This post is going to be a little different than my usual. But, I've been thinking about it for the last few days and thought I may as well share it. Plus, I thought that maybe writing it out would help me . . . .
Lots of times when I read the Bible I come across things that I do not understand, or can't figure out. Usually these are resolved by looking at the footnotes, introductions, insights or highlights in my Bible (although it is thicker and heavier, that is one of the beauties of a Student Bible). Often I find out that I didn't understand the context, other historical events, references to other passages, etc. When I still can't understand something - or maybe reconcile something is a better way of saying it - I can often find something online that helps me out. But, earlier this week I came across something that I just can't get to compute, and I have been trying to figure it out.
Earlier this week, I randomly opened the Bible and came across Matthew 15:21-28 - The Faith of the Canaanite Woman. The same events are also reported in Mark 7:24-30. In it, Jesus goes to "the region of Tyre and Sidon." A Canaanite woman comes to him and begs Jesus to help her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her, but she keeps following and asking for help. The disciples get annoyed with all the yelling and ask Jesus to send her away. Jesus then answers saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Matthew 5:24 (NIV) The woman runs up, kneels down and again begs for help. Jesus replies "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Matthew 5:26 (NIV) The woman quickly responds "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Matthew 5:27 (NIV) Jesus then praises the woman's faith, grants her request and her daughter was healed.
Toss the children's bread to their dogs?? Did Jesus really just refer to this woman as a dog? I've tried to research this and read a lot of different explanations. I know the Canaanite's were the bitter enemies of Israel and often led them into idolatry. I've read that Jesus may have just been testing the woman, providing an obstacle for her faith. I've read that Jesus' mission was primarily for Israel, and that this was an example of the beginning of the idea that the Gentiles will no longer be separated from Israel. I've read speculation that Jesus was a racist (ethnicist?) until then and that this encounter changed Him. I've read a lot of discussions of this passage that ignore this issue and focus instead on the strength of the woman's faith, or of her recognition of Jesus as Lord.
Perhaps the explanation that I have come to like best is the idea that Jesus was the promised King of the Jews and that the Kingdom had to be fully offered to them first - that He did not turn to the Gentiles until His own had rejected Him. In that context, you can read the woman's words in response to Jesus as something more along the lines of - I will gladly accept what the others do not want. Maybe this does then begin an extension of the ministry.
I don't know, though, I still struggle with the image of Jesus calling the woman a dog. He who surrounded Himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and others suggesting that this woman was not worthy is difficult for me to reconcile.
I know, I know, I should ask my Pastor. Maybe I will. And maybe they will be able to help me to make it make sense. Or maybe this whole thing is just a reflection of my lack of Biblical knowledge - of the need for a stronger foundation to be able to understand what is said. Or an example of the potential for misunderstanding by just reading or quoting random passages. In any event, for now I am just adding it to the very complicated mix of my own mental image of Jesus and still trying to figure out exactly where it fits in - an anomaly, or something to be learned from?
Anyway, I said this would be a different type of post, but it is what has been on my mind . . . . Of course I welcome anyone's thoughts here, by email, or the next time we are together, if you are so inclined.