Jesus Liked a Little Chutzpah

A surefire way to immerse yourself in the culture of Israel is to take a public bus in Jerusalem. Because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, everybody, rich and poor, rides the “Egged” buses around town.

Ethiopian Jews wrapped in swaths of white fabric sit next to wizened Russian babushkas. A college-age girl in army fatigues chats on a cell phone. Little boys in black suits clamber up the huge steps, side curls and tassels bouncing in the breeze. Their long-skirted, head-scarved mother follows closely behind.

Ladies on Bus

One afternoon when I was riding downtown, I got an even stronger taste of the culture. A grey-haired, matronly retiree climbed aboard and plunked herself into an empty seat halfway back. She hadn’t, however, paid any fare—she had just shuffled past the driver, feigning ignorance.

Craning to make eye contact in his mirror, the driver called back to her over the crowd. “Eifo geveret?” (Where to, ma’am?) At first she stared out the window, pretending not to notice.

Eiyyyfo, geveret?” The whole bus looked on.

Finally, she barked back a gruff response, completely impenitent. A flurry of indecipherable Hebrew filled the air, the gist of which was obvious: either buy a ticket or get off.

But the woman was immovable—glued to her seat, adamant. The driver threw up his hands at her, the universal (and widely used) Israeli gesture of annoyance and disgust.

The bus didn’t move either. Right in the middle of Nevi’im Street, a major artery with only a single drivable lane, the driver shifted into park, snapped open a newspaper, and sat back to read the headlines. Blocks and blocks of traffic snaked to a standstill behind us. After what seemed forever, the woman slowly rose and exited the side doors.

Half of Jerusalem came to a stop for this lady. That’s what you call chutzpah—utter nerve, sheer audacity that borders on obnoxiousness. Both the woman and the bus driver knew how to push the boundaries of propriety for their purposes!

Ethiopian Ladies at Bus StopIf you grew up as a small-town Midwesterner like me, you’d find this behavior nearly unimaginable. I come from the land of “Minnesota Nice,” where we’d rather die than violate our code of mild-mannered courteousness. For me, the bus ride was a cultural journey to the ends of the earth. We’re not in Minnesota anymore, Toto.

But an attitude of chutzpah (HOOTS-pah) has been part of Middle Eastern culture since ancient times. If you were one of Jesus’ first-century disciples, you’d be quite familiar with this kind of behavior.

Consider, for instance, the Syrophoenician woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer after pleading with Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:25-30). Jesus and his weary disciples had taken cover in a house in Tyre, hoping to evade the crowds, but her continual pounding at the door threatened to expose their hideout.

Exasperated, the disciples could tolerate her no longer, imploring Jesus, “Send her away! She keeps shouting at us!” But the distraught young mother pushed right past them, bowing before Jesus himself. Surprisingly, he rebuffed her too, like the Israeli bus driver: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” His mission, at that point, was only to the Jews. But the desperate woman boldly contradicted the greatly esteemed rabbi. “Yes, but even the puppies eat the crumbs at the children’s feet!”

Unlike the lady on the bus, this woman’s tenacious, brazen nerve won out. Jesus healed her daughter and congratulated her for her chutzpah.

Believe it or not, Jesus actually liked this kind of boldness. When he was preaching about prayer, he even told a parable where the heroine is just like the Syrophoenician lady:

In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me! (Luke 18:2-5)

To catch Jesus’ drift you need to hear the utter irony of his parable. The judge in the parable cares nothing about the needs of the widow, but God is exactly the opposite! He is the widows’ passionate defender. God issues the strongest of warnings to anyone who mistreats them:

Any widow or orphan you are not to afflict. Oh, if you afflict, afflict them! For then they will cry, cry out to me, and I will hearken, hearken to their cry, my anger will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword so that your wives become widows, and your children, orphans! (Exodus 22:22-24, Everett Fox trans.)

In fact, God was well-known as “father to the fatherless, defender of the widow” (Psalm 68:5). But the word for “defender” here is actually shophet, (sho-FET), or “judge.” A shophet is one who brings justice, in the sense of defending the helpless and vindicating the wronged. The hard-boiled magistrate of Jesus’ parable couldn’t be farther from God’s reality.

You can hear Jesus smirking as he makes this laughably ironic comparison. If even a callous court official will help out an old lady who keeps pestering him, how much more will God, who passionately cares for widow and orphans! In this story, Jesus was exhorting his followers to be persistent in prayer, prodding us to boldly keep coming to God.

(Excerpt from Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, 2012)


22 Responses to “Jesus Liked a Little Chutzpah”

  1. 1
    Ted M. Gossard|June 13, 2011

    Thanks, Lois. I’ve been prodded along these lines lately, and this further does that. This reminds me of faith, hope and love tied together in boldly approaching God for his good will of blessing in Jesus to be done in others’ lives. Look forward to reading and learning more from your new book.

  2. 2
    Lois Tverberg|June 28, 2011

    Thanks for that, Ted.

  3. 3
    Brian Conaway|July 20, 2011

    Lois, I have a question about this statement in your entry, “His mission, at that point, was only to the Jews.” Prior to Jesus and His disciples visiting Tyre (and then Sidon)the Gospels tell us that they were over in the Decapolis casting out the Legion of demons from a Gentile, most likely. Certainly the Decapolis was mostly Gentile territory and so was Tyre and Sidon. Why do you think Jesus and His disciples were on a circuit visit to Tyre and Sidon if not to take the Gospel to the Gentiles?

  4. 4
    Lois Tverberg|August 19, 2011

    Good question, Brian. I’ve assumed the same thing, and it seems only logical. But a closer reading suggests that for some reason, Jesus’ ministry did not include the Gentiles from day one, even though the great commission was to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).

    You hear this in Matthew 10:5, when Jesus tells his disciples “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” This was the reason he gave for initially turning down the Syrophonecian woman’s request, that he was sent only to the “lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 15:24) He traveled to that region in order to withdraw from the crowds, Matthew says.

    The gospels do say that people from Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis came to hear Jesus preach when he was in the Galilee. But don’t forget that many Jews lived outside of Israel. In Acts 11:19, it says that when the early church was scattered to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, many of them shared the gospel only with the Jews. These are Gentile territories, but sizeable Jewish populations lived in them.

    Peter’s visit to the Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10 was controversial until he explained that God had explicitly sent him there. Then the believers concluded, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” If Jesus had made a habit of seeking Gentile audiences from the very beginning, it’s hard to believe the early church would have debated this issue.

  5. 5
    Sander de Haan|January 4, 2012

    I agree with Lois. Peter too was learning something new and important when compelled to visit the Roman Centurion and his family. The great commission had indeed expanded evangelism to the Gentiles, but it took the disciples a while to accept that new direction. Paul was the exception, of course, but not everyone was immediately comfortable with what he was doing. And even Jewish Christians in the early church had some difficulties in allowing Gentiles to remain Gentiles after they had come to faith.

  6. 6
    gail van der Vyver|February 9, 2012

    So enjoyed this article. It has encouraged me to excerscise at lot more Chutzpah especially in my prayer life. Lois, I have only read the sample of your Book “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus” and I can’t wait to get my hands on the full version. Just know it is going to awesome reading.

  7. 7
    Zach|March 23, 2012

    Wow, if someone stopped in the middle of the road like that in the US, people would be outraged. This just shows how important it is to understand Jesus’ culture. I feel like sometimes we feel ashamed about asking God for things, but it’s cool to know that Jesus likes it when we boldly come to him.

  8. 8
    Carmen|March 23, 2012

    This is a really great insight. I think it’s important to realize that we have to be persistant in what we want. An answer doesn’t always come the first try, and maybe, in our persistance, our desires will change to more look like what God wants.

  9. 9
    Michael D.|March 24, 2012

    Wow! That is ridiculous! I can’t believe I’ve ever gotten upset at that person who was just going 5 under the speed limit. So Jesus encourages Chutzpah like that of the driver, even though it holds up everyone else? I’m guessing he wasn’t too proud of the woman, though, because she was trying to take the bus for free. Does the bus driver’s Chutzpah contradict Jesus’ teaching to love your enemy? Would it be wrong, in Jesus’ eyes, to let the woman stay on the bus, even though she hasn’t paid?

  10. 10
    Kally|March 24, 2012

    This article really showed me that it is ok to be bold in asking God for things,
    that he actually likes it when we come to him in confidence and boldness. This article made me think about my faith and how I need to be more confident and be more willing to step out of my comfort zone for what I believe in.

  11. 11
    Brooke|March 25, 2012

    I love this! I feel like whenever I pray I’m really polite. Kind of jumping off of what Carmen said, our answer will come through persistance. But since we have such a loving God, he’s not necessarily asking for our persistence, but also our faith. I think if we’re truly persistant through prayer, it’s something we know that’s going to bless us and our Lord. Persistance comes through passion, and we find that passion through God’s word.

  12. 12
    Dalyn|March 27, 2012

    Loved the article. I just started your new book and I’m so excited. I’m enjoying it immensely already. I read one of your others years ago and found myself re-reading it again and again as well as recommending it to others. Thank you for your wonderful work!

  13. 13
    Jennifer|May 19, 2012

    Chutzaph…How wonderful to understand it deeper. I have listened to Chuck Missler talking about it,which was correct, but I did not appreciate it in Jesus day, but this is another level of understanding. Thank You.

  14. 14
    Sally|September 15, 2012

    Good word of encouragment. Just what I needed.

  15. 15
    linda stratton|November 25, 2012

    …in light of this understanding,
    ‘what does it mean’…’to draw a line
    in the sand’ ?

    would you consider writing about that ?

    Thank You
    Shavuah Tov

  16. 16
    BasiaZapal|March 5, 2014

    When Yeshua responded to Greek woman asking for healing of her daughter, HE TAUGHT HIS disciples how they sound like… They saw HIM healing many Gentile believers before and NEVER say anything like that.

    SO what is this answer all about?

    Notice that just few instances before, Yeshua gave authority to disciples to go and perform miracles just like HE did.

    But here with Greek woman, they failed to encompass her as well. They did not pass the test of non-discrimination.

    They passed it later:) with Holy Spirit dwelling in them.

  17. 17
    Steve|March 6, 2014

    Not quite sure if the disciples were ‘discriminating’. (a look at some of the writings of early church ‘fathers’ concerning the Jewish people (especially Luther) might give one an idea of what real discrimiation is about … and just what it leads to). In any case, the Jewish world view was that the Messiah would come only to Israel and that the Gentiles would not have the same place as corporate Israel in God’s plan. Not every Jewish person had access to the 5 Books of Moses (let alone to the Book of Isaiah which promises that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles … if they became part of corporate Israel and left their pagan practices). Even the Jerusalem council in the Book of Acts was not fully certain of the place of ‘saved’ Gentiles in the Body of Christ/Messiah (until Paul visited them after one of his evangelistic journeys, having given account of successes in Greece etc.) Is it possible to sin after receiving and being sealed by the Holy Spirit? … yes … see 1 John 1: 9 and certainly the gentile ‘church’ has demonstrated this to this day. We should ‘cut the disciples’ some slack here and realize that regeneration of all believers takes some time.

  18. 18
    Lois Tverberg|March 6, 2014

    Steve, good answer. I agree that we should cut the disciples some slack. It really was a shock in Acts that Gentiles would be part of the people who God would save. We can’t expect the disciples to be able to look at the situation from our perspective.

  19. 19
    Steve|March 6, 2014

    Not only did Peter deny Jesus but all of the disciples fled.
    At least Peter followed Herod’s soldiers to see what would happen … the others were hiding. We all would have done the same thing. But Yeshua’s words to Peter apply to all those who are born again/of the spirit/from above: ” ” But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke 22:32

    Of the tens of thousands who followed Jesus for healing, food and teaching during his 3 and one half years of ministry, how many did he spend time with after his resurrection? … 500 for 40 days? His resurrection wasn’t a secret by then … where were all the thousands of followers? It took a bit of time after Shavuot/Pentecost :

    Acts 2:39-42

    (KJV)39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about THREE THOUSAND souls.42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

    Acts 4: 1-4
    1And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. 4Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about FIVE THOUSAND.

    Acts 6:7

    7And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a GREAT COMPANY OF PRIESTS were obedient to the faith.

    So … it takes ‘time’ … the Ruach HaKodesh’s time (the Holy Spirit). It will be the same just before the imminent harpazo (rapture), and during the Tzarut Yaacov (Time of Jacob’s trouble/Great Tribulation).

  20. 20
    James|May 13, 2014

    I also got the bus in Jerusalem. A great experience and very humbling.

  21. 21
    Jacob|April 24, 2016

    Before Jesus agrees to help the Syrophoenician woman, you said that his mission was to only preach to the Jews. After this, is there a sudden shift to teaching gentiles or are there clues that show that is was a more gradual change to this new mission? Also, why do you think Jesus’ mission was originally to only preach to the Jews? If God’s plan was to teach all the nations, wouldn’t Jesus have known this? Or is this another instance in Jesus’ life where he is learning to become the Messiah?

    I really like what we can take from this story. We have to have chutzpah when talking to God because sometimes all it takes to hear an answer is persistence. Thanks for sharing your insight!

  22. 22
    Benjamin|January 26, 2017

    Great article.. very insightful on all accounts. Thanks for sharing!

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