’M SURE I’M NOT ALONE IN WONDERING WHAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE TO be among those who were present when God walked the earth in human form. While it is true at any given moment throughout history that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), yet it was undoubtedly a time of special privilege for humans when Jesus was physically here.
In attempting to visualize the reality of seeing Jesus face-to-face, I have long thought there is a very telling clue available to us in Ellen White’s recounting of the incident involving the Syrophoenician woman in The Desire of Ages. Review with me the setting: Jesus has repaired to the hill country bordering Phoenicia following one of His problematic encounters with the Pharisees. A Canaanite woman from the vicinity appears and cries out to Him, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession” (Matt. 15:22). And what follows? This Man, who is more than a man and kinder than any human who ever lived, “did not answer a word” (verse 23).
Though He appears to have ignored her request, the woman does not give up. She follows after Jesus, and in the words of the disciples, “she keeps crying out after us” (verse 23). Then Jesus speaks, evidently for the benefit of both the woman and His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (verse 24). Still, the woman is not deterred. She kneels before Him and pleads, “Lord, help me!” (verse 25).
Jesus now addresses the woman directly: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (verse 26). Ellen White, having already pointed out that this entire exchange was designed by Jesus to kindle sympathy in the hearts of the disciples for those who had long been considered outcasts and “lesser beings” by the greater portion of the Israelite nation, also comments that such an answer “would have utterly discouraged a less earnest seeker” (The Desire of Ages, p. 401). She then writes: “The woman saw that her opportunity had come” (ibid., italics supplied).
Years ago when I read this chapter and confronted those words, I felt astounded as I contemplated the marvelous reality presented here. How could it be that upon hearing what sounded like a rebuff, the Syrophoenician woman could see that now was her moment of opportunity? The opportunity was not made apparent by the content of our Lord’s spoken words, so it’s clear that it was perceived through other means. What could those means have been?
Put yourself in this woman’s place. You are in the physical presence of Jesus, and you have just verbalized to Him your heart’s deepest desire. He answers you, using words whose literal meaning seems to imply the opposite of that which you desire to hear. Yet this simple exchange of words between the two of you is as if a Roman candle has been lit and has suddenly burst into an explosion of joyful color before your eyes. This Godman standing there before you is so full of love that He seems to exude it. His compassion is so deep and all-encompassing that it is literally impossible to hide it from anyone with a susceptible heart.
That is what the Syrophoenician woman must have seen. That is the God we serve and the One with whom it is our privilege to have a personal, daily, ongoing relationship—a relationship that can stretch into all eternity.
Jesus granted the woman’s request. Why not trust Him today—and every day—with all your requests?
Tara Hamlin writes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she lives on the edge of a woods, surrounded and infinitely astounded by the wonders of creation.