out (Mark 5:30, 33-34). Peter’s denial of Jesus prediction that he would die and his protest that he would die with him if it came to it, drew strong and sharp rebuke and a reality check that must have cut to Peter’s very soul (Mark 14:27-31). Even the boy Jesus, mildly rebukes his parents for not realizing where who would be, after he had gone missing (Luke 2:49). At the wedding of Cana in Galilee, Mary is gently rebuked for seeking to provoke Jesus into doing a miracle for the sake of notoriety, even as he met a real need (John 2:4). Jesus flatly turned down the request of James and John’s mother (Matt. 20:20-28). He refused to even answer the question about where his authority came from, dismissing it off hand (Matt. 21:23-27). He strongly resisted any attempt to make him do a miracle that would satisfy the religious rulers. looking for confirmation of his identity (Matt. 16:1-4). He even provoked the crowds to disgust with his demand that they eat his flesh and drink his blood; these people were looking for a miracle of food like Moses and the manna, because they had seen Jesus multiply the bread (John 6:51-66). Even following the resurrection Jesus was capable of a sharp rebuke, where Peter’s question about John’s future met with a stern reply that it was none of his business (John 21:20-22).

Now we are not looking for excuses to be uncompassionate and without compassion. This is not about providing us with an excuse for being mean spirited or stingy. There is too much in the Bible for us to swing that pendulum to far the other way. But this is the backdrop against which we must consider Jesus response to a foreign woman who came to him for help with her demon possessed daughter. At first he didn’t even acknowledge her question. He didn’t respond or even speak back to her. But she persisted in pursuing him and his disciples, until they begged him to do something about her! She was becoming a nuisance of the utmost order!

Jesus’ refusal to even speak with her is problem. But when he does speak to her, he is sharp and apparently rude! He calls her race ‘dogs.’ Although this was a familiar way for Jews to refer to Gentiles, it seems uncharacteristic for Jesus (Brooks, J. A. (1991). Vol. 23: Mark. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). This is hardly politically correct for our day, and it would constitute a scandal for someone as prominent as Jesus, who is supposed the champion the oppressed and cast out, to have said it! On the surface he appears to refuse to help her because she is not a Jew! NBC news headline “Prominent Jewish Teacher Guilty of an Ethnic Slur.” He had come, after all, to the lost house of Israel, and she was not Israel! She and the Gentiles in general are not the focus of his mission, he says. They would have to wait. What on earth is going on here? This is so unlike the Jesus we know!

What stands in sharp contrast to Jesus’ refusal to help her, is her persistence and unwillingness to let Jesus go without doing something. She dogs his steps and refuses to let go of the opportunity she has. After all she may never have this chance again. Up until now he has not even acknowledged her presence, or seemingly heard her pleas. At least his ‘rude’ response is an acknowledgement of her presence. She took his rebuke and harsh words as an indication, not of the failure of her request to gain traction with Jesus, but rather as an encouragement that she was making progress! At least he was responding now!

Her faith drew the admiration of Jesus (Mark 7:29). She was willing to accept anything from him that he would give, even the crumbs of the spiritual grace of God from the table of Israel! She was content with even the smallest response from Jesus! She did have to have full status and acknowledgement. She wasn’t asking God to redirect the attention of his whole missional purpose onto her and her family, she was content with even the smallest and most fleeting consideration from Jesus. Her persistence won the day. She didn’t turn back, but stayed at her task until Jesus acted, she seized her opportunity and stayed with it until she got something from God. As a result she started home with her daughter delivered and her prayers answered!

Appearances can be deceiving. What we see as the natural almost inevitable answer to our needs, God may have different ideas about, or a different course of action in mind. We do not easily accept such a diagnosis. We don’t easily accept the premise that God knows best. We don’t like it when the Lord says, “I have bigger fish to fry!” We often rail against the delays and the apparent refusal of God to meet our needs. We “suffer for Jesus,” which means we endure our situation with an ungracious and faithless attitude, chaffing inside because God has not done what we asked, the way we asked it. Jesus’ refusal of this woman should be understood in the way that so much of Jesus ministry is mysteriously presented, as an eschatological illustration of the situation of Israel at a time when the kingdom of God is breaking in on them, but they can neither see it and refuse to acknowledge it (cf. the apparent childish cursing of the fig tree that turns out to be a parable of faithless, fruitless Israel) (Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House). Jesus refusal underscores Israel’s brutal rejection of and historical antipathy toward Gentiles, and their refusal to admit them into the fellowship of those who worship God and who may have redemption. Jesus’ seeming refusal to give this woman any hope, is like Israel refusing to offer any consideration of offering salvation to Gentiles, in spite of the scriptures that call them to be a light to the nations (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; Isa. 42:6; 49:6).

Let’s look at a couple of facts that contradict the notion that Jesus refusal was cruel disregard, even racial bias. First, mark makes it clear that Jesus went up into the region around Tyre, which is in Syria, the region from which this woman came (Mark 7:26). In fact, this would have been a predominantly Gentile area. So why go there if he had no intention of healing or helping the people there. Jesus was obviously not racially or ethnically exclusive. He mixed with Samaritans and Gentiles, when the need presented itself, and with equal equal ease he mixed with social outcasts in Israel, like shepherds, zealots, tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. His reputation had certainly preceded him, so he must have expected that he would be called on to render help to people who were not Jews. Secondly, Jesus positioned himself for such a request by going in the first place. Although he went to get away for a while, he could hardly complain that someone who was not a Jew might called on him for help, if he surrounded himself with Gentiles who recognized him (Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House). The fact that Jesus entered a home in that region may indicate that Jesus Jesus was fully prepared to meet people’s needs no matter who they were, but the requests people made of Jesus, did not, contrary to popular conception, meet with immediate and unqualified response.

There are things in play here that are bigger than this woman’s request, And her personal need, things that produce a delay and an apparent rebuff of her request. This was a matter of the eschatological purposes and order of God’s redemptive program (Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House). However, what is not in question here is Jesus compassion, and his ultimate willingness to meet her need. Whether she will stay the course until the timing is right for the answer to come, that is in question! She had found her opportunity, but it did not result in immediate gratification. She had to hold onto that moment and trust Jesus. It was more a matter of her holding on than of Jesus changing his mind. She had to stay the course until the will of God played out, and to not give up at the first hurdle presented to her faith. This is a microcosm of almost every time we submit our requests to God. He calls us to hold out in faith until he acts. There is never a question about his compassion or desire to do us good, but there may be things in play that we are just not aware of he, and he may make us wait. If this is the case is no time to turn loose or lose heart, but rather to doggedly refuse to go away… and to pray even more!

The woman in effect says that she isn’t expecting him to divert the purpose of his mission or the business of God for her sake. All she expects is the smallest and most insignificant consideration of God! She would be content with just that. How many of us have that level of faith, that we would be content with the smallest consideration from God. We want it all, God’s full attention, for him to divert the rivers and streams, to change the topography of mountains, change the laws of physics and biology. But this woman would take from God even the smallest blessing God offered to her!

And so it should be with us. We all have requests, desires, needs and wants that we bring to Jesus in prayer and sometimes in intercessions. Very often we feel rebuffed, and there are times prayer appear not to get answered. But these are the times when we must seize the moment and persist in faith, until God answers. It is not the willingness of God that is question, but there are other dynamics in play, through which God will work, quite often before he answers our prayers. This is illustrated in Luke 18 when the widow persistently bothers the judge until he makes judgment for her. Jesus commended her persistence and made it an example of the persistence we are to display in prayer.


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