Living into Challenges

This last weekend we talked about challenges and Daniel’s (and his Friends) response to what could be considered an impossible challenge—to both reveal the king’s dream and then interpret it. (Daniel 2) No matter how the second chapter of Daniel strikes you, you must agree there is an enormous challenge presented to Daniel. I said when confronted with a challenge what do you do: 1) run away from it, 2) stick your head in the sand, 3) try to confront it with anger or hostility, or do you 4) confront it with peace, gentleness, and humility?   How we confront challenges shows where were are aligned with God’s grace for our lives.
Simply, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live into the challenge to follow with love while still remaining connected to the needs of the world around us?
A biblical challenge that continues to stick in my mind comes from Matthew 15:21-28 where the Canaanite woman (a descendant of Cain from the Cain and Abel story in Genesis) meets Jesus along the road. This passage out Common English Bible reads;
“From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” But he didn’t respond to her at all.
His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”
Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”
He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”
Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.
There are many layers to this passage.  At the onset there is the layer of demon possession in the first century and how it might relate to mental illness.  Lastly, there are layers of how this refers to cultural and racial differences between Jesus and the Canaanite (black) Woman.  Jesus’ use of the word dog to describe scrapes (God’s grace) given to those outside the But let us focus in on the responses to the challenge at hand.
There is a challenge for Jesus, his disciples, and the Canaanite woman. Where do we as followers of Jesus Christ enter into this passage?  Where do we identify? The Disciples meet the challenge by sticking there head in the sand and running away.  Jesus at first attempts to run away.  They are confronted with the challenge; “Will you heal my daughter? Will you pay attention to my pain? Will you recognize I am part of your kingdom of heaven?”
However, what of the Canaanite Woman who has fought to the front of the line to be close to Jesus and his disciples?  No doubt, she has known the pain of her daughter’s demon possession.  The suffering she has seen daily. Maybe she has already worked through running away, fighting back, trying to stick her head in the sand. Perhaps all she has left is to plead with humility and patience.
Moreover, what if we put ourselves in the position of disciples of Jesus Christ.  The challenge to see the pain of others.  To recognize our call to help those around us. Beth Samson, the faith formation minister at Creighton University, writes; “If you, too, find this Gospel difficult, I invite you to bring your questions to prayer. I have shared my questions below. Keep moving forward, even when the trail seems more difficult than you wanted, and invite God to be with you there.
  • Why did you ignore the woman who came to you in distress?
  • What am I to learn from your decision only to help a person of your faith?
  • How can I find the compassionate and loving God in this experience?”
As we pray over the challenges of our lives and see where our response can align with the God’s grace may we always and everywhere be moved to a position of love? As Rainer Maria Rilke says;
 “Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. Also, the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
–    Pastor Jon