Jesus and the Canaanite woman

There is a controversial account given in the scriptures that seems to evoke the ire of feminists, race wokesters, critics, skeptics, and unbelievers everywhere. The Gospel of Mark and Matthew gives an account of a Syro Phonecian woman who came to Jesus seeking his help, and Jesus called her a dog in response. 

Here is the account of the incident as recorded in Matthew 15: And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The first thing to say is that no one here is going to make any excuses for Jesus. Neither is anyone here going to be presumptuous to think that Jesus must justify what he said. if Jesus were to call anyone a dog, it should evoke humility from that individual. If he did he would have a reason for using that language. That individual whoever he or she may be had better start barking in response, and ask what the deeper meaning is behind the words of Jesus.  In other words if the Master of the universe calls me a dog, that is a good time for me to start doing some introspection, see myself as Jesus sees me, and respond appropriately. That is exactly what happened in the case of the Syro Phonecian woman. 

The first lesson she learned was the lesson of persistence. She did not just turn away when the disciples refused to listen to her, and offer her the help she was seeking. She went to the Master himself. When she turned to Jesus, and he did not immediately give her his attention, she did not accuse him of Jewish privilege, male privilege, or racism. She did not call him unfair or accuse him of showing favoritism. When Jesuse ignored her, she continued to plead her case until she finally got his attention. Jesus then said to her “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” 

In addition to teaching the woman a lesson about humility, faith and persistence, Jesus at the the time of this encounter was mission focused, and in the process letting it be known that his message to the world was going to be transmitted through the people of Israel. They were the ones through whom God in times past had made himself and his message known to the nations. With the new pact that God was about to establish with the world through Jesus, Jesus main focus was getting the message to the children (the nation and the people that had traditionally been in relationship with God). The message would eventually spread to the dogs (the nations and the peoples that had tradtionally rejected, and been in rebellion against God). Jesus used this incident to convey a twofold message, the individual lessons to the woman and the bigger picture of what his earthly ministry was about. 

The people who use this bible incident to portray Jesus as a bigot are unfortunately and sadly mistaken. In other situations dealing with foreigners, depending on the circumstance and the message he wanted to convey, Jesus took the time to address those issues in the manner that best communicated the point he was making. In the case of the Roman Centurion, Jesus marveled at the man, then said to the people following him “truly, I tell you, I have not found such faith with anyone in Israel.” In that incident also, the non Israelite centurion had no misconceptions of his standing before God even though he was a devout man of stature in the powerful Roman society. He said to Jesus “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just speak the word and it will be done.” 

In another instance Jesus initiated contact with one of the “dogs” in another gentile territory to rectify a terrible condition in that man’s life. By the time the situation was over, other “dogs” were asking Jesus to leave their territory, even though they had just witnessed a supreme and miraculous act of kindness by Jesus towards one of their own. The “dog” that Jesus delivered from his turmoil was so grateful that he wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him instead to “return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

In the famous parable of  the Good Samaritan Jesus made it very clear that he treasures the heart, when the religious leader tried to trick him by asking “who is my neighbor?”. On another occasion Jesus demonstrated his love for people regardless of their ethnicity when he approached a Samaritan woman at a well, and he struck up a conversation with her (breaking all kinds of taboos in the process). By the time he finished his conversation with the woman she was running excitedly to her village inviting everyone to come see this fella who had been so gracious to her.  When the people heard him they said to the woman that after encountering Jesus for themselves, they were convinced that he was the Savior of he whole world. They invited Jesus to stay with them, and he ended up spending two days with the Samaritans who were so passionately despised by the Jews. 

Not only did Jesus show favor to all people, but he was hard on his own people, and also used harsh language toward them. He pronounced misery on many of the religious leaders and called them hypocrites. He described them as white grave stones,  nice looking on the outside but filled with dead men’s bones on the inside. In fact in one passage of scripture, Jesus hammered the religious leaders over an over, calling them all kinds of names. Jesus was so impartial that at one time he referred to Peter (one of his closest disciples) as Satan.

Throughout the scriptures God repeatedly reminded the Israelites that it was not because of anything special about them that he worked through them. In fact at different times in their history God dealt as harshly with the Jews when they rebelled against him as he did with other nations. 

No, Jesus did not favor any individual or group of people because of their race. Quite the opposite, he looked at their hearts. Anyone who reads the story of the Syro Phonecian woman and concludes that Jesus was showing racial prejudice is incorrect. Thank God that the woman herself did not allow any misguided feelings she may have felt to deny her blessing. She saw herself for who she was in her current condition, and what Jesus was trying to impart to her. She humbled herself, persisted with her request, and continued to have faith that he would answer her petition. He did! 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

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