I love watching the Olympics. I get into them every time they roll around. I love the back stories, the visions of the underdogs winning gold, and the thrill of victory. Last Sunday night I turned on the TV and heard the roar of the crowd. I hit rewind on my TiVo before the winner was announced so I could see what race I was watching. It was the Men’s 4×100 relay. The French were team to beat and the Americans were considered a slight underdog. There was something about this race though and I knew I might witness something special. You all know what happened next. The anchor, Jason Lezak, swam an incredible 100 meters and came back from almost a whole body length behind to win by hundredths of a second. The crowd was going nuts and the TV zoomed in on Michael Phelps who was screaming and flexing every muscle he had in celebration. I swelled up with some patriotic pride and was thrilled to watch such a moment in Olympic history.
The Olympics are great. They celebrate the special abilities of the human body and can show you what is possible. We all can remember when Kerri Strug had to make that last vault in order for the women’s gymnastics team to win gold in Atlanta. She did it and on one leg. Bob Beamon, an American Olympic long jumper, in Mexico City in 1968 on a cloudy day set a new world record. He jumped so far that the official measuring device couldn’t measure it. In 1980 the USA men’s hockey team upset Russia to win the gold providing one of the most well known underdog stories of all time. The Olympics provide stories that will be told for generations. We will tell stories of individuals or teams who demonstrate great perseverance, determination, personal sacrifice, and winning against all odds. Some people even say that they get a sense of hope for humanity from watching the Olympics. Hope? Really? Do we really get hope from watching sporting events?
I think we can get inspiration, get excited, and even a sense of pride but hope? No. If you find hope in Olympics you have not set your bar high enough. Olympics celebrate personal achievement. They celebrate and we witness people who sacrifice everything for their sport. I hear people say that the Olympics demonstrate hope that the world can get along and that they can even live in peace. The only hope there is one that leads to the shallow end of the swimming pool. If you are going to put your hope in something put it in something a little deeper than an Olympic swimming pool, a little stronger than an athlete’s determination, a little more epic than a race around a track. The Canaanite woman had hope when she came to see Jesus.
Jesus was traveling through Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman started shouting at him and the disciples. I guarantee you this is nothing new to Jesus. News was traveling fast about his abilities to heal and thousands upon thousands of people were coming out to have him heal their sick. If you remember, the 5000 men and countless women and children were all there to get their sick healed when Jesus fed them. A woman coming up yelling about a demon possessed daughter is nothing out of the ordinary for Jesus, he calls that Tuesday.
But Jesus’ reaction to the woman is different than other stories. Jesus isn’t kind and gentle. He isn’t anything like the way we like picturing Jesus. When the woman starts yelling Jesus completely ignores her. He doesn’t even start to pay attention to her until the disciples start complaining about her. I love how the Message Translation states verse 23, “The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.’” If this woman is anything she is persistent.
There are many different ideas about why Jesus ignores the woman. Some say that it was a test for the disciples. They had already been given the ability to heal and cast out demons. Maybe Jesus was waiting to see if they took initiative. Maybe Jesus wanted them to learn to deal with these types of situations without him. There is another idea I have about why Jesus ignores her. Maybe Jesus is tired, tired of dealing with people who take advantage of him.
This happens all the time in ministry, especially to clergy. People look to clergy for help and you should. But there are always people who will take advantage of the system, take advantage of other people’s kindness and ruin it for the people truly in need. Maybe Jesus, after healing thousands of people and then feeding them, after walking on water, and then dealing with the silliness of the disciple’s thought process, was tired. The Canaanite woman simply met Jesus at the wrong time on the wrong day.
I have had days like that in ministry. One person in particular really hardened my heart at my last appointment. My last church was on a busy road near downtown Charlotte and had a lot of foot traffic come by the front of the church. Many people would come bang on the front door of the church and ask for help. It was the church’s policy not to help but to send everyone to Crisis Assistance, kind of a CCM for Charlotte. If Crisis Assistance couldn’t help, there was a reason, which usually meant that this person was looking for a handout.
My office was in the front corner of the church so anyone from the street could see if I was in my office or not. I was working there one afternoon when there was a knock on the door. It was a person looking for help and he asked to speak to the pastor. I invited him in and had him sit down in my office. He told me some story about needing to call a family member in Durham. I told him he was more than welcome to use the phone. I handed him the receiver and asked him for the number. He told it to me and that should have been my first clue. The number he gave me wasn’t a Durham number. I lived there for three years and I knew the area code and it wasn’t the area code he gave me. Mistake number 1 but I kept listening to his story.
He then told me his car broke down about a mile away and he wanted some money for some gas, and yada, yada, yada. I took the bait and offered to take him to his car and pay for his gas at the gas station. He agreed and we got into my truck and headed to the location of this car. Mistake number 2. He directed me to a parking lot and then started another story about his van being parked here and the gas station guy has some gas waiting for him if he brings five bucks, and yada, yada, yada. It boiled down to the fact that he was in my truck, in a parking lot, and not wanting to get out until I gave him $5. He never threatened me and I wasn’t nervous for my safety but I could tell he was going to be like the Canaanite woman and be persistent. Finally I gave in, handed him five bucks and sat there to watch him go to the gas station to pay the man. I saw him go in and then slip out the other side and start to jog down the street in the opposite direction. I let him go for a while and then drove down the street where he was walking. I passed him once, turned around and passed him again. Each time I passed him I gave him a glare and he tried to hide his face and act like he didn’t notice it was me. I was disappointed in myself for letting allowing someone to take advantage of me. Plus I was really mad that I was lied to constantly. From then on, if anyone came to the church door, I would hand them directions to Crisis Assistance and that was it. My ears became deaf to sob stories.
It still saddens me that my heart is hardened to people looking for help because of those who took advantage of a situation but it is a fact of life. I get phone calls or sometimes people stopping by every so often here in Thomasville and now I send them to CCM and let Aurelia deal with them. But I wonder if this is how Jesus was feeling in this moment. He is 100% God but he is also 100% human. I can envision him tired after his journey, maybe going over in his heads the people who demanded so much from him and did so with the wrong motives. I can understand if he was tired of dealing with needy people who wanted to suck him dry to get what they wanted. Jesus was having a human moment when the Canaanite woman shows up screaming about her possessed daughter.
Jesus reluctantly turns and faces this loud and persistent woman. It is in this moment that we get a reaction from Jesus many of us are not expecting. Jesus states, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs.” Yep, no matter how you translate that verse, Jesus is looking this woman in the eye and calling her a dog. And this was not a compliment. Jesus was following the cultural trend of the Jews and calling this Canaanite woman a dog, to her face. He was following the traditional customs of that day and setting this woman up for failure. But what is the Canaanite woman’s reaction? Remember if she is anything she is persistent.
She fires back at Christ. She looks Jesus in the eye and says, “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.” This woman knew her place in that society and all she was looking for was some scraps from the master’s table. Her daughter was in desperate need and she had faith and hope that the Messiah, this Jew in front of her, could live up to the promises she heard about. After Jesus hears her say that he sees her faith and can tell that she is genuine in her request. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well.”
The Canaanite woman had hope in Christ. Hope in something that was greater than herself. Hope that this God/Man could do for her what he had done for so many others, even though she was considered a dog. She was determined to get her scrap of food. When Jesus’ eyes were opened to her faith it didn’t matter what her heritage was, she had undeniable faith and hope in her Lord. This Savior, this Lord, this Jesus is who we should have hope in. Hope, true hope, is not found in what we can do by ourselves but it is found in the one who can do more than we ever could dream. Hope believes in God’s promise and believes it can happen to us.
My all time favorite Olympic moment was from the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. A British runner, Derek Redmond, was running the 400. He was a very determined runner who was expected to medal in that event but on the back stretch he blew his hamstring. He fell to the track grabbing the back of his leg. In pain and in determination he stood up and hopped towards the finish line. As he hopped around the final two turns a man flies out of the stands, pushes officials away, and runs up next to Derek. It was his father. His father grabs him and together they start to walk to the finish line. Officials attempt to separate them but his father won’t have it. His son is hurt and now is crying on his shoulder but they still walk towards the finish line. Cameras are all turned towards this event. The whole stadium is on their feet as father and son cross the finish line in tears. That is the greatest Olympic moment for me and I will cry every time I see that race.
Later in an interview Derek’s father said, “But whatever happens he had to finish, and I was there to help him finish. I intended to go over the line with him. We started his career together, I think we should finish it together.” We can have hope in our Lord today that he says the same thing. The Canaanite woman understood and believed that. We worship a God who loves us enough to come down out of the stands, in the midst of our own pain and suffering, and pushes away the officials in order to carry us across the finish line. That is our God! That is our hope!
And all God’s people said…Amen.