Remember the story of the Gentile woman who begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter? Instead of casting out the demon, Jesus seemed to ignore the request. (Keep in mind that in Jesus’ culture, men did not talk to women they did not know, and Jews did not talk to Gentiles.) Annoyed, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. He appeared to comply, stating that his mission was to the Jews only. But she would not give up. Then he went further, insulting her by comparing Gentiles to dogs, a common view among his contemporaries. Instead of taking offense, she simply said, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27).
We are relieved that Jesus finally heals the woman’s daughter, but many of us view the story with unease. It seems to put Jesus in an unflattering light.
But remember that Jesus was a rabbi. And rabbis used various methods to instruct their disciples. Kenneth Bailey, an expert in Middle Eastern New Testament studies, suggests an interesting interpretation. What if Jesus was giving his disciples an object lesson in faith? What if he was testing this woman and in the end commending her as one of his star pupils so his own disciples could learn something, not only from a woman but also from a Gentile? (1)
Here is how Bailey paints the scene, just after Jesus makes the comment about dogs: “Will she reply with a corresponding insult against the haughty Jews who despise and verbally attack Gentiles, even those in pain? Or is her love for her daughter, her faith that Jesus has the power of God to heal, her confidence that he has compassion for Gentiles and her commitment to him as Master/Lord so strong that she will absorb the insult and press on, yet again, with her request?” (2)
We see in this woman’s story an encouragement not only to persist in prayer but to continue to believe in God’s love and compassion in the midst of circumstances that may cast him in an unflattering light. Today, may her story impel us to continue to pray for those we love.
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(1). Though this explanation may at first seem improbable, read Kenneth Bailey’s convincing exegesis in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 217–26.
(2). Ibid., 224.
My children and I have developed a way to pass the time during a long drive. We take a simple phrase like “Look at that” and then say it with as many different inflections as we can think of in order to bring out various meanings. It’s amazing how quickly an innocuous statement can morph into one that communicates humor, threat, shock, disgust, delight, or anger, depending on your tone of voice and the way you say it.
In Jewish ethical teaching, it is considered wrong not only to slander someone but to say something that will lower someone else’s esteem in the eyes of others. The Hebrew term for this is lashon ha-ra. So, for instance, you wouldn’t say something like this: “I feel sorry for Joe. Being out of work for six months seems to have made his depression a lot worse.” Or “Too bad about Sarah’s breakup. I thought she finally found a guy who could love her despite her weight.” There are, of course, notable exceptions. You can express a negative truth when the person you are speaking to needs the information. So if your friend is thinking of consulting a financial adviser you know to be incompetent, you are free to tell him what you know. Otherwise you are obligated to keep silent.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains that even nonverbal communications can violate this law. “Making a face when someone’s name is mentioned, rolling one’s eyes, winking, or saying sarcastically, ‘So-and-so is very smart’ are all violations of the law,” he says (1). The same is true when it comes to the use of innuendo—implying something negative without actually saying it.
What if we were to adopt this rule of lashon ha-ra for ourselves? Wouldn’t it help us learn greater control of our tongues and our attitudes? Today make a promise to yourself to refrain from negativity toward others—in both your verbal and nonverbal communications. It may prove frustrating at first, but in the end, doing so will increase your peace and contribute to the peace of others.
(1) Joseph Telushkin, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal (New York: William Morrow, 1996), 23.
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What would you do for a quarter of a million dollars? Jump out of a plane (with a parachute, of course)? Parade around in a Mickey Mouse suit in hundred-degree weather? Eat a gazillion hotdogs smothered in red-hot chili sauce? Go swimming in Lake Michigan in February?
For that much money most of us would be willing to do any number of unpleasant things, as long as they didn’t involve moral compromise or danger to life and limb. But what are you willing to do today in order to live a life of greater peace?
I ask the question because the priceless peace we seek comes only from following the ways of God, which may not always feel easy. Sometimes they will feel downright unpleasant, at least at first. Here are a few examples. The woman filled with bitterness will need to pray for those who have hurt her. The man in an illicit relationship will need to break it off. The woman who has based her life on money will need to realize that everything she has belongs to God. The man who is too busy to pray will need to make time in his life for God.
So often the way toward peace is counter-intuitive, cutting as it does against our instinctive bent toward self-reliance, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement. But since when does anything good ever come without effort?
If you desire the precious peace of God, decide today to listen for his voice and then do what he asks. Trust him for the results, and you will not be disappointed.
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Lately corporations seem intent on squeezing more work out of every person on the job. While technology has led to rapid gains, some of the gains have simply come from loading people with more and more responsibility, making them run like mice on a wheel. If you are an employee, there may not be much you can do about it. But some of us bring this kind of pressure on ourselves by the choices we make.
As the pastor of a large church, Jim Cymbala says that he sometimes sees people in his congregation who are working two or three jobs to get ahead. “They are going to expand their business,” he says, “make money for a rainy day, or buy a rental property here or a little side business there, and their assets will grow even faster. Yes, it means missing church on Sunday and missing time with their kids, but they use the old saying ‘Mama didn’t raise no fool, you know.’ In a little while, they tell me, their schedule will lighten up so they can give more attention to the Word and prayer, their service for the Lord, their marriage, their child-raising responsibility . . . soon, but not yet. At the moment, they have to virtually kill themselves for the almighty dollar.” (1)
Cymbala isn’t faulting those of us who have no choice but to work more than one job. He is only pointing out the importance of priorities. Scripture says, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21). A reasonable paraphrase might go like this: “Wherever your treasure is, there your time and money will also be.”
To seek and find more of God’s peace means we need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves to discover what we really treasure. If we find that our treasure gauge—our measure of what is most valuable in life—is malfunctioning, we have only to turn to God and ask him to help us reorder our priorities.
(1) Jim Cymbala, Fresh Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 91.
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