ODJ: rude and racist?

June 20, 2011 

Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (v.26). 

READ: Matthew 15:21-28 

Jesus could be harsh at times. He called Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” (that is, nice on the outside, disgusting within); He called Herod a “fox”; He even called Peter “Satan” (Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:32; Mark 8:33). Yes, Jesus could be forthright—but rude and racist? Some think today’s story proves so.

Jesus was hiding in a home in the region of Tyre and Sidon, trying to escape the crowds (Mark 7:24), when a Canaanite woman pushed her way in and begged Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. How did Jesus respond? With silence. Was He ignoring her or thinking through His options?

When Jesus does reply, He doesn’t give the woman much hope. His calling is first to the Jews, not to pagans like her (Matthew 15:24). Unperturbed, the woman kneels before Him and begs more urgently (v.25). Then Jesus utters those troubling words: “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (v.26).

We can’t avoid it: Jesus has just given a racial slur. Gentiles are but “dogs” in comparison to Jews. Ouch.

But did we miss the twinkle in His eye? Jesus is most likely using the sort of a language a Gentile person could expect from a Jew. He was throwing out a test to the woman, seeing how she’d respond. And she didn’t miss a beat, saying, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their master’s table” (v.27). Her faith is proved and Jesus grants her request (vv.28-29). He probably even laughed at her reply, as author Elton Trueblood has suggested.

Jesus was no bigot or racist. He accepted prostitutes and tax collectors (Matthew 9:10); He healed and praised non-Jews (8:5-10; Luke 17:11-19). He does, however, test our faith. How is He testing you today? —Sheridan Voysey

What does this story say to you about the personality of Jesus? How might Jesus test our faith today? 

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