There’s so much suffering in the world that it’s hard to imagine a loving and caring God is in control. Because it seems inexplicable, the natural tendency is to build an emotional wall against the painful sight of suffering. Out of sight, out of mind. Eventually, the suffering of others ceases to impact us. We stop relating, especially when the suffering occurs thousands of miles away to people who are very different from us.
On Friday, November 24th over three hundred Sufi Muslims were killed — slaughtered — while offering prayers in their mosque. Twenty-seven of them were children. What do we do with that? There is a dangerous dance some Christians perform when tragedy strikes. If the tragedy strikes our perceived enemies, it’s the wrath of God punishing those who are living in the dark. If the tragedy strikes us, it’s Satan attacking God’s righteous ones. Nifty … and unbiblical.
So, what did Jesus say when he was confronted with the suffering of those who were foreigners and very different from him? I’ll look at three instances where this actually happened to Jesus. Hopefully, we can learn a few principles about how we love and care for the foreigner who suffers.
Every Person has Immeasurable Value (Matt. 15:21-28)
On one of the few occasions when Jesus ventured outside of his homeland, he met a Greek woman from Tyre. 1 She begged Jesus to heal her daughter who was extremely sick. 2 Jesus, three times, refused to deal with her. But, she was extremely persistent. 3 On his last refusal he said to her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). In perhaps the greatest one-liner in the Bible, the woman shot back, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matt. 15:27). 4 I picture Jesus smiling as he responded, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matt. 15:28). The woman went home to find her daughter healed (Matt. 15:28; Mark 7:30).
Jesus’ conversation with this woman reveals that she was not a believer, but had great respect for Jesus as a spiritual sage. 5 As a Phoenician from the region of Tyre, with a Greek heritage, she would have worshipped the god, Melquart. 6 Jesus rebuffed her three times as a way of testing her true desire to know him and his healing power. 7 So, we know that she was neither a practicing Jew nor a confessing Jesus follower. In fact, there is no indication that she ever proclaimed faith in Jesus as Son of God, nor did she become one of his disciples. This woman simply showed a stubborn strength of will and a tenacious hope that Jesus, the famous healing sage, could help her daughter. Apparently, that was enough.
The lesson from this scene is that even someone who has a culture and a faith very different from yours is valuable in the eyes of God. Everyone deserves a chance to live and grow and discover God’s healing power.
Every Person has great capacity for Faith (Matt. 8:5-13)
One day a Roman Centurion came to Jesus to ask him to heal one of his servants. This servant was particularly valuable and was suffering from paralysis. 8 Jesus volunteered to go to the man’s house. But, the Centurion said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:8-9).
This Roman Centurion was a part of the Roman control system established in Galilee. He was a man of great power and influence. 9 He was most likely a worshipper of several Greek and Latin gods, and most likely lived from the philosophical school of Stoicism. 10 He also had a great respect for the religion of the Jews. 11 But, he was clearly not a believer.
This is why Jesus was shocked by the Centurion’s faith. He was a commanding officer and understood how authority worked. He saw Jesus as a spiritual sage who had great authority in the spirit world. Jesus concluded that many insiders had little clue compared to this outsider. In fact, the Pharisees were constantly questioning Jesus’ authority (Mt. 21:23; Mark 11:28). And here — a Roman pagan — thoroughly understood that authority.
Jesus concluded that every person has great capacity for faith.
Never Judge Those Who Are Suffering (Luke 13:1-9)
Jesus was asked what he thought about an incident where Pontius Pilate had dozens of Galileans killed while they were offering their sacrifices in Jerusalem. 12 We’re not sure exactly what happened but this sounds like a classic Pontius Pilate move early in his governorship of Judea. 13 This would be akin to someone entering a house of worship and killing the worshippers. The question was very judgmental. 14 The implication was: What did the Galileans do wrong that they were killed in the act of worship? Did God punish them because their worship was unworthy?
Jesus doesn’t allow it. He reminds them of the Jerusalemites who were killed when a tower fell on them. Were they guiltier than anyone else living in Jerusalem? Were the Southerners (Jerusalemites) who died any better than the Northerners (Galileans) who died? No. Bad things happen to all kinds of people. Evil is all around us. Sometimes good people get hit.
Jesus tells them that instead of judging those who have been hit by horrific tragedy, they should get their own house in order. Worry about yourself, Jesus said, because you could be next. Then, Jesus tells them to love everyone, even their enemies because God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). In other words, when it comes to bad things happening to people, there is no discrimination between those who believe in God and those who don’t. So, neither should you discriminate in your judgment.
When confronted with the suffering of foreigners, Jesus worked to bring healing and comfort. He didn’t judge them, nor did he preach to them. Rather he let his actions speak love into their lives. In the end, they understood where their help came from (Ps. 121:1), and would forever be grateful for the love Jesus showed them. Their lives were certainly changed. Who knows where it would lead?