What’s Going On With The Syro-Phoenician Woman?

Is Jesus being rude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When we read Mark, it’s a bit of a shock for audiences when they get to the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The Jesus we normally think we’ve seen in the Gospels seems very different at this point. Here comes a lady who is suffering and Jesus is not being willing to help her. What is going on?

Let’s start with who she is. First off, there’s no man mentioned in her life. Is she a widow? Has she come and left her husband at home? Is her husband in the Roman military somehow and away from home? My way of thinking is that this woman probably doesn’t have a man in her life to help support her. This isn’t to degrade women. This is to say what the attitude was of most people back then.

Second, in the lines of women in the world, this is a daughter that is being asked help for. If this was a son, the request might be more understandable. A son could provide for this woman and make sure she is taken care of. A daughter is just not as capable. This would be another strike.

The woman also initiates the conversation with Jesus. Jesus is pretty much minding His own business with His disciples when the woman comes up to Him. This means that she is approaching a group of men, which is very unfitting for a woman to do.

And finally, she is a foreigner. We are told where she is born and that she is Greek. In both cases, she would be outside of the covenant of Israel. This woman has nothing really that she can appeal to to get Jesus to help her.

But she’s going to try!

Jesus’s response at first seems hard on her. She is not a child? She is a dog? This does seem hard, but when we only have the text, we don’t know how things were said. There was something in the way that Jesus said it that indicated that the woman needed to keep trying. She wasn’t shut off entirely. She was not asked to be dismissed.

She also doesn’t deny the charges. Is she outside of the covenant people of Israel? Yep. Would she be considered a dog to them? Yep. None of this is being disputed. The woman is not interested in how she is perceived by Israel. She is just interested in getting help for her daughter.

Note about her response. By that response, she is the rare exception of a person who gets one up on Jesus in debate. She gets Him to change His position and she gets the help that she needs.

Jesus is not being mean or cruel to this woman. He’s really seeing how deep her faith is and this passage should give hope to many of us. When we come to Jesus originally for forgiveness and we are outside of the Kingdom, we have nothing in us that Jesus should honor our request to be included in the blessings of the covenant, but He does include us. The woman got what she wanted because she trusted Jesus and was willing to accept whatever He could give as a gift.

Perhaps we should do the same.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Jesus An Idol?

Do we make an idol out of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife shared something that it was thought it would be good for me to respond to and, well, as you all know my wife gets first priority. A lesbian Methodist bishop, something to think about in itself, has said that we make an idol out of Jesus. Now I wanted to see what was said to make sure it was being understood. We don’t need any “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of messages out there. If that was the kind of thing being said, that would be fine, but no. Karen Oliveto has something different in mind.

For her, Jesus was indeed fully human, which we would all embrace as part of orthodoxy, but part of His humanity includes growing in moral character. It would be false to say that Jesus never grew as He walked this Earth. Luke 2:52 tells us that He did. It would be false to say Jesus came out of the womb knowing Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, how to do quadratic equations, the distance between here and Alpha Centauri, and pontificating the Summa Theologica.

It would also be false to think that Jesus because He was God and man was superhuman in everything that He did. While Jesus could walk on water, if you were to have a swimming race between Jesus and Michael Phelps, your smart money is better spent on Michael Phelps winning. Michael Jordan would beat Jesus in a game of basketball. If you want to talk about physics, someone like Stephen Hawking would know more about that than Jesus would have. Jesus came and played by the rules after all. We dare not think He was God so much that it eclipsed His humanity. His humanity was entirely real.

The difference is with moral behavior. Jesus did not grow morally because He was the only one who never sinned. He was born without a sin nature. He did not become a more holy person throughout His life. He was pure and spotless from the beginning.

Oliveto’s main text to show Jesus growing supposedly is the story of the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter. In the interest of fairness, this is a difficult passage to understand. It is easy to see how some people could see the account and think that Jesus is awfully cold. This is a woman with a demon-possessed daughter. Why not help her out? Why speak to her in such a way to refer to her as a dog?

What I think is going on is that Jesus is not just helping the woman, but He is also teaching His disciples. His disciples would have known about Jesus’s willingness to help out Gentiles seeing as he’d helped the Centurion’s servant and He’d delivered the man with the Legion inside of him. Still, old ways of thinking die hard. The Disciples would have grown up with an inherent distaste for the outsiders. Even after the resurrection, it took a vision to get Peter to share the Gospel with a Gentile.

So when this woman comes to Jesus, Jesus I think was playing along with what the disciples were saying who just wanted her sent away. The account starts with the disciples seen as being in the place of favor since they are the chosen ones of Jesus and the woman being a shameful figure seeing as she is an outsider. Jesus tests the woman to reveal her not to Him, for He knew what was in her heart already, but to reveal her to the disciples.

So what happens? This woman turns out to have greater faith than the disciples. The result is a complete turnaround. The woman is honored and the disciples are seen as the shamed ones. Jesus did not honor their request, the MEN who were closest to Him, but honored the request of the woman. This would have been a hard lesson for the disciples to learn that day.

Oliveto is certainly right that Jesus stood against the cultural norms and prejudices of His day. She is wrong in thinking this was a new revelation to Him. Jesus regularly shattered the viewpoint of those around Him. His own ministry was a challenge seeing as He was not one of the educated elite. He regularly interacted with women, would speak to Samaritans, dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, etc.

Oliveto is quite likely reading too much of herself into Jesus. It is true that we can put Jesus into roles He was never meant to be into, such as Jesus being your boyfriend, but it is false to say that we are in danger of making too much of Jesus. In reality, we are likely not seeing Him as He uniquely was and is. Skeptics today are regularly trying to find similarities between Jesus and other figures in ancient history. What is far more interesting is noting how Jesus is different from all other figures. Jesus is in a class by Himself.

It’s not Jesus who is prejudiced and bigoted and needs to be informed by us. It is the opposite. We have our prejudices and bigotry, and the main one many of us have is the assumption that we in our cultural milleu are enlightened and in the right entirely. If our moral stances disagree with Jesus, we really need to look at those moral stances.

Oliveto has certainly opened us up to something though. Jesus is far more different than we realize. In reality, this article reveals nothing new about Jesus. It sure reveals a lot about Oliveto.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 1/2/2016: Mark Strauss

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to record, but we’re going to be getting back into that. We’re going to be starting off the New Year right by talking about Jesus. Jesus is that figure everyone loves. He’s the Prince of Peace. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the Lamb of God. He’s the one that said He came not to bring peace but a sword. What? Yeah. He said that. Wasn’t he also rude to that Canaanite woman? What about that temper tantrum he threw in the temple? Do I even need to mention the fact that he drowned a whole herd of pigs? What did those pigs ever do to deserve a death like that?

Yes. Some people actually do have a problem with Jesus. That’s why I’m pleased to have on my show Dr. Mark Strauss. Strauss is the author of the book Jesus Behaving Badly. We’ll be talking about these and other incidents in the life of Jesus. So who is Mark Strauss?

Strauss(casual)

According to his bio:

Mark L. Strauss (Ph.D., Aberdeen) is University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, where he has served since 1993. He is the author or coauthor of various books, including Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (InterVarsity, 2015); How to Read the Bible in Changing Times (Baker, 2011); Four Portraits, One Jesus (Zondervan, 2007); commentaries on Mark’s Gospel in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (2014) and Expositors Bible Commentary (2010); and The Essential Bible Companion (with John Walton; 2006). He is New Testament editor of the Expanded Bible (Thomas Nelson) and the Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker). He also serves as Vice Chair of the Committee for Bible Translation for the New International Version and as an associate editor for the NIV Study Bible. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research and the Evangelical Theological Society.

Mark has a heart for ministry and preaches and teaches regularly at churches, conferences and college campuses. He is the weekly teacher at the Cove Bible study at the Church at Rancho Bernardo.

Mark lives in San Diego with his wonderful wife Roxanne, a marriage and family therapist. He has three children, one in high school, one in college and one in graduate school.

We’ll be talking about these kinds of issues in the life of Jesus and how we should respond to them. We’ll be talking about how it is easy to misunderstand the teachings of Jesus today and seeing how if we put them in a proper light Jesus comes out as an even more remarkable figure than we would have thought. We’ll be asking why people see a figure as loving and kind as Jesus in such a negative light. We’ll also be talking about how best we can use this information to silence critics of the gospel who seek to impugn the message of Jesus be they atheists or people of another religion.

Please join me this Saturday for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

%d bloggers like this: