Negotiating agendas with Jesus

Here is another sample from my course. In this case, it is actually little more than a Bible study with discussion questions on the subject of how we are to navigate agenda conflicts in conversation. The text we use is one that often gets Jesus in trouble, as it sounds on the surface like he is being mean. Quite the opposite is true.

Because this conversation is often misunderstood, I wrote out a fuller version of it with a more complete historical background to help the students understand the (not obvious to us) agendas better. The actual biblical text is in red.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew from the opposition of the Pharisees and teachers of the law to get some badly needed rest for His disciples to the countryside, away from Tyre and Sidon. He entered a retreat house with his disciples and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a Greek woman from that vicinity, born in Syrian Phoenicia, came to the house they were staying at, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus, needing to maintain a boundary between rest and work, and probably also to test his disciples’ intent, did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us. We need rest!He answered, “Well, you know I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The disciples seem to have picked up on some irony in his words or his tone or his gestures, which somehow encouraged them to let her in anyway, and the woman came and fell at his feet. “Lord, help me!” she said. Recognizing his obligation as a Jew to serve other nations, like he had to the woman at the well and the Roman centurion, he replied,  First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, implying the need to wait, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their pet puppies.” The woman, hearing no insult, was actually encouraged, getting Jesus’ hint that there would be food available at some point. Being both clever and having great faith, she realized that little pets NEVER sit still away from the table; they are always (esp. the puppies) ‘hounding’ the children for a morsel even BEFORE the mealtime. Thus not wanting to interrupt the “meal” (the team retreat in progress), she offered, “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. In other words, we can kill two birds with one stone here. My request is a simple ‘crumb-size’ work for you.Then Jesus answered, “O Woman, you have great faith! For such a reply, you may go. Your request is granted” There was no need for Him and the disciples to travel to her home. And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Mt. 15:22-28, combined  with Mk. 7:24-29).

There are two kinds of agenda problems in conversation:

  1. Those driven by masking, manipulation, and/or malice;
  2. Those otherwise normal agendas that one or both parties refuse to lay down.

In this story, we have an example of an agenda conflict that did not turn into a relational conflict because of the absence of masking, manipulation, and malice on both side, and the willingness of both sides to lay down their agendas to find God’s agenda.

In general, there are four ways of dealing with an agenda conflict, and Jesus demonstrates them all:

Changing agendas: No change of agenda:
Acknowledging the conflict: The woman at the well

Jn. 4:1-26

Alluring Satan

Mt. 4:5-7

Ignoring the conflict: Sneaky Judas

Jn. 12:1-8

Misguided crowd

Jn. 6:14-15

Questions for discussion:

  1. Name the basic agenda conflict.
  2. How did it get resolved?
  3. How did Jesus’ agenda change over the conversation?
  4. Would you say that the woman acted more like an orphan or a daughter? How so?
  5. What is the most important lesson you personally take from this story?
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