Are you easily offended? I know, strange question to begin with. But by the time I’m done today I hope you realize the importance of that question – especially as it relates to your faith.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we live in a culture that is easily offended. It is why there is so much division in our world. It is why we are moving away from each other as a society instead of towards each other. And hear this, it is why there is so much doubt and lack of faith in God.
Maybe you’ve never used this language before, but I think you will agree. Jesus Christ, and Christianity itself, is offensive to an unbelieving world. We all know this. This is why many of us don’t go public with our faith at work or with our friends. We don’t want to be seen as offensive by being associated with something that is viewed as offensive by so many.
But let’s be real for a moment. Christianity is not just offensive to an unbelieving world out there, it is offensive – at least some aspect of it – to many of us in this room. Jesus’ teachings on gender, sexuality, marriage, divorce, greed, wealth – they just don’t sit right with many of us.
What is it for you? Are you offended by Jesus in any way? Is there something that is off limits to him – non-negotiable? Is there something that he hasn’t done for you just yet that pains you? Again, is there something about him or his teaching that you absolutely disagree with? If the answer is yes (I don’t have to tell you this because you know it intrinsically, but) that thing (whatever it is) will keep you from fully trusting and following Jesus. It is a barrier in your relationship with him.
And my hope today is that we will, first of all, spot the barriers in our relationship with Jesus, and then remove them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling you to blind faith. I’m just calling you to be unoffendable by Jesus. That’s something totally different—and we’ll get into that. But what we are after is what the gospel writer Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, … blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:6) That’s the goal — to not be offended by Jesus.
Now, if you haven’t been offended in a while by Jesus, today might just be the day. In the passages that we will read, you might just find Jesus' words and behavior offensive. Now it’s okay if we start there. We just don’t want to end there. But take note of something as we read this passage, that the person receiving the (quote-unquote) “offensive” words of Jesus doesn’t find them offensive. She takes the hit and rolls with it. And for that reason she receives exactly what she came looking for.
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
There are times when you are scheduled to preach on a given week or you get assigned a passage to teach and it just feels God ordained—this is most of the time for me–like his hand is all over it. But then there are other times where it feels premeditated–like human agency was involved. How I got the passage in which Jesus compares a woman to a dog is beyond me. But here we are. :)
In all seriousness, this exchange is perplexing. It makes Jesus look really bad. I was hoping as I went to study the passage that I would find a very clear and simple explanation for why Jesus said what he said. But there isn’t one. The commentators are all over the place. A few commentators try to soften it or explain that Jesus was saying it with a smile on his face (you’re a dog!); or that he was referring to a puppy – not a disgusting street dog; or that he knew exactly how she would respond and therefore wanted to make a beautiful example of her and what persevering faith looks like. But then there are other commentators that straight up say that there’s no way around the fact that this is an insult from Jesus. The Jewish people during that time commonly referred to the Gentiles as unclean dogs.
So what is happening here? What was Jesus thinking? I’ve said this before, but what I love about the Gospel of Mark is that he’s not afraid to show Jesus’ humanity. If you read Matthew’s version of this story, he softens it a bit as well. But it’s as if Mark is unaware, or doesn’t care, how his readers will take Jesus’ illustration and choice of words. And I love that. The story has a sting and he doesn’t try to relieve it. And I’m not going to try to relieve it for us either because this is so important to our faith. I don’t know about you, but God doesn’t always respond the way that I hope. (He definitely didn’t when my dad was in a coma and never came out of it.) Life doesn't always turn out the way that I plan. (It definitely didn’t when my wife had a miscarriage.) And it’s how I respond in those situations that determine my future—that determine how I come out on the other side.
What we see here from Jesus isn’t completely out of character from what we see in other encounters. One commentator writes: “Jesus is deliberately scandalous — throwing stumbling blocks in people’s way.” Besides a dog, check out some of the other things he called people: hypocrites, an evil generation, brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, foxes. Now most of those terms were directed at the religious leaders. And here’s the thing, we are okay with Jesus being rude to Pharisees and Sadducees–because we believe they deserve it–but we draw the line when he’s rude to a grieving mother. Am I right?!
So do you see what this story reveals about us? Do you see what Mark and the Holy Spirit are trying to expose in our hearts? We believe that some people are deserving of God’s kindness and others are not. Or the flipside: we believe that some are deserving of God’s judgment but others are not. But that’s not the message of Jesus. The gospel message is that you’re more unworthy than you even know, but yet you’re more loved and accepted than you could ever hope.
Listen, put yourself in this woman’s shoes for a moment. How would you have received Jesus’s words? If I’m being honest, a part of me feels like I would have responded like, Well, forget you then. But what would this woman have missed out on if she responded like me—if she would have given up too early?
Why is the woman not offended? Because she accepts her unworthiness. She’s not offended by what the gospel says about her condition. But she also knows that she’s kneeling before one that is worthy. She’s heard too many stories about his goodness. So she in essence says to Jesus: “I’m not coming to you on the basis of my goodness. I’m coming on the basis of yours.” She’s not saying, “Give me what I deserve.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve.”
Her posture is the key to this passage. She's unoffendable because she doesn’t have this “you-owe-me” attitude, which is so common among so many of us. But she also isn’t so self-absorbed to stop leaning into the one that could look past her unworthiness and show her grace. One pastor writes: There are two ways to fail to let Jesus be your Savior. One is by being too proud (a superiority complex), but the other is through an inferiority complex (believing you are too unworthy for love and forgiveness). This woman wasn’t offended, but she also wasn’t discouraged by Jesus’s words — or by Jesus’s initial no or not yet.
My wife and I have been talking about this passage the past couple of weeks because she has also been studying it in her Bible Study Fellowship. And she shared with me how she is blown away by this woman’s humility and boldness. One commentator captures it perfectly: “Though she knew she was in every way unclean and, therefore, disqualified according to the religious and respectability standards of the day, disqualified from approaching a moral, devout person, let alone a rabbi, and even though she knew she was on the wrong side of the tracks of every racial and sexual and moral and cultural and social barriers, she didn’t care. She just goes into the house without an invitation.” She knew her status from a Jewish religious standpoint, but she didn’t care. She pressed through. She was humble, but also bold. This woman was feisty and persistent. These are the types of qualities that we need in our faith.
Now I have focused quite heavily on this woman because she is an example of faith to us. But let’s not forget the one she is placing her faith in. My goal hasn’t been to make Jesus look bad but to argue that at times he may look bad. And at that point we have to decide if we are going to keep trusting in his goodness or take offense.
Another part of my goal today has been to challenge us to stop putting God in a box. We need to stop thinking that God is only like this, or always like that, or that he always has to respond a certain way. But that’s not the case. For example, after this encounter with this Gentile woman (where he basically calls her and her people group dogs), after that he heads into the Decapolis (another Gentile region) and heals a deaf and mute man. And if you read it, he’s so gentle and sweet with him. And after, there is the feeding of the four thousand, in Gentile territory, just like he did with the five thousand in the Jewish territory. Or take the difference between his response to Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus dies. In John 11 it says that Jesus finally goes to visit them and Martha comes up to him and says, “Lord, if you would have been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus basically rebukes her. And then Mary comes up to him and says the same thing as Martha and he weeps. Same words, but different responses from Jesus.
All that to say, Jesus is not as simple as we make him out to be. And if you have a simple faith you will abandon it once life gets complicated. And it will get complicated. But just because things get complicated doesn’t mean that you have to get offended or stop trusting him. Because He is still good.
Whenever we get offended it’s typically because we are not seeing things from a heavenly perspective. We have our own perspective – and we’re locked in. [“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)] But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. And so we don’t understand why God calls something sin and tells us to stay away, or why he hasn’t answered our prayers, or why a loved one died and God didn’t save them. We just don’t understand it. And if our lack of understanding turns into offense, what awaits us around the corner unless we deviate is us abandoning the One True God in order to turn to gods of our making – gods that will not offend us.
But …blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:6 ESV) Do you know when Jesus said that? It was in response to John the Baptist’s questioning of Jesus on whether or not he was the One – the Messiah. You see, not too long before that, John baptized his cousin, Jesus, and declared, Behold, here is the Lamb of God. John had great faith in Jesus at that time! But now that John finds himself in prison, and Jesus hasn’t delivered him, he’s wondering, Are you really the One?
Sometimes we are offended because the healing hasn’t come yet – the pain has just gotten worse. We’re offended because we are still single. We’re offended because the pregnancy tests keep saying negative. We’re offended because a child or spouse or a parent still doesn’t believe in God despite our prayers – and now our faith is starting to waiver. Have you given up on specific prayers because you have determined that God has given up on you?
If you have, you now know what it is to be offended by God. But that was never his intention. God’s plans and purposes we can never fully understand on this side of heaven. But I can tell you that he is still good.
Epic Family, let’s stop putting God in a box; and let’s stop allowing ourselves to be easily offended by him. This approach to Jesus reminds me of the example found in the Chronicles of Narnia. Just like Aslan, Jesus is not a tame lion. In one scene, Susan learns that Aslan is a lion, and not a man. And she says: "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
This world and even our very own faith journey will throw things at us that will cause us to question or doubt God. But Epic Church, let’s hold on to our good, good, God.
I want to create space for us to respond to Jesus. In Proverbs 18:19 (HCSB) it says, An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city… This is primarily referring to human relationships, but I think it applies to our relationship with God. How many of us have put up a wall between us and God because of an offense – and we’re like fortified cities? How many of us have made it impossible for Him to reach us? If you have realized today that there is a wall, a barrier in your relationship with Him, my prayer is that we will bring that offense to Him and let that wall come down. Respond in faith. Move and take action. He is a good, good, father. You can trust him.