Alanna Haslam | 20
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”
Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.
This text was preached at my church last October, during the first service of the month. When I heard it, I was angry. I did not understand why Jesus was saying that this woman was a dog and not one of the children just because of her place of origin. Was she really inferior to the Jewish community because she was a Gentile? I thought the pastor would preach that Jesus said this with a sarcastic nod to the Jewish religious leaders who ridiculously held such a view, but he didn’t. Surely Jesus couldn’t be going against the wonderful concept that the Messiah was for Jews and Gentiles alike? Then I grew angry at the woman. Why was she putting up with injustice and inequality? She couldn’t have believed that she was inferior to the Jews. If the pastor’s interpretation was correct it would go against everything I believed about equality and justice; it would seem that Jesus himself was misrepresenting the gospel.
This is why I was angry. I wanted to shut my ears. I wanted to stop listening and go far away to another church that preached messages I believed in and accepted. But amidst the bubbling anger, I knew it was wrong for me to shut my ears. I decided to cool my head and tolerate the message that God was bringing to me.
When I did so, a whole new idea opened up. I started to listen to what the pastor was actually saying. Not that the women was inferior to her Jewish counterparts – that was an undiscussed and irrelevant point. The pastor was preaching Jesus’s last point: Jesus healed her daughter because of her response.
First, the woman adopted true humility: not by belittling her grand accomplishments in order to appear modest, but by making herself small and putting herself in a place of submission next to Jesus.
Second, the woman understood the greatness of God: crumbs were enough. She saw God’s greatness as so vast that even crumbs were enough to cast out a demon.
When I realized these two things I wrote down this question: Do I have to say that I am a bad person?
I didn’t want the answer to be yes. It seemed to go against everything our society tells is important to be a confident person. I want to keep a secret list of all my accomplishments and good qualities to pull out when I lack confidence. I want to convince myself not to listen to the voices of guilt and shame; surely I’m forgiven and I shouldn’t have to worry about it. I want to be told, “Of course you aren’t a bad person, Alanna.” I want to believe that despite my mistakes I am inherently good. I want to defend my legitimacy as a peacemaker and child of God.
But I’m not legitimate.
Isn’t that the whole point of Jesus’ sacrifice? Jesus didn’t die a bloody, cruel, terrible, sacrificial death because he wanted us to have a backup plan if we weren’t good enough to get into heaven. The theological concept of God’s incarnation and sacrifice is to pay the price that allows broken, illegitimate sons and daughters of the Father to take their place at the side of Jesus as brothers and sisters.
One of the best examples of our brokenness and need for Jesus comes in Revelation 5:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
There was no one worthy. It distressed John. He wept. And wept. Jesus himself says in Mark 10:18 that, “No one is good – except God alone.” It bothers us. It upsets us. But the elder says to not weep: The Lion has triumphed for us. We are not worthy. No one is worthy. Except Jesus. He can open the scroll and the seven seals. Yet even this does not show the fullness of the wonderful goodness of Jesus Christ. What John witnessed next was the true gift of Jesus:
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and
people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and
priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Just after the elder announced that the Lion of Judah — undoubtedly a magnificent, triumphant creature — was the one to open the scroll, John saw a bloody, disheveled, innocent Lamb go to the throne and take up the scroll. There is no doubt that this Lamb was Jesus, the Lion of Judah who had triumphed. Even the one worthy being in all of heaven and earth did not assume splendor and majesty. The Lion of Judah became the most humble of animals and laid down His body to be sacrificed. With that sacrifice He purchased all of us — the unworthy, the illegitimate — so that we may be part of the kingdom of God and serve our God to the ends of the earth.
So now we see two sides of a scale: remorseful repentance and unfathomable redemption.
Thus the challenge, for us as the redeemed, is to first feel true remorse in our unworthiness, a repentance of the mind we held as sinners, and the imperative need to receive salvation. Without the sorrow of unworthiness that John felt in Revelation 5, the gift of Jesus’ blood is rendered meaningless.
This is why my moment of distress and revelation on that October day was so important. It wasn’t that I had to beat myself up for being a BAD PERSON. Or to wallow in my inability to do good. Instead it was an opportunity to balance the scales of repentance and redemption. I had always felt redeemed and known that Jesus’s gift of salvation was ready for me to accept. I had already accepted the status of a daughter of God. I was missing the realization (and the humility to come to this realization) that absolutely none of my parts are good enough to compare with the worthiness of the Lion of Judah. I was not yet ready to tell Jesus that I am a dog or that the scraps from the table are more than enough to save a wretch like me.
Without balancing the repentance side of the scale, the redemption side is given false precedence in the hands of the redeemed. The redeemed is likely to say, “Oh thank you so much, Jesus… but I kind of already have some of that. I’ll make sure I use your gift when mine runs out.” To say, “I am a mostly good person,” is to say “Jesus, you can clean out the bad parts but I want to keep most of me.” But to say “I am a bad person,” is to say, “Jesus, I want you to cleanse me inside and out so that your goodness can fill all that I will be and I can find full identity in you.”
This is why that moment in church was extremely important for me. By finding the humility to ask if I was a bad person, I was released to accept an unforgiving need for Jesus. In the next few days I realized that my ability to accept the identity of “bad person” pre-salvation helped me to assume a post-salvation identity in Christ instead of in myself.
It was important for me to say “I am a bad person,” but that is not the last step. We are to accept the unworthiness of ourselves not so that we perpetually feel powerless and ashamed but so that we can accept our full identity in Christ and not in ourselves. We must thank Jesus our Savior because He has saved even us.
Help me. Take my heart and my hands and my mind and my mouth. They are dirty and they need Your purifying sacrifice. Lord, I know that glorification of myself is not only false but undermines the price that You paid in blood. Christ Jesus, may I never belittle Your gift. May I always assume a state of surrender, humility, and willingness to let go of all of myself. May I never cease to praise You, for You are the Worthy One who was and is and will be forevermore. As my flesh fails may I realize Your creation, judgment, justice, and victory.
To You be the glory forever and ever. Amen
Alanna Haslam, Bowdoin Class of 2020. Mathematics. Saco ME.
Alanna’s preparations for the end of the world include Lord of the Rings scores, a fish-shaped hat, and sweetness in prayer before the Lord.