Many people who came to Jesus were struggling with their self-esteem. Some, like the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet, came because their lives had been wasted. They were looking for someone who would tell them they were “somebody.” There were sick people who wondered what terrible thing they had done to bring such suffering on themselves and their families. And there were people like Zacchaeus who were hated because of their profession.
All of these causes- a wasted life, guilt feelings, belonging to the wrong group-caused people to come to Jesus. They turned to him when their self-images were in shambles.
How do you overcome the nagging self-doubt which tells you your life is useless? Some people claim the answer is to simply and strongly affirm, “I am somebody!” Others say the answer is to assert yourself-“pull your own strings.” But will these “positive thinking” methods really change the way we feel about ourselves?
The gospels of Matthew and Mark tell about a woman who came to Jesus seeking help for her afflicted daughter. On the surface it sounds similar to many other Gospel stories, for most of them record the pleas of people who were hurting-the sick, the blind, and the crippled. But there is something especially poignant about this story. You see, this woman was a Syrophonician. She was not born to the chosen people. This is the first recorded instance of a foreigner coming to Jesus for help.
Can you imagine how much courage it took for this woman to approach Jesus? She did not belong. She was constantly reminded that she was a “nobody.” Matthew 15:21-28- And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. (22) And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (23) But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” (24) He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (25) But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” (26) And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (27) She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (28) Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
What is is remarkable about the Syrophonician woman is her persistence. Immediately prior to her story is an account of some Pharisees who certainly weren’t lacking in self-esteem. In fact, they thought so highly of themselves they wouldn’t have come to Jesus for help. They belonged to the right group, they had not wasted their lives, and they were outwardly pure.
These Pharisees were a striking contrast to this woman who did not belong. When she approached Jesus he responded with what appears to be one of the coldest put downs in the Bible: “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The “children” were God’s chosen people; the “dogs” were foreigners. Can you imagine how this must have made her feel? She was getting reminded again that she did not belong.
Most people would respond to this rejection in anger, or by giving up. But not this woman. Her response is unforgettable: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She seemed to say, “Yes, perhaps I am a dog. I deserve nothing. But at least give me the crumbs.” She displayed no arrogance, no bravado. She knew she was undeserving. But she won Jesus’ heart. He said, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”
The story is a miniature of the whole gospel. It offers the only real remedy for low self-esteem. All the modern remedies being offered to heal our sagging self-images overlook a crucial feature: we cannot create a sense of self-worth by our own thoughts and actions. No amount of self-assertion will make us feel good about ourselves. Nor can we remove our guilt or add to our stature merely by positive thinking.
The first step in achieving a sense of self-esteem is to recognize, as this woman did, that we are unworthy. We become somebody precisely at the point where we recognize that God makes us somebody. God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable because God loves us. We are valuable because he created us in his own image. We are valuable because he died for us.
Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling.
“While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He sees past our misspent years and our failures. He sees us for what we were meant to be. We are valuable to Him.
(From a chapter of “Anchors in the Storm” written by Joe R. Barnett)