This foreigner dares to approach this Jewish Messiah (Matthew 15:21-28). How do we explain the broad spectrum of people that dared—facing one obstacle or another—to approach and speak to Jesus?
The worst kind of Pharisee was gutted by Jesus hanging around the ‘unholy’ instead of around them. What never struck them as strange was that ‘the unholy’ loved to hang around Him and not them.
A commander in the conqueror’s army. A woman in public, part of a hostile people and religion a member of the Jewish Supreme Court, a “bad” Samaritan in John 4 or this Sidonian (a Greek also) woman with a severely troubled child. All of them experiencing great turmoil and trouble and yet all believing they could speak to him. There was some rivalry between the disciples of John and Jesus and John’s disciples were jealous of Jesus’ success (John 3:26, with context) yet when John is killed his disciples go and tell Jesus (Matthew 14.12). What was it about Him that led the high and low to feel they could speak to Him?
It’s said of Albert Düerer that he sharpened the wit and talent of all he met. He brought the best out in them. You’ve met people I hope, who made you feel you had something worth saying, an opinion worth hearing or an insight that added light to the matter under consideration or a need that that needed expressed. Don’t you love such people?! The way they carry themselves, the way they treat people; the very way they look at people as they listen to them—all of that enables us to dare to speak to them and this is especially true if we’re the shy or easily intimidated kind–too afraid to take up the time of the great woman or man or too afraid to have everyone looking at or listening to us while we’re doing it . (That kind of fear, that painful shyness, the anguish of a profound sense of unworthiness, is often thought to be humility when the sufferer knows it isn’t that and even that being misunderstood adds agony on top of agony.)
The beauty of these “liberators” (and that’s what they are) is that they don’t have to know our particular needs—God has been at work in them (whether they know that or not; whether they know Him or not—and they have that love of people and don’t swagger because they are (in this) our betters. Jesus was the most unselfconscious lover of God and people that ever lived. He didn’t have to psycho-analyze them in order to act toward them—He acted out what He was within.
Though I never had the privilege of being around him much, on those rare occasions when I got to listen to his lectures and was part of a group he chatted with afterward I always experienced that sense of things in Everett Ferguson, a noted Church Historian. I always believed he listened to us as though he believed our opinions were worth expressing and worth hearing. But in addition to that he took an interest in people’s daily lives. (I have a friend who some years back couldn’t wait to tell me about his exhilarating experience with Ferguson.) There is no pretense on his part, no feigned humility, he was ‘ordinary’; he just possessed a gracious openness to others. There’s something immensely liberating in that and we thank God for such people. And linked to all that that is what cannot exist without it, there is humility. How difficult I would think it to be when you know you are more advanced, mature, (or whatever word I should be using here)—how difficult I would think that must be and yet there are those beautiful people who obviously carry it off with ease and without being conscious of it. Reminds me of Moses when he had been with God up the mountain, came down and his face shone and he didn’t know it (Exodus 34:29). Someone, at this moment I can’t remember who, nicely said that when you meet such people you don’t ask if they have been with God, you just ask, “What did He say?”
I watched a documentary on Pavarotti, one of the world’s leading tenors. The camera followed him here and there in company with several of his acquaintances and they ended up in a little restaurant that hosted singers. One of them was a tenor who was obviously very capable but whom I (who am utterly ignorant of all the marks of what constitutes skill in this area) thought was “not bad” but not much better. Imagine my delight to hear Pavarotti speak to his companions about the club-singer’s interpretation of the song he sang, and P. speaking about different ways of interpreting. He expressed his own way of rendering the song but admitted that the club-singer’s way may be better than his own. I liked the man Pavarotti better having heard him speak that way. Here, perhaps the world’s most popular tenor, expressing his view of this man whose name I can never remember. You can imagine that this ‘unknown’ gentleman would have got hold of the DVD and watched it again and again and been lifted by it. A gracious, generous word that isn’t too sugary, is water to a parched soul and a shadow of a great rock in the blistering heat.
And what has all this to do with Jesus Christ? Everything! The spirit of Jesus Christ (and His Spirit) is abroad in the world. He had and has embodied and exemplified all that is best in humankind and continues to shape the world. I don’t have to tell you He is beyond all we can say about Him but, still. He is “the Son of Man”—a human—more than that but not less and He admired and admires loveliness in humans (in part) because He is the author and sustainer of it.
This Sidonian-Greek woman had heard of Israel’s Messiah, the son of David, and the stories she heard about him were such that she followed him and his group calling out to him for pity and help. Do you suppose that would have happened to Hitler or Stalin?
“And what made you so daring that you just kept following and calling over and over and over again? Why would you not be intimidated into desperate silence?” Had we asked her that she probably would have said. “It was the stories I heard about Him. They all had a number of things in common and one of them was that he really liked people like me and wanted to help us so though it seemed He was ignoring me. I knew it couldn’t be true!”
God’s blessing on those that help to free us from crushing shyness or a crippling, paralyzing sense of unworthiness. God bless all those that make us believe our concerns matter to them or that our words are welcome even if we know we aren’t in their league or feel we have little to offer.