Friday, November 30, 2012

Matthew, Luke, and Advent

With the approach of advent, I felt inspired to make a book for my niece that would tell the nativity story. One of my interests this year has been in typography, and I decided that I should try laying out my first small book.

Of the four evangelists, only Matthew and Luke describe Jesus's birth. At first glance, my project seemed to be simple. I would take Matthew chapters one and two and Luke chapters one and two, and arrange them into one story.

I set some ground rules for myself. I decided that I would only interleave Matthew and Luke; I would not do any rearranging. That is, I would not put something from Matthew 2 ahead of something from Matthew 1, for example. I would also try to work section by section, keeping intact each author's work as much as possible. I finally resolved not to delete any verses, if at all possible.

If you have tried this exercise yourself, you may agree with me that all goes well until after Jesus is born. The birth of John the Baptist is announced to Zechariah in Jerusalem (Luke 1.5-22). He returns to his home in the hill country of Judea and his wife, Elizabeth, becomes pregnant (Luke 1.23-25).

Meanwhile, the birth of Jesus is announced to Mary in Nazareth (Luke 1.26-38). That moves Mary to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1.39-55). At the end of her visit, Mary returns to Nazareth (Luke 1.56). After Mary leaves, Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1.57-80).

Meanwhile, back in Nazareth, Joseph is planning to put Mary away, but an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him not to (Matt. 1.18-25). Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, and Jesus is born there (Luke 2.1-7). Angels appear to shepherds in the surrounding countryside, who come to the stable to see Jesus in the manger (Luke 2.8-20). A week later, the baby is named Jesus (Luke 2.21).

So far, so good. Now here it gets complicated. Luke has the Holy Family travel to Jerusalem to be dedicated in the temple (Luke 2.22-38). After that, Luke has the Holy Family travel to Nazareth (Luke 2.39-40).

However, Matthew has the wise men coming from the East, stopping in Jerusalem to ask King Herod for directions, and worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem (Matt. 2.1-12). Matthew then has the Holy Family escape to Egypt to avoid Herod's massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2.13-18). After Herod's death, the Holy Family resettles in Nazareth (Matt. 2.19-22).

So, how do we get all of these events in one time line? Did the Holy Family go to Jerusalem, then come back to Bethlehem so that the wise men could find them? There are two problems with this scenario.

First, Luke says that the Holy Family went to Nazareth after Jerusalem. This could be explained away by reasoning that the Holy Family did end up in Nazareth after all of this, but first they went some places that Luke did not bother to record. The more significant problem is that there is no reason for the Holy Family to keep shuttling back and forth to Bethlehem. Aside from being his ancestral place of origin, Joseph has no connection to Bethlehem. He just went there to file his census paperwork. Once he leaves Bethlehem, there's no reason for him to return, especially considering how difficult travel was in first century Israel.

As a lawyer, if I know one thing, it is that the answer to most problems is to do more research. In this case, I consulted several harmonies of the gospel. Most scholars use the arrangement that I just described. Apparently they do not see a problem with it. I don't know; maybe Joseph had some unstated reason to go back to Bethlehem.

The other alternative is that the Holy Family stayed in Bethlehem, and did not leave until after the wise men's visit. Then the Holy Family would have had to go to Jerusalem after the wise men left. Again, there are two problems with that alternative.

First, Matthew has Joseph leaving for Egypt because Herod is going to kill baby boys in Bethlehem. Did he stop off in Jerusalem on his way to Egypt? It's not like Jerusalem is between Bethlehem and Egypt. That leads to the second, more serious problem. Would the Holy Family have been able to travel to Jerusalem and dedicate the Messiah in the Temple -- loudly prophesied by both Simeon and Anna -- after the wise men had been through Jerusalem, stirring the whole town up about the new king?

Although I am not totally satisfied with this alternative, and although it does not seem to be the majority position, this is the alternative that I put into my book. The other alternative seemed to have too much traveling and backtracking in it to make sense to me.

The more that I puzzled over this, the more it seemed to me that Mark and John had taken the more sensible course, and just avoided talking about the baby Jesus altogether.

Lucky for me, I have a great friend who is going through divinity school at Wake Forest University. I showed her my draft and explained her problem. "The thing is," she told me, "each author was writing with a different audience in mind. They were each making a different point. Matthew's point was the Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy. Luke's point was the Jesus was the Savior of the Gentiles as well as Jews. So you really can't blend the two together." I agree with her that is absolutely true, but that answer did not really satisfy me.

I am in many ways a conventional, unimaginative Christian. I think that the Bible is either true or it isn't. I think that either Jesus existed -- and did what the Bible says he did -- or he didn't. This thinking is about a hundred years out of date.

Scholars such as John Dominic Crossan believe that they can decide that this part of the Bible is true, and this part of the Bible is not. Scholars of that type would not be troubled by this problem. They would conclude that either Jesus was not dedicated in the Temple, or there were no wise men, or perhaps that both stories are just folk tales.

The problem with that is that I get to pick the parts that support my views, and ignore the parts that don't, and so do you. Then the Bible does not work to bind us together, which is something that I think it should. Crossan would probably counter that you don't just get to pick and choose, that the decision process has to be determined by some kind of objective criteria, but I don't know how realistic that is.

In a similar way, there are some Christians who believe that Jesus didn't really exist in a factual way. To them, Jesus is the embodiment of an ideal, and the point of the gospels is not to describe a person who existed and who did actual things, but to describe a way of experiencing God. Those believers do not need to reconcile the Jesus of Matthew with the Jesus of Luke. They may be right, but that is not an answer that satisfies me at all.

For such a seemingly simple task, this project certainly brought up some serious, probably insoluble questions about the nature of faith. Obviously, I have not solved those, although I continue to wrestle with them. I can point to some more modest lessons learned, however.

I did not need to do any rearranging of the evangelists' work. Matthew and Luke both recount their stories in the order that makes chronological sense within themselves. I did not even need to do much interspersing. Each evangelist carries large chunks of the narrative at a time. Some deletion was regrettably necessary, but only in the case of redundancy. For example, both Matthew and Luke recount that the baby was named Jesus, and a coherent narrative only needs that stated once.

What do you think about the issues that I had? How would you solve the problem of harmonizing Matthew and Luke?

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Books of the Bible

The Books of the Bible ("TBOTB") is an effort to format the Bible like an ordinary book. Starting with the text of the New International Version, chapter and verse numbers are removed from the text. A running footer indicates a chapter and verse range, though, so traditional navigation is still possible. Instead of chapters, natural section breaks are indicated by white space and drop caps. Also, books that were originally combined, such as Samuel-Kings, have been re-combined, and are re-ordered to be more chronological. Unlike other, similar efforts ("The Story"), however, this is not an abridgment of the Bible; the whole text is present. As we will see, the result is mostly successful, but not without flaws.

TBOTB is a step-up in quality from Biblica's bread-and-butter outreach Bibles. The paper is quite bright, white, and smooth. It is noticeably thinner than ordinary book paper, so it is not perfectly opaque. There is some ghosting noticeable from the other side of the page, but it is not too intrusive. The paper reminds me of the paper used in my hardcover New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fourth Edition.

I anticipated a somewhat smaller book than TBOTB turned out to be. TBOTB is 6x9 inches, for a nice, classic 2:3 page proportion. It is a bit over 1.5 inches thick, and the page count is 1898. I suspect that there was an effort to keep TBOTB below 1900 or 2000 pages. The result reminds me of the paperback anthology of the Hitchhiker's Guide series that I just finished.

My copy is the paperback version from Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society). However, this is not a cheap, mass-market softcover. It is a heavy stock with a matte finish, full-color graphics, and a leather-grained texture. To me, it feels more like a Flexibind cover than a plain paperback. While no softcover book will be as durable as a hardcover, this may prove to be more durable than most outreach-style Bibles.

Both Biblica and Zondervan will sell TBOTB. My copy from Biblica has a glued binding, but I suspect that the copies from Zondervan will be sewn. The box copy from the Duotone editions (one green, one brown) says that they will "lay flat," which is usually Zondervan's indication of a sewn binding. In addition to the Dutotone editions, Zondervan will have a hardcover edition with the same graphic cover as my paperback one. Biblica's line will include two softcover Bibles (one brown, one blue), a New Testament, and the Old Testament in three volumes. All of the editions will have plain page edges. Editions will range from about five dollars for the paperback portions to forty dollars for the Duotone covers.

I was most anxious to examine TBOTB's page design. The text block is 80% of the width and approximately 83% of the height of the page -- 4.75 x 7.5 inches. The proportion of the text is 1:1.579, which is between the page's proportion of 1:1.5 and the golden proportion of 1:1.618. I do not know if that proportion was intentional, but the resulting text block area is exactly two-thirds the area of the page. In other words, this is quite a full page.

I think that the weakest part of the page design is the size of the margin. The outside margins are 3/8 inch, or 1/16th of the page. The inside margins seem to be about 3/4 inch, approximately double the outside. It seems that the outside margin was sacrificed to keep the text from disappearing into the gutter. The top margin is 5/8 inch, or two-thirds larger than the outside margin. The bottom margin is about 3/4 inch, or double the outside margin. The top, inside, and bottom margins do their jobs reasonably well, but the outside margin is too tight.

If the design of the margins is unfortunate, the type decisions are absolutely correct. TBOTB is set in Adobe Utopia, which is a pleasant, modern serif type. Biblica lists the type size as 10 points, and that would be normal for a book this size. Leading, as I measure it, is 12 points; again, two extra points of lead would be quite right for 10 point text. I do not think that any of these decisions could be improved.

The problem with the choice of margins and the choice of text comes down to readability. A 4.75-inch line is just a bit long for 10 point type. For example, one rule of thumb for line length is 30 times the type size; in this case, that would be a 4.17-inch line. So, the line exceeds one suggested length by about 14%. Fourteen percent either is or is not a big deal, depending upon what you think of the result.

With a text as long as the Bible, however, something has to give. If we made the text area 75% of the page height and width, for example, I calculate the page count would be up to 2,250 pages. Since a compromise had to be made, I am glad that it was not to reduce the type size or the amount of spacing.

How does TBOTB stand up to the competition? Crossway's Single Column Legacy Bible is the same size, and its margins are more generous, resulting in a more attractive page. It uses smaller type to achieve that result, however, and it does have the traditional chapter and verse structure. NavPress's various editions of The Message also remove verse numbers from the text (but place them in the margins). In my opinion, The Message has a better-proportioned page than TBOTB, but, again, achieved through smaller type. There are even options for the NIV, with Zondervan offering Single Column Reference, Single Column, and Giant Print Compact Bibles. However, these do not share TBOTB's features. TBOTB's unique formatting makes it a credible choice, perhaps to have in addition to one of the others.

By way of full disclosure, my copy of TBOTB did not cost me anything. It was not a review copy, and Biblica did not solicit my opinion. I entered a contest on TBOTB's Facebook page and won a copy. Many thanks to Biblica for their addition to my ever-growing collection of Bibles.

Check out TBOTB at:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Perfectionist Paul

Paul is a difficult character. He is difficult to understand, and even more difficult to relate to. However, one way of understanding Paul may be to think in psychological terms. Paul behaves like a child of perfectionist parents, only in his case, it is not his relationship with his earthly parents, but God the father.

A child of perfectionist parents learns that nothing short of perfection is good enough. Paul was a perfectionist; he was proud of it: "If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless" (Phil. 3.4-6). Would anyone but a perfectionist call himself "blameless?"

At some point, Paul learned what all children of perfectionist parents learn: Paul was not perfect, not really. If love must be earned, then no accomplishment is ever good enough to earn it. Paul wrote, in Hebrews 7.11, that perfection was not attainable through the priesthood, and in Hebrews 9.9, that gifts and sacrifices "cannot perfect the conscience." Paul's endless striving after perfection did not earn him peace, or salvation, or his heavenly father's love.

Paul found in Jesus Christ what he could not find in himself: A way off the treadmill of perfection. For Paul, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that Paul could not offer. Jesus, Paul wrote, "by a single offering . . . has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10.14). Because we cannot do it for ourselves, Jesus does it for us.

Love is not earned. Whatever has to be earned is not love, not really. Love is freely given. Whatever is not freely given is not love, not really. This is true of earthly parents, and it is true of our father who art in heaven. Christians believe in an infinite wellspring of love, free to all who wish to partake.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Book of Job

Innocent people suffer. I don't think that I need to cite examples, but, if I did, there certainly would be plenty to choose from. Little children, for example, are abused and murdered every day. To me, the essential requirement of any religion is that it must explain why unmerited suffering exists.

The Book of Job is supposed to answer that question. Many people have found comfort and answers in Job's plight. It is probably the book of the bible that I have read most often, but I am no closer to a solution to this problem than when I started. I think that Job gives up too easily.

The Book of Job sets up the problem of unmerited suffering perfectly. Job is an upstanding guy. The beginning of the book lays out that he has done nothing to deserve any punishment. God, for the sake of a gentlemen's wager with Satan, lets Job suffer and lose everything. Job bemoans his situation, which is made worse by his "friends," who do not comfort him, but who accuse him of deserving his fate. Finally, after thirty-eight chapters of setting out the problem, God answers Job. God's speech is supposed to lay out the answer to Job's question, but I find myself objecting to almost everything in it.

First, God calls Job ignorant:
Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Have you comprehended the earth in its breadth?
Declare, if you know it all.
By what way is the light parted,
Or the east wind scattered upon the earth?
Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of heaven, who has gendered it? (Job 38.2, 38.18, 38.24, 38.28-29)
Job should have answered: You are right, God. I don't know any of those things. I'm pretty ignorant, aren't I? Those things don't really matter, though, do they? The one thing that I do know is that you let innocent people suffer unjustly. So what about that?

Next, God challenges Job to punish the proud and wicked on his own:
Pour forth the overflowings of your anger;
And look upon every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;
And tread down the wicked where they stand. (Job 40.11-12)
Why didn't Job say: Well, obviously, I can't, God. I don't have that power. You didn't give me that power. That's not the point, though. You do have that power; you just don't use it. You're God, not me; it's your job to be just. The fact that I can't do your job doesn't excuse you from not doing it. You're supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, so presumably you can and should bring the proud low and tread down the wicked. The fact that you don't -- and you cause innocent people to suffer -- is the very thing that causes me to suspect you are either not all-powerful, or maybe not all-good, or maybe even non-existent.

Finally, God mocks Job's weakness:
Can you draw out leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope into his nose?
Or pierce his jaw through with a hook?
None is so fierce that he dare stir him up;
Who then is he that can stand before me? (Job 41.1-2, 41.10)
Job could easily have answered: You are right again, God. I am weak; I can do none of those things. You are powerful, much more powerful than I am. However, that is more irrelevant misdirection, isn't it? Being powerful does not make you just. Proving to me how powerful you are does not prove to me that you are just. Being more powerful than me does not make you right. Instead of telling me how powerful you are and how weak I am, why don't you tell me how just you are?

I wish that Job had stood up better under God's cross-examination. Nevertheless, the Book of Job perfectly sets up the question that all religions must answer. More than that, it sets up the question that every person must find an answer for. What is your answer?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Pain Becomes the Pearl

We had a productive discussion at church last Sunday about Emmylou Harris's song "The Pearl" from her album, Red Dirt Girl. It is one of my favorite songs, and if you are unfamiliar with it, you can listen to it on YouTube.

For me, the essential lyric comes at the end of the song:
Like falling stars, from the universe we are hurled
Down through the long, loneliness of the world
Until we behold the pain become the pearl.
I think that Harris was acknowledging that life can be painful, but she looked forward to that pain serving some better purpose, in the same way that a pearl started out as a painfully irritating grain of sand. Harris's metaphor has a powerful effect on me every time I hear the song. I hope that there is meaning to the suffering that I see. This problem is the central struggle in my concept of faith.

What purpose does suffering serve in a Christian worldview? Or, put another way, in a universe with a Christian God, why is there suffering? Or, setting aside the question of Christianity for the time being, why is there suffering?

Obviously, smarter people than I have wrestled with this question, and there is no risk that I will be the first to stumble upon the answer. C.S. Lewis's book The Problem of Pain is a good place to start thinking about this issue. Nevertheless, this discussion of "The Pearl" prompted us to identify some possible justifications for suffering.

The first possibility is the least satisfying to me. It could be that we suffer because we are being punished. This explanation only works up to a point. Certainly, if I drive drunk or recklessly and hit a tree, then my injuries will have reasonably and foreseeably resulted from a conscious decision that I made. Yet, we can think of examples of suffering visited upon innocent people. Their suffering could not be any just punishment.

Another possibility is that this suffering is supposed to teach us something. Lewis thought that we learned from suffering to be compassionate toward one another, to help one another, and to strive to end suffering. Someone at church suggested that we become stronger by enduring hardship. Perhaps suffering causes us to grow, to be better people.

Someone else pointed out that Thomas A Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ that there can not be two heavens. If life in this world were perfect, then we would have no need of heaven. Bringing the discussion back to Harris's song, then, the pearl would be the life to come in heaven. But why is it necessary to endure such pain to get into heaven? I can not see how or why that would be required.

How do you answer this question? Why is there suffering?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

One of my Favorite Authors

I would like to tell you about an author whose work I have been enjoying immensely. He was an Anglican who wrote in the middle of the twentieth century about returning to the kind of uncomplicated Christianity that characterized the early church.

C.S. Lewis? No. Maybe I should try again.

He was a pastor who found that his congregation was having difficulty understanding the Bible, so he began a fresh translation of the New Testament into contemporary language.

Eugene Peterson? Wrong again.

Did any of you guess J.B. Phillips? Some of you may know J.B. Phillips from The New Testament in Modern English, which is still in print, although not terribly well-known. At one time, his translation was much more popular. There is one hardcover edition that was used in schools throughout England. I have a few old copies of his New Testament, and the quality of English is admirable, direct and lively but also literary and beautiful.

Until recently, though, I was not aware that Phillips wrote quite a bit about Christianity. I chanced upon New Testament Christianity at a thrift store. For me, it was a kind of delightful surprise, like finding a previously unpublished Bach fugue. Like Lewis, Phillips used the modern language of science to describe theological terms in ways that twentieth-century, non-religious readers could understand. New Testament Christianity is unfortunately out of print. If you can find a copy of it in a book store or thrift shop, it is well worth getting and reading. It is a small and short book, but a refreshing read.

I wish that Phillips would get more attention, and I hope that his writings might be due for a kind of revival. I prefer Phillips' translation to Peterson's. Peterson is enamored of exclamation points, and he never met a cliche he didn't like. Sometimes The Message is very good, and sometimes I want to get a red pen out and start editing it. Phillips' translation, which is about sixty years old, reads fresher to me than Peterson's, which is barely ten. The New Testament in Modern English is the translation that I wish The Message were.

Similarly, I love C.S. Lewis. He is one of the few authors that I like to re-read. I am not alone in admiring Lewis' writing, judging from the perennial availability of his works. Phillips even wrote a book titled Plain Christianity, which I cannot find, unfortunately. Phillips' books would find approval among readers hungry for more of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

Have you read any of Phillips' work?  What did you think of it?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Obadiah?

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible.  You might think that I could breeze through such a small book.  I would have though so, too, but I would have been wrong.  I have had a real problem with Obadiah.

The Book of Obadiah is basically a curse against Edom.  Calling down curses upon an enemy was a common practice in the ancient Near East.  Balaam tried to curse Israel, for example.  But what purpose does the Book of Obadiah serve to justify its place in the Bible?

What we have is Judah's side of the story.  According to Obadiah, the Edomites took advantage of the Babylonian invasion of Judah to join in the attack against Jerusalem.  For their part, the Judeans were completely innocent and had done nothing to provoke or justify the Edomite's dastardly attack.  I wonder what Edom's side of the story would have been.

As an attorney, I encounter stories such as Obadiah's all of the time.  "I was just standing there," my client will insist.  "All of a sudden this guy just comes up and starts beating on me for no reason."  I have found that there is usually more to the story than what I have been told.

My first question is, did Edom really do all of these things?  Extrabiblical accounts indicate otherwise.  The Babylonians rolled over, conquered, enslaved, and carried away all of the peoples in the area:  Judeans, Edomites, and everyone else.  I suppose that it is possible that Edom harassed Judah to curry favor with Babylon; if it did, it was a grave miscalculation.

My second question is, was Judah really blameless?  I do not have any evidence, but I suspect that, over the years, Judah gave as good as it got.

My concern is not really to defend a long-dead nation.  My ultimate concern is what the Book of Obadiah has to say about God.  Obadiah's God seems to be a heavenly big brother.  After the bullies at school have beaten you up and given you a bloody nose, you say, "Just you wait until I tell my brother!  Then you're gonna get it!  You'll see!"  Obadiah's God seems sort of petty to me.

I have struggled to learn the lesson of Obadiah.  For his hearers, Obadiah ultimately had a message of hope.  He predicted that the Babylonian invasion would not be the end of God's chosen people, even if that's the way it looked at the time.  Although it looked as if Babylon and its vassal state, Edom, had got the upper hand, God was still supreme and would return His people to Jerusalem and restore His temple.  The encouragement of the prophets probably played no small part in keeping the Babylonian exiles from losing faith and assimilating into the larger culture, as the Israelites had with the Assyrians.

Whatever the particular circumstances, Obadiah had confidence in a God of justice.  Injustice may seem to flourish now, but it would eventually be punished, according to Obadiah.  "Your deeds will return upon your own head."  Today, there is so much injustice that it seems difficult to imagine a time coming when wrongs will be righted.  A confident Obadiah still may be a good role model, after all.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not-so-Great Expectations

Jesus left that place and went off to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. 
A Canaanite woman who lived in that region came to him.  "Son of David!" she cried out.  "Have mercy on me, sir!  My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition." 
But Jesus did not say a word to her.  His disciples came to him and begged him, "Send her away!  She is following us and making all this noise!" 
Then Jesus replied, "I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel." 
At this the woman came and fell at his feet.  "Help me, sir!" she said. 
Jesus answered, "It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 
"That's true, sir," she answered, "but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their masters' table." 
So Jesus answered her, "You are a woman of great faith!  What you want will be done for you."  And at that very moment her daughter was healed.
Matthew 15:21-28 (GNT)

This story seems difficult to reconcile with the rest of the gospel.  The Canaanite woman was an outsider and ceremonially unclean.  Jesus dealt with others who were outsiders, though.  He healed the Roman centurion's servant, for example.  Jesus also dealt with others who were ceremonially unclean, including many lepers.  The story of the Canaanite woman goes differently than the others, though.

When the woman cried out to Jesus, he did not respond.  In other, similar circumstances, Jesus leaped into action.  In those other situations, Jesus immediately responded to calls for help.  In this story, it seems that Jesus's disciples had to prod him into responding.

"Send her away!" they implored him.

Jesus appeared to side with his disciples.  Twice, he tried to drive her away.  He told her that he had only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel.  He told her that dogs (Canaanites) did not deserve the children's (Israelites) food.  We can imagine the disciples gathered around this poor woman, nodding their heads in agreement.

To her credit, the woman would not give up.  This woman showed persistence, and it paid off.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus constantly taught the lesson of persistence.  But, perhaps here Jesus was making another point as well.

At first, Jesus kept silent.  Was he testing his disciples?  Did he want them to speak up first -- to show that they had learned the full extent of his ministry?  Was he waiting for them to beg him to help this woman?  If so, they failed that test.

Then, when Jesus did speak, he said the kind of things that his disciples would have expected to hear.  She was an outsider; she was of no concern to Israel's Messiah.  Not only that, but Israel's Messiah certainly would not violate the Law of ceremonial cleanliness.  This was the kind of Messiah that the disciples thought they were following.

Jesus confounded his disciples' expectation.  He sided with the woman, he praised her faith, and he gave her the miracle that she was begging for.  Jesus not only gave the woman her miracle, but he gave his disciples another object lesson in the difference between their limited expectation of him and his true nature.

Do we, like the disciples, attempt to limit Jesus's infinite power by our own expectations of what he should do and who he should be?  Are our expectations of Jesus too narrow-minded, too self-righteous, just plain too small?  Where has Jesus confounded you?