It is important to have a thick skin on the streets. We are some grumpy people out there – quick to offend… to take offense… slow to listen… to care. “Welcome to the jungle” (Axl Rose).
Consider this: A Syrophoenician woman approaches Jesus one day near Tyre and Sidon in hopes that he will cast the demon out of her daughter. But being Syrophoenician, she is a Gentile. This Gentile woman asks Jesus for a favor. His response is utterly racist; he says, “It is not right to give the children’s bread to dogs…” (Mark 7:27). Yes, Jesus uses the racial epithet Jews often use against those of us who are not of the Jewish lineage of the people of God; he effectively calls her (and her daughter) a dog.
I will unpack all of that, perhaps, on some other occasion, but for now it is enough to say this is a highly offensive way to treat someone of another race. Jesus’s term for her would easily offend almost anyone who is not of the Jewish race. I am not claiming Jesus is a racist (that would involve unpacking the pericope, which I have already put off for another time), but I am saying he uses the ugly term in an ugly way all the same.
To her credit, the Syrophoenician woman does not take offense. Instead, she responds to the humiliation in humility, and on account of this, she actually finds the Messiah’s favor! She actually embraces the racial epithet, and humbly responds saying, “…even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table” (Mark 7:28).
Jesus then tells her that because of her humble response, her request is granted – and it is!
Today, I met a very poor looking lady crossing the street at the crosswalk while I waited for the light to change green. I rolled down my window and handed her a Fat Beggars School of Prophets business card. In the 15 or 20 seconds we had to talk there, she immediately grumbled that the term “Fat Beggars” is offensive (which it is, I agree). It is quite dehumanizing. It is shaming. It is humiliating. And I could tell she felt the sting of it.
She asked, “Are you calling me a fat beggar?” Of course I had not, but she did not wait for my reply. She cued in on the fact that this is a Christian ministry and claimed it was unbiblical. I retorted, “Actually, it is. Look in II Kings 6 and 7”, but she insisted “There are no kings in the Bible!” (I will overlook her inaccuracy since she was taken off guard.)
Of course she was not listening. She was in mid offense. I had not called her a fat beggar, though if I had it would have been a subversive compliment. She then warned me that if I quote the Bible, I would suffer all the curses listed in it, and quickly asked if I had ever read “Revelations”. At that I responded saying, “Actually there is just the one Revelation, not many”, and she gave it a quick second thought and then agreed with that.
Just then the light changed, and I had to pull away. I was not in a position to argue or discuss it further. so I left her there. But she now has the web address to this blog and could visit here, should she decide to use it. And it is my hope that she does that. I hope she humbles herself and pays us a visit after all. And then I hope she finds a blessing here. (It is not all that uncommon for people to take offense at me initially and warm up to me later, so I am hopeful for this.)
Of course it is also quite possible that she would visit here and continue the argument. If so, I will welcome that too. Yes, I use terms like “beggar”, “bum”, and “tramp”. Yes, those terms are dehumanizing and shameful. I am not unaware, but I invite people to humble themselves in their use. I find that even the poor and lowly are often too proud to receive this Jesus. But additionally I am offering a blessing to those who humble themselves and embrace such terms. If you are too proud to do that, you will miss out on the blessing herein.
Before I pulled away, I asked her to visit our website and reach out to us – that we will come to the streets and party with her if she does. I invite my regular readers to pray for her.