We are working on a very interesting text this week—Jesus and the Canaanite woman. This is one of those passages that most of us just don’t know what to do with. Jesus refuses to help a woman who pleads with him and then calls her a dog—not exactly the Sunday school Jesus we all know and love.
David Lose wrote an interesting post about how we have historically approached interpretation of this passage:
“Did the Canaanite woman Matthew describes pass a test or persuade the Lord? If we go with the former – which is probably the more traditional reading – then Jesus didn’t really mean what he said. You know, about saying he was exclusive, ministering only to the Israelites, let alone calling her a dog. All of this was just a test, a way of bringing to harvest the faith that God had already planted in her…I think we favor this interpretation because it saves Jesus from looking like, well, kind of a jerk…The other possibility, of course, is that Jesus’ own sense of God’s kingdom is challenged, stretched, and enhanced by his encounter with this fierce and faithful woman. Maybe, that is, Jesus is serious – that is, he believes he was sent only to the Israelites – and the woman takes him on and, in fact, persuades him that something larger is at stake.”
This presents us with an interesting dilemma as we prepare ourselves for worship on Sunday—was Jesus making this into a teaching moment, or was he being kind of a jerk?
Though Lose goes in the direction of Jesus being kind of a jerk, I think that a bit of a hybrid is going on. Maybe he was being dismissive of her because he had a lot of his own people’s problems to deal with, but once he realized the system that was supposed to care for this woman and her daughter was broken, he had no choice but to help her out.
I think this is really a commentary on broken human systems. But I suppose we will have to save that for Sunday’s sermon (If you are reading this from far away and can’t get there on Sunday, just check out the podcast next week.)
If you want to read Lose’s full post check here: What the Canaanite Woman Teaches.