I bought Tim Keller’s latest book The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus about two weeks ago. I’m half way through and loving it! Keller examines Mark’s portrait of Jesus with passion and insight. Although it works through Mark’s gospel, it isn’t a commentary. Rather, The King’s Cross highlights specific stories (e.g. teachings, parables, miracles, and narratives accounts) that help develop the major themes of Mark and which come together in a compelling and beautiful picture of Jesus – the King who bore the cross.
I wanted to share one story that stirred my heart this week. Keller is sharing from the story of the Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30; re-read it here). A Gentile woman begs Jesus to drive a demon out of her daughter; Jesus replies that right now His ministry is for Israel and not yet for the Gentiles; the woman replies, “Yes, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table.”
In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have the assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is a rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She is not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness – and I need it now.”
A few paragraphs later, Keller continues.
This woman saw the gospel – that you’re more wicked than you ever believed, but at the same time more loved and accepted than you ever dared to hope. On the one hand, she is not too proud to accept what the gospel says about her unworthiness. …But on the other hand, neither does this woman insult God by being too discouraged to take up his offer.
Keller concludes this chapter by challenging us to follow this woman’s example as we encounter Jesus and His gospel.
Don’t be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don’t be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are.
Hidden in plain sight. Jesus’ encounter with this woman points us to the heart of the gospel (the truth of our own unworthiness; the grace of His love and acceptance by faith). It points us to the gospel and it challenges us to respond in faith – rather than in self-loving pride or in self-loathing discouragement. I don’t think I’d recognized the gospel here before, hiding so plainly within the narrative of this woman’s encounter with Jesus. May we also respond with faith!