I love thinking about Jesus. Because His name is inextricably linked with infinite, creative power, even my thoughts about Him hold potential to change my heart. Indeed, the epic hymn Be Thy My Vision exclaims,
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night…
So, settling down with the Bible in hand and regularly spending time soaking in Jesus’ gospel stories – His words, actions, thoughts, prayers – is the best thing you’ll ever do.
He Could Not Be Hidden
But there’s one moment in the life of Jesus that has always left me particularly confused.
In Mark 7:24-30 Jesus seems to be having a bad day. The Bible says that He had entered a house but wanted to be incognito (v24) – fair enough. It might have been that He was tired from the rigours if His Rabininc responsibility; it could have been that He wanted to pray quietly; perhaps He hadn’t slept much the previous night. He was a man, though He was God, and yet,
…He could not be hidden…His presence could not be kept secret. (V24[b])
This is a beautiful example of Jesus’ perfect dual identity: He’d have preferred to keep His head down (humanity) but He couldn’t conceal the Presence (divinity).
Jesus, Please Just Sort It Out
There are lots of “immediatelys” in Mark’s gospel, fast-moving and brief as it is. Immediately a desparate woman approached Jesus and fell at His feet. It turns out that her daughter was possessed by a demon.
Let’s pause here.
Imagine the scene of this woman’s home life: Mummy’s little girl was possessed by a demon. This is terrible and shocking though common in the New Testament narrative. What would this have looked like? Frothing at the mouth? Self harming? Screaming obscenities? Not sleeping? Not eating? Throwing herself into fire?
The bottom line is that this woman was desperate for Jesus to sort it out, just as you or I would have been.
But Jesus didn’t seem to care. Frankly, Jesus seemed to be in a bit of grump and not very Jesus-ey at all. He dismissed the Syro-Phoenician woman in a way that appears to intentionally insult her (v27) as well as dismissing the urgent situation of her little girl being abused by a demon. After all Jesus, surely it was about the little girl’s life and not her Mother’s ethnicity?
What’s in a Person?
What is the most astonishing detail of this passage? Jesus’ apparent racism? No, the woman’s reflex response of faith is the real gem here as, of course, Jesus knew full well even before it was hewn.
But was there really any need to have spoken to the lady like this? This is a legitimate question.
As I thought about our dichotomy (the loving Jesus we know vs. the apparently unloving Jesus in this passage) an answer emerged to our question.
There’s a moment at the beginning of John’s gospel where Jesus met Nathanael. Read John 1:43-51.
The wonder of this encounter with Nathanael and his friends is Jesus proving and demonstrating to everyone that He saw and knew Nathanael completely and perfectly before He even physically met him. Indeed, Jesus knew Nathanael (and everyone else who has/will ever lived) before he was born. And He knew Nathanael perfectly as he would come to be.
John then later explicitly says in 2:24 that,
…Jesus knows what is in a man (or woman!)
Jesus knew that there was no guile in Natahanael (Jn.1:47) and Jesus knew that an astonishing faith lived in this Syro-Phoenician woman. Had Jesus not (legitimately, might I add) quoted the Torah at her as a non-Jewish woman, the kernel of faith in her would have remained buried. It was as though the impossible-to-conceal Presence of the messiah called to the impossible-to-conceal faith of the Syro-Phoenician, that responded in Mark’s immediate style.
We think of Jesus’ correctly when we see that His bespoke answer to the woman’s initial request was in order to send her away not just with her desired miracle but also with the testimony of her exercised, exorcising faith. Jesus was thinking about the post-deliverance, testifying life of this family! Who knows what else this woman (and her little girl) went on to achieve by their faith that was proven as gold?
He Knows What’s In Us
What this tells me about God is that sometimes the way He leads us may seem to be unfair and even unloving.
This is never true.
What is true is that God knows us indivually so well that He knows exactly what we can handle (see 1 Cor. 10:13) and exactly how to bring the very best out in us as individuals. It also tells me that we can have honest conversations with Him including even pointedly disagreeing with Him.
Though the Bible doesn’t give us detail about facial expressions, I have no doubt that the robust Syro-Phonecian woman left this house party, from the Presence that couldn’t be concealed, feeling relieved as well as completely known and loved.