Thursday, April 03, 2008

Beyond the Boundaries

When I was in Junior High, I decided to learn the saxophone. I would bring home the saxophone from school so that I could practice. At first, it must have been a horrifying sound for my family to endure as I learned to play. But in time I got better and better through practice, until the sound wasn't so horrifying, but was actually a harmonious sound!
Life is similar to this. We are called to relate to and love others around us, to be in harmony with people in this world. But at first we find that there are some who are difficult to love; some who we don't feel comfortable being around; some who are not like us or who we can't relate to.
The challenge in life is learning how to go "Beyond the Boundaries" of what is comfortable, what is expected, so that we can live as Christ showed us how to live; live how God created us to live.
There is a story in the Bible of a Canaanite woman who came upon Jesus and His disciples, and told them: "my daughter is tormented by a demon," expecting Jesus to right away agree to help.
The disciples ask Jesus to send her away. They didn't want to be bothered by her. They didn't want to have anything to do with her. They didn't think that they should interact with her at all. They didn't think that Jesus should interact with her at all or help her at all.
And Jesus' answer makes it sound like he agrees with the disciples in Matthew chapter 15, Verse 24, where Jesus says- "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This statement makes us think that Jesus didn't care about this woman or her concern. This statement makes us think that Jesus was not going to help her. How could this be? The messiah not interested in so great a problem?
There is an illustration of a judge who is frustrated because one of the prospective jurors has just told him that he can't serve on the jury. "And just why is it that you don't want to serve on this jury?" the judge asks. "Well, judge, the truth is, I'm biased. One look at that man convinced me that he is guilty," says the juror. The judge then responds, "That man is not the defendant, he is the district attorney!"
How often do we see someone who is not like us, or who makes us uncomfortable, and we judge them, and decide we don't want to have anything to do with them?!
Even though it sounds as if Jesus is telling the disciples that he is only interested in the "lost sheep of Israel," he is actually just stating to them what they expect him to say. He is stating to them what they believe is the purpose for the Messiah. He is stating to them what he knows they feel and believe.
But this is human thinking, not Godly thinking. These are all just excuses for our prejudices and fear. This is not really what Jesus thinks, but what is expected of him to think. This is not how Jesus will truly act, but only how he will be expected to act as Messiah.
And yet, in spite of Jesus being a Jew, this woman doesn't give in to the expectation of who he is or how he is supposed to act. This woman is attempting to break through the boundary that is there before her. She is not willing to accept that just because she is a Canaanite, and Jesus is a Jew, that Jesus is not willing or able to help her. In essence she is saying: "The need of my daughter, and your ability to help, is greater than any barrier that exists!"
So she again says to Jesus: "Lord, help me." She acknowledges who Jesus is, He is Lord. She acknowledges again that Jesus can help her. She truly believes this.
Jesus responds: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
Now this statement could sound like a great insult, calling her, because she is a Canaanite, a dog. And yet, again, we must understand, that this from Jesus' perspective, is more a test of her faith and determination than any kind of insult. Has she just heard about Jesus and think there is some magic in him, or does she truly believe that he is the Messiah, the Lord of all?
Sometimes the tone of voice, and look adds as much to the statement as what is said. If you say something in jest, with a smile on your face, then people know not to take it seriously or be offended by it. I believe this is how Jesus meant it, and how the woman took it, for the woman was in no way offended, but plays along with Jesus and answers him with wit: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table."
The woman here is saying, even though some might think of me as a dog, still, a dog needs to eat, and whatever little you might have for me, a Canaanite woman, I will accept from you!
You see, this is what is going on here with this woman. She has the faith to believe that God will take care of her need, and all of a sudden Jesus shows up. She makes sure that she takes advantage of this opportunity, and continues to pursue Jesus, until he responds to her.
Jesus is touched by this woman's faith, which caused her to not be deterred by the apparent slight that Jesus was giving her. Jesus responds to her by saying: "Woman, great is your faith." How those words must have touched her, to be spoken so sincerely to her by Jesus, the Messiah. And don't forget that this is in contrast to Jesus being amazed at the disciples lack of faith and understanding, even though they were continually in his presence and seeing his works.
But he says more to the woman: "Let it be done for you, as you wish!" Jesus heals her daughter. Jesus showed the love and power towards an outsider, even though it went beyond the expected, beyond the boundaries of what was comfortable for the Jews. The grace of God is not limited by boundaries, and Jesus here gives the disciples another lesson in God's love and grace. There are not insiders and outsiders, but all are children of God.
Where do you need to expand your boundaries to include others?