Our culture does not offer us many examples of humility. Consider what you see in our culture. Athletes showboat at the slightest opportunity. Movie stars show us towering pride. Reality television shows have made a brand of arrogant people focusing every bit of their energies on themselves. And cable TV preachers tell us that we are number one.
But the Scripture gives to us a different standard. God treasures humility. God values a broken and contrite heart. After all, God is holy and we are sinners. It is only appropriate that we recognize our lowly state.
When Jesus was ministering, he was once approached by a woman who had a demon-possessed daughter. This woman, a gentile, came to beg Jesus for help. And the Savior’s response to her is interesting. To modern ears, the response of the Savior is rough. He lets the woman know that his ministry is for the Jews and not the gentiles. He says that he should not take the bread of the children and feed it to the dogs. By that, he meant that the Jews were to receive his blessings, and the gentiles did not have a right of claim on him.
Now, as an aside, understand that Jesus was speaking quite properly. He was sent by his Father to the nation of Israel, God’s covenant people. But, Jesus knew that his mission would eventually go well beyond that ethnic boundary. Jesus pointed out in John 10 that he had many sheep that were not of the sheep fold of Israel. He knew exactly what he would do. He knew that his salvation would eventually be for all nations. But his words to the woman were a bit of a test and a reminder that she, if she received anything from him, did not receive from him out of a covenant relationship. She did not have a claim on him.
Regardless of Jesus’ prioritizing the Jews during his ministry, can you imagine how a modern American woman would respond to Jesus’ words? Can you imagine what a person would say to the Savior if they asked him for something and he first pointed out to them their unworthiness, an unworthiness about which they could do nothing. But look at this woman’s humble response.
Mark 7:26-30 – 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
The woman did not scream at Jesus. There was no, “How dare you!” She did not demand her rights. Instead, in humility, she asked for mercy. Are we gentiles the dogs under the table? Fine. Do not even dogs get crumbs from the table? She is not asking Jesus to focus on all gentiles. She is just asking for a tiny crumb of blessing from him. She wants help. She knows she does not have a right to demand it. She just asks in humility.
Of course Jesus then does what he already knew he would do. He heals the little girl and the woman can go away happy. But, in the process, she goes away knowing the proper ranking of humans to God. She goes away understanding that God’s plans and purposes are greater and of more value than our perceptions of those plans.
I wonder, are we ready to allow for the ways of the Lord to be as far beyond our ability to measure as we saw in this encounter? Jesus did not act as we expect. It is certainly possible that we would be greatly offended by his response. We wonder why. We think it inappropriate. But the ways of God are not our ways. We do not have the right to tell God how he is supposed to think of people. Instead, like the woman, we are to bow before him in humility and ask him for mercy. Any kindness he shows us, any at all, is grace.
Today, there is no longer a distinction in the family of God. Jew and gentile alike are welcomed into the same family of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. None of us outrank the other any longer. There is no room for pride. All people have sinned. All people deserve judgment. Anything we receive from the Lord that is less than Judgment is sweet mercy. May we not puff ourselves up. May we not demand our rights. May we see this woman’s wise humility, and learn to imitate it for the glory of God.