Aug 24

Simply Trust – Part II

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission


Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity.  Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.

Here are just a few entries:

Participant 1-

“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc).  Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”

Participant 2-

“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’

 Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.

 The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.

 I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”

Participant 3-

“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured.  I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things.  My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it.  However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture.  Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one.  My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness.  It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside.   As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay.  There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night.  I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh.  My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’  Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature.  I agreed for a while.  Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated.  The chaos and the simple lie side by side.  I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm.  I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees.  It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”

Participant 4-

“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing.  I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it.  It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck.  If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned.  In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors.  They said the rats learned creativity.  I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience.  I think learning contentment is similar.  Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow.  As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”

Participant 5-

“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer.  Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps.  However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools.  As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff.  Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me.  So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby.  I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders.  And you know what?  Life is simpler!”

As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations.  It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.

Experiments with Simplicity

I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week.  Perhaps you can try one or all of these:

  1. Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
  1. Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately.  Think about what he or she said.
  1. Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want.  Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records.  Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at


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Jun 10

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 2

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When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I


When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I whipped a heavy rope at him which left a large red welt on his cheek. He ran home in tears. Somehow my mother learned of the incident and angrily called me home. She met me on the front steps and said that I couldn’t come in the house until I apologized to Billy.

I said that I couldn’t apologize because I wasn’t sorry; he deserved it! Of course that made her even angrier. She went inside and locked the door. Now, my mother and I had many battles of will before then (and many after), so she should have anticipated what would happen. I stayed on the front porch until dark (about 4 hours), until she finally let me in. I never did apologize.

Forgiveness was not part of my lifestyle as a child. Actually it was not part of my family’s life style.  And, I am chagrined to admit, it has only been in the last half of my life that I have really begun to understand and practice the discipline of forgiveness.

Richard Rohr says, “God fully forgives us, but the ‘karma’ of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds that we have broken.  Otherwise others will not be able to forgive us, will remain stuck, and we will both remain a wounded world. . . . Our family, friends and enemies are not as kind or patient as God.  They need a clear accounting to be free and go ahead with their lives.” (Adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone, CD, MP3 download). This was surely true for Billy and me; we never did play together or even speak to each other again.

Rohr continues:  “Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; all must be reconciled and accounted for. All healers are wounded healers, as Henri Nouwen said so well. There is no other kind. In fact, you are often most gifted to heal others precisely where you yourselves were wounded, or wounded others . . . . You learn to salve the wounds of others by knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 69). 

So all healers are wounded, but not all those who are wounded are healers. Healing is something God orchestrates, but we must join the orchestra. Emotional healing does not happen by osmosis, it is an intentional step forward. It requires a shift in thinking and a willingness to forgive. If Christians want to remain stuck in their woundedness, they will harm rather than help others.

My own journey with forgiveness began when a counselor told me that I had to forgive my mother for our life-long bitter and unloving relationship or my anger would destroy me.  I did not want to forgive my mother. But I learned that my wants and feelings had nothing to do with forgiving. One day I sat on my bed and berated God. “If you want me to forgive her, you’ll have to do it.” Little did I understand how theologically correct my ultimatum was. I had to be willing, but God had to do the work. My process of becoming a wounded healer, instead of a wounded daughter, was beginning.

My relationship with my mother did not change. It was toxic; I needed to stay away. But gradually my anger dribbled away. Many years later, my mother struggled with several health issues. My sister was the only one of five siblings who lived near enough to help. After a few years of being totally responsible for mother’s care, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. God nudged me, and I knew I was being called to go home and help. God worked out all the details of the move – a job transfer, a way to handle housing, the change of heart my husband had about moving. And so we moved.

I helped where I could.  And gradually as mother slid away into dementia I learned to leave the past behind and act in a loving way. And then, one day, I was with my mother in her living room as I had been hundreds of times before, listening to her complaints as I had hundreds of time before. She asked me a question, and I turned to look at her.  And suddenly I saw a lonely and fearful elderly woman, small, bent over, and suffering immense emotional pain – as she had for dozens of years. I felt forgiveness and love. What started in my bedroom twenty years earlier was completed in her living room.

The process of becoming a wounded healer is described in this beautiful passage as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation,

working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life

brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jeru-

salem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the

dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive

all their  rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory

for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for

her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her (Jeremiah 33:5-7).

If we let him, God will renovate our hearts, working a true healing. We will be blessed, restored, scrubbed clean, and forgiven for our wrongs and rebellions.  Our lives will be centers of joy and praise and glory for all around us. People will be in awe of what God is doing in us.  We will become  wounded healers.

MULLING IT OVER:  Do know a “wounded healer?”  What does that person bring to your life?  Do you know a wounded person who is still drowning in the hurt and pain?  What do they bring to your life? Are you are a wounded healer? Or are you one of the hurt people who hurt people?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see who you really are.


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at

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May 12

Growing Requires Daring to Look at Who We Really Are

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“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV) I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked


“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV)

I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked for and attracted needy people and proceeded to try to “fix them.”  I felt responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, and well-being. I was happiest when I was busily attempting to bring calm to chaotic situations.  I did this even in the face of logic which clearly demonstrated that this behavior was foolhardy and even dangerous and in spite of the objections of my family and friends. Those actions had severe consequences which still affect my life. And all the while I was convinced that this lifestyle was what God was calling me to do.

This behavior controlled my life because I was unable to step outside myself and observe my own behavior. Until a counselor helped me to look at myself and discern the motivation of my actions and reactions, I saw no need to change, although my life was falling apart all around me.

What I am describing here is a lack of consciousness.   Consciousness is “me seeing me seeing” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 85).  Consciousness is the awareness that empowers me to:

  • step outside myself
  • discern my behavior
  • choose to change my behavior or go ahead with that behavior

The opposite of consciousness is acting out of instinct or from thoughts and experiences of which we are unaware.  An example of this “unconscious” behavior would be sudden anger or violence that makes us think, “Where in the world did that come from?” or crippling fear that we cannot explain.

When my enabling controlled me, I could/would not see that I was choosing to be manipulated.  I could/would not understand or see that I was taking actions that hurt me as well as the person I was trying to fix.  When I took a young man just released from jail to my home to stay because his parents wouldn’t let him return to their home, I couldn’t see that his parents may have had good reason to keep him away. Being “unconscious” kept me in denial of the dangers of my own behavior.

As I began my spiritual formation journey years later, I discovered that God used that counselor to help me understand and change my behavior, but that the Holy Spirit was the power behind my transformation from someone interested only in codependent relationships to someone who could form and enjoy healthy relationships.  My perception is that consciousness is the conduit the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives.  If we are willing to practice stepping out- side of ourselves, the Holy Spirit can guide, comfort, teach, remind, and empower us, as Scripture teaches he will (John 14).

“Consciousness” is an awareness we can learn and practice.  A counselor who was in one of the classes I teach told the group that looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Learning about “false narratives” also gives us a framework to observe and assess our own perceptions of the world.

The spiritual discipline of “detachment” is also a way that we can learn to develop consciousness. Ignatius of Loyola talks about “making use of those things that help bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” (In First Principal and Foundation quoted by Margaret Silf in her book Inner Compass).  Silf uses the image of God as a midwife to help us picture what detachment means:

For all of us, our first experience of the pain and promise of detachment was the hour we left our mother’s womb and, screaming with shock,  entered human life on earth.  In the seemingly brutal act of cutting the umbilical cord, which separated us from the prenatal food supply, we were in fact set free to live our own lives.

So it began, and so it continues in the ongoing call to let go of what is not (or is no longer) leading us closer to God, and to choose instead those ways that for us personally lead us closer to him and to the fulfillment of his dream for us.  (Inner Compass, p. 108)

Richard Rohr says that “for properly detached persons . . . . deeper consciousness comes rather naturally.  They discover their own soul – which is their deepest self – and yet have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.”  He goes on to say that when Jesus speaks of “giving us the Spirit,” he is saying he is “sharing his consciousness with us. One whose soul is thus awakened actually has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Cor. 2 10-16)  (Breathing Under Water, p. 86-87).

Mulling it Over – Take on the discipline of praying this prayer every day.  “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that separates me from you” (Richard Foster).  Pay attention to the effect it has on your willingness to look at yourself from outside yourself.

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at

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Apr 21

Spiritual Formation and Superhero Thinking

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may


One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may be in the mindset of the individual.

Confession is good for the soul. “The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. motivated this installment.” Wow, that felt refreshing! Having identified my inspiration, I highly recommend her book. Since opening its front cover (or rather swiping through its pages on Kindle), I have been sharing insights with my sons, students, and colleagues. It is like seeing the spring grass and flowers anew following an atmosphere clearing thunderstorm.

I want to identify the core idea from Dweck’s book for the reader and then suggest how understanding this idea might make a difference for those of us who seek to help others with their own spiritual formation. Dweck labels her two mindsets Fixed and Growth. The key point of Dweck’s work is that a person’s mindset is not permanent; a mindset can be modified and manipulated by oneself and others. To summarize her distinctions between the two, “children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed . . . But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.” (p. 17) To extend her thought into Christian Spiritual Formation, for Christians with a fixed mindset Spiritual Formation is about being like Jesus and for those with the growth mindset it is about becoming like Jesus. Since the first sees talents and abilities as innate, any struggle or setback leads them to stop trying, while for the second each challenge is viewed as an opportunity to grow a bit more like the Master.

“People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.” (p. 28) The inverse is that people with the fixed mindset don’t use the word “potential,” one either has IT or they don’t. As the author herself notes, “Until I discovered the mindsets and how they work, I, too, thought of myself as more talented than others, maybe even more worthy than others because of my endowments.” (p. 29-30) A fixed mindset considers that “effort is for those who don’t have the ability.” (p. 40) In one study with children some were praised for their ability while others were praised for their effort. “Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.” (p. 73)

A final note of clarification from Dweck: “Perhaps it’s because, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, people prize natural endowment over earned ability. . . . We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” (p. 90)

What does this have to do with Spiritual Formation?

We should recognize first and foremost that a fixed mindset is detrimental to spiritual formation. Because of this reality, it is crucial for CSF directors to be cautious of the language they use in describing formation. We don’t help others if we indirectly reinforce their own fixed mindset. Formation directors must also learn to see a fixed mindset in those they are leading and consciously move them toward a growth mindset in other avenues of their life as well. These conversations can focus on the worlds of the two mindsets. In the world of the fixed mindset, “success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.” However, in the world of the growth mindset, “it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” (p. 16) This is where a conversation can begin with other directors you know.

What language do you use? How might you rephrase your language to develop a growth mindset in a mentee?

Second, it is critical for those of us involved in spiritual formation to avoid creating our own superheroes. The spiritually mature have not always been where they are today. We applaud them for their status, adore them for their spirituality, and admire them for their seeming superiority. In so doing we reinforce a fixed mindset in ourselves and remain behind a self-imposed barricade to our own journey. If I have a fixed mindset (which I discovered is a default for me) then I see in others the same qualities. I easily forget the years they spent undergoing transformation. I have learned to recognize that my “spiritually formed” friends have not always been so. Their lives have not been a smooth road protected from difficulty. Some have tragically lost a child; others suffered from unspeakable childhoods. A few have suffered physical illness in their body, while one dear friend was the lone survivor from her family of a car accident. These individuals were formed through time, trials, and trust in a merciful god. The true danger of creating spiritual superheroes is that we relegate them to a solitary life because they can no longer walk among us as regular humans who themselves are in the process of being transformed by God. We risk stunting their spiritual formation

How do you speak about the authors you are reading? Do you impose on them fixed traits? Do you validate yourself by seeing them as having this static spirituality?

A third application of Dweck’s material for spiritual formation may be less obvious. One characteristic frequently identified as the Greek virtue unique to Christianity is humility. I wonder whether the fixed mindset with its concern for maintaining superior positioning based on an innate quality can actually practice humility. It seems that the growth mindset with its better recognition of abilities and areas for improvement may have the upper hand in actually living a life of humility. This might also help explain Paul’s admonition to the Philippians in 2:5 “You should think among yourselves in the same way that Christ Jesus thought!”

Does the unrealistic self-identity associated with a fixed mindset hinder the development of humility? How do you understand humility to be developed?

Finally, I must recognize the real danger a fixed mindset presents to spiritual development. Dweck notes, “In the end, many people with the fixed mindset understand that their cloak of specialness was really a suit of armor they built to feel safe, strong, and worthy. While it may have protected them early on, later it constricted their growth, sent them into self-defeating battles, and cut them off from satisfying, mutual relationships.” (p. 232) Armor we have worn for decades is not easily removed. Quick and easy is not the way of Jesus. Faithfulness over the long haul reflects the narrow pathway of discipleship.

Do you see yourself as being transformed by God as you journey with God through this life or as having already arrived? Is your mindset one of growth or is it fixed?


Mindset The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2006



An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.




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Mar 03

Heavenly Reverie – Cultivating the Mind of Christ Jesus

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Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here) Heavenly Reverie A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in the Noetic Environment of Jesus “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I want to see reality the way Jesus


Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here)

Heavenly Reverie

A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in

the Noetic Environment of Jesus

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

I want to see reality the way Jesus did.  I want to have the mind of Christ, as Paul urges us in the verse above. These blogs are my reflections on what I am coming to understand about the noetic environment of Jesus.  Noetic environment means reality as Jesus understood it, or, what was going on in his mind. In this installment I want to talk about how Jesus understood the human person and their sacred worth.

We live in a world where people are identified and labeled by externals.  We lump people into ethnic, religious and national groups.  Or we see people as a part of a consumer group, and we label people by economic status.  Finally, we are trained to see people as either good or bad, holy or sinful, based on their behavior:  “Stay away from her, she is a bad person.” In doing so we reduce people to commodities and consumers.  As a result, it becomes difficult to see people as persons of sacred worth.

However, Jesus refused to treat people as their external labels, box them in, and treat them according to their ethnic or religious group, social status or class, or their piety or sinfulness.  One provocative moment in the life of Jesus concerns his interaction with a woman in Matthew 15:21-28.  It is a passage that troubled me for years, but now brings me joy.[i]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Without knowing the background—and the foreground—to this story, it appears that Jesus is not only unkind, he is an elitist, perhaps even a racist.  We are going to have to take a closer look to understand this odd story.

Matthew describes the woman as a “Canaanite.”  This was a word that no one in Jesus’ day used to describe the Gentiles.  It was the name used in the Old Testament to describe the people who occupied the promised land of Canaan, the people that Joshua was charged with totally annihilating.  Calling someone a Canaanite in Jesus’ day would be like calling a British person a Saxon, or a Swedish person a Viking.  So we know something is up when Matthew uses this name (the one and only time it occurs in the New Testament).

The woman is following Jesus and his disciples, shouting at him to heal her daughter.  His disciples tell Jesus to tell the woman to bug off.  Jesus instead says to the woman, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  This may sound rude, but in fact, in light of the recent events this was more of a sigh of despair.  John the Baptist has recently been murdered, Jesus’ ministry is failing, and the Pharisees are plotting his murder at that very moment.  Jesus’ reply was essentially, “I am on a difficult mission.  My own people are lost, and I must attend to them.”

The mother then kneels before Jesus, an act of complete submission, and says, “Lord, help me.”  One would expect a little compassion, but his next line sounds worse than the first:  “It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.”  Ouch.  She persists with a clever reply: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus seems delighted in this response, praises her faith, and tells her that her request has been granted, and her daughter is healed.  What just happened?

Perhaps she awakened Jesus’ memory of the original call of Abraham that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Gen. 18:18), because in essence she is saying, “I know your mission is to save your people first, but your ultimate mission is also for the rest of us.  Go ahead and feed your kids, but could you let my daughter have a scrap?”  Jesus says. “Great is your faith.” I believe he intentionally went into this region (Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory) to have this kind of interaction, so that he could proclaim that his mission now included the Gentiles.  Her persistent pleading demonstrated her faith that Jesus could, in fact, heal her daughter—even though she had no rights to it—gave Jesus the chance to show how he is making all things new.  By granting her request, Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles has now begun.  He had healed Gentiles before, but never in Gentile territory.  Something radical has just happened.  But it gets even better.

As I mentioned, what happens immediately after this story is also important in understanding what Jesus is ultimately doing.  The next thing Jesus does is heal hundreds of people—all Gentiles (nee Canaanites).  We can infer they are Gentiles because it says they all “praised the God of Israel” (code for:  “they were Gentiles”).  Then something even more profound follows.  The crowd of Gentiles grows to 4,000 (second only to the 5,000 he fed with the loaves and fishes, in the previous chapter).  As in that story, Jesus has compassion on this crowd, and performs the same miracle of feeding this huge crowd with only a small amount of food (the abundance narrative I wrote about in the previous blog).  But the end of the story is where it gets good.

In the feeding of the 5,000 (Jews) there were twelve baskets of leftovers.  This signified the twelve tribes of Israel.  When he feeds the 4,000 (Gentiles) there are seven baskets left over.   As I always tell my students, pay attention to the details in the Bible because there are no wasted words.  Seven signifies the seven tribes of the Canaanites, the very ones that Moses told Joshua to destroy totally (Deut. 7:1-5), ordering them to show no mercy, because any mingling with these godless people might lead the Israelites astray.

Let me re-cap what has happened.  Jesus has shown mercy and compassion on the very people that Moses said were godless.  Brian McLaren writes, “Jesus seizes the old narrative, shakes it, turns it inside out, and offers a new story that reframes a future radically different from the past.”[ii]

At the Apprentice Institute we talk, and speak, and write a lot about narratives.  Our narratives shape who we are and inform what we do.  Our narratives are crucial.  If they are false, limited, or toxic, they can damage our souls, and lead to apathy and even violence.  Jesus is, in this story, isolating an ancient narrative, showing that it is false, and offering us a new one, one that is true, namely, all people are of sacred worth.  He demonstrated this constantly in his actions, speaking to and blessing an adulterous Samaritan woman, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, healing the loved ones of the hated Roman soldiers.

Some may react to this story by saying, “Jesus is fickle.  He didn’t want to help the Gentile lady, then he caved, then he went crazy and started healing—and feeding—a ton of Gentiles.  He seems unstable.”  I do not read the story this way.  I believe that Jesus knew what he was doing all along.  He knew how deeply entrenched the narrative was in Israel—and among the Romans who occupied Israel.  It goes like this:  “Destroy your enemies, for blessed are the violent victors.”  That is what the Israelites lived with every day under Roman occupation.  Each day they saw their own people pinned up like bugs to die on crosses, a sign of Roman domination.  Jesus reverses the violence narrative, a narrative held by his own people.  It was in the air they breathed.  Jesus was calling it out.

In Jesus’ noetic environment, all people are sacred.  Therefore, we do not kill our enemies, we love them.  We do not curse our enemies, we pray for and bless them.  The violence narrative—one that is upheld only when we see people as things—is alive and well today.  It is in the newspapers every morning.  But I am called by Jesus not to judge others.  However, I see the narrative in my own heart when I judge the person who smokes, or is obese.  I see it in my own heart when I feel greater sadness for the American soldiers who die than the Iraqi soldiers who share the same fate.  I see it in my own heart when I see a homeless person holding a sign at the stoplight and my first response is to wonder if his plight is legitimate.  I am longing for the day when my first thought is, “How sacred that person is . . . wow.”

Transformation into Christlikeness is not easy.  But it is freeing.  I find my own false narratives—while comfortable and safe—are not conducive to joy.  I want to continue to get lost in the reverie of Jesus’ noetic environment.  It hurts at first, but abiding in his mind is healing to my soul.  I love the line from the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night:  “and He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”  Wouldn’t it be great if that was said of each of us:  “Wherever we go, people feel their sacred worth.”  For that to happen, we are going to have to see them as Jesus did.



[i]   This understanding of the passage comes from Grant LeMarquand, and stated in Brian McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change, pp. 154 ff.

[ii]  Ibid., p. 158


Dr. JaView More: Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Apprenticeship, Blog, Heavenly Reverie, Love, Love, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / / / /

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