I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel..It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs…You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.
Here’s the entire story with Jesus’ words in context:
Jesus left that place and went off to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman who lived in that region came to him. “Son of David!” she cried out. “Have mercy on me, sir! My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.”
But Jesus did not say a word to her. His disciples came to him and begged him, “Send her away! She is following us and making all this noise!” Then Jesus replied, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”
At this the woman came and fell at his feet. “Help me, sir!” she said. Jesus answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“That’s true, sir,” she answered, “but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their masters’ table.” So Jesus answered her, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.” And at that very moment her daughter was healed. (Matthew 15:21-28).
Here we go again with the name calling. Jesus calls this woman a dog because she is not a Jew. She is a Canaanite. The Canaanites were descendants of Noah’s son Ham who began to worship other Gods and fell from God’s favor. They were one of the tribes that the Hebrews had to drive out of the Promised Land before they could settle there. Ethnically and culturally the Jews and the Canaanites were pretty much the same except for their religion. The Canaanites worshipped dozens of Gods – maybe 40 or 50 of them. Even so, is this justification for calling this poor, desperate woman a dog? Of course, given that he calls the Pharisees snakes, I guess it’s not surprising.
Jesus referred to dogs way back on Day 56: “Do not give what is holy to dogs—they will only turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:6). He doesn’t want to waste his time on Gentiles (non-Jews). He calls this woman a dog, implying that because she is a Canaanite because she is mean and barbaric. He is stereotyping her.
Ah, but this spunky woman surprises him. Instead of getting discouraged when he ignores her, she begs even louder. When he calls her a dog, she comes up with a clever retort. She earns his respect and his favor, and Jesus announces that because she is a woman of faith, her daughter will be healed. The story has a happy ending.
This scripture is historically used by the church to indicate that while Jesus perceived his original mission to be to the Jews, he expands it at this point to include the Gentiles. I’m really not sure about this because he has already healed the Roman Officer’s servant back on Days 66 & 67, but it’s not that important. It is, however, important to understand some of the basics about the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles as Christianity began to evolve after Jesus’ death.
Jesus had a great passion for Jewish Law. He says right away, in Chapter 5:
“Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with – not until the end of all things.” (Matthew 17-18).
He never recants this statement. While he argues with the Pharisees about the implementation and enforcement of the Law, he never renounces it. He never says that he doesn’t want to be a Jew anymore, or that others should defect. He was a Jew through and through.
He is not opposed to a certain amount of fraternizing with people who are not Jews, and he says on several occasions that people who are not Jews go to heaven (see Days 67 and 122). I think he has a teacher’s heart, so he teaches all who will listen and understand. But he never asks anyone to convert. He never goes out to recruit Gentiles. All of his disciples are Jews – some are wayward Jews, but Jews nevertheless. I would argue that Jesus’ ministry, both before and after this scripture, was always focused on the Jews because his ministry was about the proper implementation of Jewish Law. This was something that was relevant only to the Jews.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection there was a giant split between the Jews and the new “Christians.” The Christians made a decision to essentially dispense with the Law to facilitate the recruitment of as many Gentiles as possible and thereby strengthen the movement. The assimilation of Gentiles was an essential element of Christendom (see Day 99). We all got to join, but in the process the Law of Moses was replaced by the laws of the church. Sometimes they are similar, sometimes they are not, yet both groups assert that their laws are divinely inspired.
So when I say that “we” all got to join, I need to clarify that I’m talking about all of us non-Jews. Especially us northern Europeans. Sometimes we forget that during the time of Jesus “our folks” looked like this:
Greeks, Romans, and the urbane, sophisticated people in the Mediterranean region could understand about Jewish Law. But the Europeans, who ultimately proved to be so very important to the expansion of Christianity as a powerful world-class religion, were barbarians. Definitely, as in the words of Jesus, the European barbarians were vicious dogs who would turn and attack you the minute back was turned. They were concerned with power, not love. Ultimately the church had to be more concerned with keeping these savage people under control than with teaching the nuances of God’s will through the Law. Also, the Law was restrictive and the European folks were not very big on being restrained. So the Christendom folks did the best they could with what they had to work with. Dogs.
Over the years we have progressed. We are, for the most part, not barbarians anymore. We like to think we are pretty civilized. I think we would be wise to study the Law of Moses a little more closely. We are capable of spiritual disciplines and some of the other things that the Law teaches us. I believe the Law provides a lot of clues that would bring us closer to God, things that have not been taught to us by Christendom. Sometimes I think it was too bad that the Jews and the Christians split. I think we would be closer to the Kingdom of God if they had made a little more effort to stick together and work out their differences.
While I believe that the Law of Moses and teachings of the prophets are foundational to understanding about the Kingdom of God here on earth, I also believe that grace alone gets us into heaven. Jesus says that Roman soldiers, Ninevans, and the Queen of Sheba get to go to heaven so I guess everyone has a pretty good shot at getting there. Even us dogs.
What does this scripture say to you?