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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Feeding the Dogs [Part 1]

Picture yourself in a situation of dire need. Say you’re in a private clinic with a sick child, a child that has been ailing badly for weeks and months. In this scenario, there is no Obamacare, no National Health, no social insurance program, and you are without resources, which is why you’ve waited so long to come to a doctor. You can’t pay, and you know it. Hospitals are for the rich.

So you cared for your child yourself as best you could. You tried home remedies. You bought what drugs you could afford. You called on any of your neighbours who knew a little bit about medicine, but nothing could be done. You have exhausted every possibility you could think of. Nothing worked.

So even though you know you can’t pay, you go to the clinic. You sit in the waiting room and watch as other parents leave with healthy children and smiles on their faces. You know that whatever this doctor is doing, it works. You see him down the hallway, treating other patients, but no matter how you beg the receptionist, she keeps looking past you and calling out “Next!” to the rich people behind you in line.

Finally, you step out of line and right up to the kind-looking doctor. Against all your natural instincts, with no dignity left in the world, you begin to beg.

He looks at you with concern and compassion in his eyes and says … nothing. Nothing at all. Not a syllable.

How would you feel? What do you do next?

My analogy lacks in many ways, but it’s transparent enough that you can probably see where I’m going here. I’m trying to picture the Lord’s behavior in Matthew 15 from the point of view of the Canaanite woman who begged him for help:
“Jesus … 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:21-24)
I can’t be the only one to find his behavior here hard to explain, can I? A woman follows the Lord and his disciples, crying and begging for help and yet we read “he did not answer her a word”. He’ll turn and speak to his disciples, sure. But for her, nothing.

From her perspective, could he be any more insulting? Could the situation appear any more hopeless?

And so she continues to beg and cry until even the disciples get fed up with the distraction and the Lord’s uncharacteristic inaction and say, in effect, “Please, Lord, get her off our case.”

But this is the Lord, and we know he’s going to heal the daughter at the end of the story, right? That’s a given. So why does he wait so long?

Or let me put it another way: If the Lord responds to the woman immediately and grants her request, what’s the difference? What exactly do we lose?

We lose a few things, I think.

The Importance of Doing the Father’s Will

First, the delay reminds us that, in this world, God’s purposes outrank any individual human need. In the Lord’s delay in responding to a very legitimate need, we see an indicator of just how important the Father’s mission was to the Son. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

Evidently it mattered to the Lord a very great deal to do the Father’s will. When he says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”, he means that doing the Father’s will was more necessary than eating, that his delight in pleasing his Father was not only sufficient to sustain him in the desert for forty days but sufficient to carry him all the way to the cross.

Furthermore, it was not enough to the Lord that he perform the will of his Father in some vague and general sense, as he might choose to interpret it, for he said, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing”, making it clear that he was bound and determined to perform the will of God in precisely the way his Father desired.

No, the Lord was not asking the woman to accept a place in the purposes of God that he did not first and foremost accept for himself, up to and including his own sacrificial death. When Caiaphas prophesied “It is better for you that one man should die for the people” we read that “He did not say this of his own accord”. The Lord fully accepted that his own human needs and desires were far outranked by the privilege of doing the will of his Father.

This principle continues to be relevant for the Christian, for the Lord assures his followers that, even today, our genuine needs will always be met when we put the Lord’s concerns first. The principle is right there in the “Lord’s Prayer”, isn’t it: “Your kingdom come, your will be done” precedes “Give us this day …”

Doing the work of the Father, finishing it and complying with his will in every respect was the Lord Jesus’ most important concern, and the woman, the disciples and those who read it today needed to have that message reinforced.

It was a message that without the Lord’s delay, we would almost certainly miss.

To persuade the Lord to publicly step outside of the mandate he had received from his Father to go “only” to Israel, the woman was going to need to appeal to a principle even closer to the heart of God than the principle of keeping his promises to his chosen people.

Next: What else do we miss?

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