Did Jesus ever have trouble with boundaries?

I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries lately, as I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone to establish them and as I’ve had them minorly violated more often than usual in these past couple weeks. The switch to freelance work is a lesson in boundaries in itself (when DOES the work end if you don’t leave the office?), but I’ve also learned a lot about boundaries since my car accident a few weeks ago. Because of that, I’ve unexpectedly extended my holiday stay at my parents’ place for two weeks (which always requires careful boundary setting), and I’ve had everyone from emergency room staff to cars salesmen to bankers feeling entitled to my personal business. Earlier this week, I said no twice to demands that I felt inappropriately crossed boundaries; both times, I felt a bit guilty for saying no, even though I knew it was justifed (and that a yes would have inflicted more stress and damage in the long run).

Being both Catholic and a woman, I think I grew up with a double whammy when it comes to guilt, especially guilt about saying no. As a woman, I’ve been socialized to be “nice” and to accomodate, and as a Catholic, I’ve taken to heart the call to serve. So at what point does a “no” become a denial of that call to serve? Under the call to serve, is a “no” to a request for help or for more of your time ever an appropriate answer?

Personally, I believe that if we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we must love ourselves enough to protect ourselves from being taken advantage of. But what about Jesus, who we purport to follow? Did He ever feel as though He ought to stop serving because He didn’t want people to take advantage of Him? Did His disciples ever coach him to learn to say no?

Unfortunately, my familiarity with pop culture is deeper in many places than my familiarity with Scripture, although I do read my Bible. But what comes to mind when I think of this topic isn’t a passage from the Bible, but a scene in Jesus Christ Superstar, when the wounded are demanding Jesus’ healing touch, and he commands them to, “heal themselves!” In this particular portrayal, it certainly seems as though Jesus is frustrated by having his boundaries violated one too many times. And yet, when it came to the ultimate violation of being publicly persecuted and crucified for His ministry, Jesus didn’t simply say no. He didn’t fight back — at least, not the way we would recognize as a “fight back.” Not the way I’m trying to learn to fight back regarding personal violations in my own life.

I honestly don’t believe Jesus would want us to say “Yes,” when everything inside us is screaming “No.” But I also honestly do struggle with my own journey to be more assertive with my own boundaries and my desire to live the way Jesus lived. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this.

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About Lacey Louwagie

I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). You can learn more about me at www.laceylouwagie.com.

12 thoughts on “Did Jesus ever have trouble with boundaries?

  1. I really like the music from Jesus Christ Superstar but the image of Jesus Christ is an image that is very man-made and false in many places; especially in the scene you describe. That sounds like a man but not The Son of God I know and love.

    I would point you to the temptations Jesus faced from Satan in the desert. He always responded with Scripture verses. There’s much to be learned there.

    Here is how radical Jesus really is. Try following this in the flesh without the Holy Spirit:
    “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:29-30

    We have a long way to go to come to where Jesus was and is; especially in this affluent society where we are used to getting everything we want our way. We have no concept of what being a persecuted minority is like.

    Here is what God is speaking to me about lately. Maybe you’ll take something away from this: When I get cut off in traffic or feel angry because I’m being put out, I sense the Holy Spirit reminding me that it may be important that I go through this experience. He is asking me to respond in these difficult situations in a Christ-like manner to train me for future experiences (possibly more challenging). If I don’t learn the lesson He is trying to teach me, the Holy Spirit will bring me around to that situation again until I do. The Holy Spirit will always work to conform us to the likeness of Christ. In order to respond like Christ, you’ll need to be very familiar with Christ’s life.

    Therefore, I would suggest that you start out your day reading your Bible. (If you’ve never read it from cover to cover, you’re really missing the complete & contiguous message.) It is through your reading that you will hear His Holy Spirit guiding you in many of these challenging situations. There have been times when I felt like saying, “No” when the Holy Spirit was actually prompting me to say, “Yes” and vice-versa. I only would have received this guidance by reading His word and being in prayer. A good daily devotional also helps (My Utmost for His Highest is a great one!)

    Love in Christ

  2. You might reflect on Catholic social teachings on human dignity and anthropolgy. While we are called to serve, we are also called to respect and honor the “made in the image and likeness of God” piece of us. And remember, if its a violent act (not just physically but emotionally, spiritually, etc.) does God want that for us? I don’t Jesus, and so subsequently us, sustained himself by being a “yes (wo)man.” What are the most important things in which we can open ourselves with a resounding YES?

  3. Hey! Of course Jesus had problems with boundaries. We all do. It’s a human thing. And Jesus made human mistakes. What I think is more interesting (well, maybe not more interesting, but, heh) is the boundary where IMHO he doesn’t want to die, yet God is asking him to — and whether it’s pre-ordained or political, it’s something he didn’t want to do. I dont think that means give up boundaries (although I like to use that example of a boundaryless thing, which is more my thing as you know)…..So I think by Jesus’ very nature of being Jesus, growing up who he was, he was between two worlds, no? I mean, some apocryphal texts have him speaking from the cradle. Must have been interesting growing up like that He was called to a mission of healing, yet wept when Lazarus died. Just some thoughts from someone who loves to think about boundaries.

  4. Dear Theodora,
    Just curious to know, what human mistakes did Jesus make?

    Dear author,
    I think Jesus understood boundaries better than anyone understood or will ever understand boundaries. Did He have problems with boundaries? Only with the artificial boundaries that were set up by man. He knew, demonstrated and loved the true boundaries of God. Those boundaries were not crossed. Jesus did not sin, so never crossed a boundary made by His father.

    The author seems to be saying that others are violating his/her boundaries. There are so many variations of these types that each one would have to be considered in light of God’s Word. Read God’s Word and you will develop an increasing wisdom in regards to this.

    “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:5-6

  5. Without thinking too hard about it, I would think that Jesus experienced his boundaries being crossed (perhaps inappropriately?) when the woman with the hemorrhage pushed into the crowd & touched his cloak. Immediately, in the crush of all those people, Jesus wanted to know who had done it (and presumably, why she did it).

    Another time was when he finished preaching to the thousands, got into a boat & crossed the Sea. I would guess that his boundaries were being stretched at that point, so he felt a need to retreat.

    Just some thoughts…

  6. I really appreciated this post, especially because, as someone who finds herself existing between two worlds, there are all sorts of boundaries to be maintained and protected and drawn and crossed.

    If we take seriously that Jesus was FULLY human, then it is safe to say that he in his life experienced times where his boundaries were crossed. That doesn’t mean that Jesus sinned. Feeling the need to take a break, to take care of oneself, is not the same thing as being selfish. And so I don’t understand why people would be threatened by the idea of Jesus having boundaries, and like all humans, occasionally having some of those challenged.

    I think of the passage in Mark 5 with the Syro-Phoenecian woman. When she first arrives, he wants his disciples to send her away. And then, when she persists, he basically calls her a dog (yes, I know that he doesn’t ACTUALLY call her a dog, but the inference is there). When she responds to him in boldness, that is when he really responds to her. Jesus, as a human, was a part of a culture and some boundaries come from our culture. That doesn’t make Jesus any less divine. It simply is recognizing that, in his full humanity, Jesus had to deal with a lot of the same issues we do.

  7. Kay, I was thinking of the same scripture, one of my favorites, but also concerning in that the woman would have known by touching him she would make him “unclean”. I wonder sometimes how she could have done that to him? Maybe she didnt believe it would make him unclean, maybe she didnt think Jesus believed in it either, but we don’t know.

    I was also thinking of another verse in which Jesus goes off alone to pray and rest. Of course I can’t remember at this moment where it is! I agree with you Lacey, it is difficult to consider boundaries, especially with the guilt impulse. More examples would be good right!? Because, in one sense, Jesus blew boundary setting out of the window by being being crucified. Why didnt he fight? Why didnt he resist like in turning the other cheek? Why was this the path? There are plenty of answers that satisfy those why’s to some extent, but I always come back to- why that way? And if a scholar tries to tell you they have the answer, don’t believe them! ha ha!

  8. Dear Lauren,
    The Old Testament is filled with the reasons why Jesus had to shed His blood for us, starting in Genesis where the nakedness of Adam and Eve is covered by God with “garments of skin”.

    “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21

    Hebrews 9:22 also makes some things quite clear, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” It took animal blood many times; God’s blood once and for all.

    Check out Isaiah 53 and you will learn a lot about Jesus from Isaiah’s writings hundreds of years before Christ. It’s the best overall description of Jesus from all of God’s Word.

    Warmest regards in Christ.

  9. Mrissman, What I’m talking about is the next step after the Scriptures you pointed out. The why of the why I guess. For instance, why, without the shedding of blood can there be no forgiveness? These are the mysteries we can’t explain-why did God choose blood shedding? Why did God do this or that? We have glimpses but they remain mysteries of our faith.

  10. Dear Lauren,
    To know why would be to know the character of God. If one wishes to know the character of God, one must read and study His word. Reading and studying His word in its entirety, helps us trust God and therefore take His word for it. When we love Him and trust Him, we accept the answer to “why?”; because God said so.

    Just like we don’t necessarily trust a new friend until we know them better, we don’t trust God until we know Him better. Get to know Him better and you will trust Him more and accept His word because of His proven character in His word.

    “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

    Warmest regards in Christ!

  11. Mrissman, I dont think there is anything wrong or anything indicative of not trusting/knowing God if someone wonders about ‘why’s’. I wonder all things about our creative God. I don’t ask in a defensive way, I ask in a sense of awe.

    I appreciate your imput and interest but not your unsolicited advice, especially when you make assumptions. I read Scripture. What I would love to hear from you is what is meaningful to you, what your experiences are, not just what you think someone else should know. This is not to say you or what you have to say is unwelcome or that I speak for the editors of this blog.

  12. Dear Lauren,
    What is most meaningful to me is the Word of God. When I accepted Jesus Christ fully into my life, I read with total acceptance His word. Afterall, John tells us about Jesus and who He is in John 1:1-5,

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

    Every time I read through the Bible in its entirety, I receive another layer of understanding that addresses what God wants me to learn. His Holy Spirit is with me discerning His word so I can understand it.

    When you read Scripture do you believe it? If I find passages difficult, rather than deferring to some human twisting of it, I choose to believe God’s Word with complete faith. Oh the Peace that comes from this! When I hear the doubts and fears that are expressed in this blog so often, I’m saddened and want to refer people to the Word of God for His true reassurance, but it seems that most people on this blog would rather defer to psychology, human wisdom and even pagan religious practices, etc… I used to do that until I accepted the Good News. Would you have me keep to myself if you were starving and I knew where you could find a banquet? The banquet for all nutrition is contained in the Word of God. Test it out and see for yourself.

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