Life is not Fair (Being Elite Part 2)

Challies has written an excellent post exploring the “Entitlement Generation”. One of the examples in the post describes a professor who asked his class – what do want the federal government to do to help you achieve your dream. Here was the result:

8 out of 10 students said they wanted free health care, they wanted the government to pay for their tuition. They want the government to pay for the down payment on their house. They expect the government “to give them a job.” Many of them said they wanted the government to tax wealthier individuals so that they would have an opportunity to have a better life.

Are these expectations fair? Should citizens be entitled to a government subsidized house, education, and job?

Responding to the idea that it is not fair that a child born to a poor woman has less chance for success than a child born into a wealthy family, Thomas Sowell points out fundamental problems with how we define “fairness”:

To ask whether life is fair — either here and now, or at any time or place around the world, over the past several thousand years — is to ask a question whose answer is obvious. Life has seldom been within shouting distance of fair, in the sense of even approximately equal prospects of success. …

More fundamentally, the question whether life is fair is very different from the question whether a given society’s rules are fair. Society’s rules can be fair in the sense of using the same standards of rewards and punishments for everyone. But that barely scratches the surface of making prospects or outcomes the same.

A look at Elite Faith and Fairness

Jesus was amazed at the faith of three people a Canaanite women, a centurion, and John the Baptist. The post from Challies helped me to look at the Canaanite women from a different perspective for the series on greatness. Let’s examine the ideas of fairness and entitlement through this woman of great faith in Matthew 15:21-28 (NASB).

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”

The woman is a Canaanite living in the Gentile region of what is modern day Lebanon. She has come to find Jesus, whom she acknowledges as the Messiah of Israel who was to come from the line of David.

Having had the amazing chance to meet Jesus, who had come to this area to share some quiet and private time with His disciples (Mark 7:24-25) she makes a request. What does she ask for? She doesn’t want a seat at the right or left seat of Christ in glory, or power to lord over others, or to be served? Nor does she demand the “better life”. She wants her daughter to be well. At the very heart of that appeal is the absence of any sense of entitlement. The basis for her request is not that she deserves help. She is begging for mercy and compassion.

23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

However Jesus does not initially respond to her request. As the account unfolds Jesus calls this woman a dog and tells her she did not deserve to be helped? This should catch the careful reader off guard, not only because these seem like cold  responses from Jesus, but it is such a contrast to how Jesus has been responding to similar requests. This narrative is surrounded by two accounts of Jesus healing many people (Matt 14:34-36; 15:29-31). The difference is the people being healed in these accounts are in areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee in Israel and are primarily Jewish.

Jesus explains first to the disciples and then the woman that His mission is focused on Israel.

  • I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel
  • It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs

In the latter quote, Jesus is saying in effect: it is not right to give the children’s food to the pets. Theologically the children are Israel, the pets are the Gentiles, and the bread is the offer to be part of the kingdom. This plan for reaching the lost is explained again in Acts when the disciples are told to be witnesses first in Jerusalem (the capital of Israel) and then ultimately to the outer most parts of the world. And again in Romans by Paul who tells us that salvation was first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Rom 1:16).

But is that being fair to the woman?

Is it fair that she was born a Gentile and not a Jew?

Is it fair that she lives outside of Israel’s borders?

Is it fair that her daughter is sick?

Take a moment to reflect on how you might respond to Jesus at this point? If I am honest with myself, I don’t think I would respond the way the woman does.

27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.

The woman shows incredible patience and humility as she continues to plead her case and beg for help. Her persistence is clearly aggravating the disciples, always the model of compassion, who just want her to go away. But despite their complaints and Jesus’ initial rejection she never claims she is entitled to the healing that Jesus can give or that its not fair that He heals Jews. She humbly admits that she is willing to take whatever He is willing to offer out of grace and mercy. She is asking for the table scraps that would be thrown out or given to the pets. She is willing to take the left-overs from the Messiah that Israel does not want.

Compare that to the Pharisees who believe that they are entitled to the kingdom by virtue of their special heritage as descendents of Abraham (Matt 3:7-10). They test Jesus demanding signs (Matt 16:1) then call Him demon possessed (Matt 12:24) and ultimately reject Him as the Son of David (Matt 12:23), and plot to kill Him (Matt 12:14). Their sense of entitlement has destroyed their humility and given them an inflated sense of worth. They are not joyful at the arrival of their King and Savior because they feel they deserve great places in the kingdom already.

The Pharisees were likely incensed to learn that many Gentiles would be granted entrance into the kingdom, but they were not entitled to enter, let alone have seats of glory (Matt 8:11-12).

The series of posts is exploring greatness by exploring what the criteria are for being an elite Christian? More important than what we might say if asked if we were elite is how Jesus would answer it. The response of this woman amazes Jesus and elicits the remark: You have great faith!
Jesus has just let this woman know that she is elite because of her faith.

Understanding Jesus’ initial response is difficult. Was Jesus testing her faith, trying to teach the disciples a lesson on faith and the heart (15:17-18), or trying to show them the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt 15:7-8) as well as their own lack of compassion. Probably all of the above are involved in how Jesus handled the situation.

Whatever conclusion one draws it is clear that Jesus gives us a lesson on being elite. If we want to be great in the kingdom it requires a humble recognition that life is not fair and we don’t deserve all that we think we do. Most importantly we need to recognize the need for a Messiah because we are not entitled to a place in the kingdom because of who we are or what we have (or have not) done. Until we start to let that sink in we are not going to be great in the eyes of our Savior.

[Continue reading through the series: part 3]

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