There is a puzzling thing within the 15th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew: Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, not of Jewish blood, who is in desperate need.
We learn that her daughter is “possessed by a demon,” and this Canaanite believes that Jesus can cast it out.
She addresses Jesus with the utmost respect: “Have mercy on me, Lord, King of David.”
Then comes the puzzling part – in spite of this, she is rejected. At first, Jesus ignores her. This is followed by the disciples, urging her outright dismissal.
However, the woman persists; Jesus relents and eventually addresses her.
In doing so, Jesus refers to her kind as “dogs.” What is meant by this? The word was commonly used by Jewish people of that day as a derogatory term for those not of Jewish blood.
Jesus eventually does cast out the demon and commends the Canaanite woman’s faith.
Was this an act? Did he know all along that he would eventually grant her desperate plea? Was Jesus’ end game to make a point for the benefit of those around him? Did he want to temporarily identify with their prejudices, to string them along, in the ultimate hope of them becoming more open-minded and receptive to outsiders? All of these things are up for debate.
To be playfully flippant – I wish Jesus would have then immediately spit into a jar and had his disciples send it off to Ancestry.com for a DNA testing.
The results would reveal that Jesus was, in fact, part Canaanite himself. (In his genealogy this is represented by Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth.)
So much for being a pure-blood; one might expect this to be a requirement of the Messiah. However, it was not the case.
I believe those who say: “If you go back far enough, we are all related.” Often, as a society, we don’t act like it though. We tend to place ourselves above others for one reason or another, race being one such possibility.
As human beings, we can be silly like that, or take it to deadly extremes, lashing out in our hate of “those dogs.”
It is ironic that such people may unknowingly hate part of themselves.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.