Contending With God Without Asserting Your Rights – The Syrophoenician Woman

Was reading Tim Keller’s latest book over the weekend on the gospel of Mark, and was stunned by the insight he brought to the passage discussing Jesus’ reaction to a Gentile woman’s assertiveness and faith:

24Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.

25But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.

26Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

27And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

28But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.”

29And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

30And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left. (Mark 7:24-30)

Keller states,

Isn’t this amazing? She doesn’t take offense; she doesn’t stand on her rights. She says, “All right. I may not have a place at the table–but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is wrestling with Jesus in the most respectful way and she will not take no for an answer. I love what this woman is doing.

In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our own dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness–and I need it now.” (King’s Cross, 88-89).

I know little of this kind of faith. And you probably do too.

How often are your prayers for healing and the righting of perceived wrongs or genuine evils in your life derived more from your sense of having your rights overlooked than from appealing to Jesus’ goodness? This woman does not appeal to Jesus on the basis of her worthiness or her rights, but on the basis of his extravagant grace. She is pleading with Jesus for healing, exorcising grace even though she knows she and her daughter don’t deserve it.

If you’re like most Americans, Jesus’ first reply would’ve angered you. You would have lashed out at his insensitivity. “How dare you.” “Do you know who I am?” “Why don’t you care about me?” “Who do you think you are?” “I deserve this.” “My daughter doesn’t deserve this.” “Look at all that I and my family have done.” “This is evil! How can you respond like that? You’re supposed to be good!”

Many of us would have left after Jesus’ first reply enraged that the God-man would speak to us that way.

But faith relentlessly goes after Jesus because of who He is not because of who you are. Contend with Jesus boldly in light of his character not your own.

And remember Jesus’ “no” doesn’t always mean “never.” Jesus honors persistent faith.

God doesn’t owe you anything, but he’s gracefully given a sinful world everything in Jesus.


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