The Canaanite Woman and Jesus

I ended the previous blog post with a passing reference to the story of the Canaanite (Matthew 15:21-28) / Syrophoenician (Mark 7:24-30) and we should give that story a little more of our time.

With respect to the previous post’s focus on the President’s language, this story is the exception that proves the rule. Jesus does make an unflattering, even offensive comparison between the woman and dogs. The point of the story is, however, that Jesus changes his mind.

It is an unsettling story for many of us. Jesus’ actions and words are out of character with what he says and does in the rest of the gospel. So what is going on here? Various scholars have various answers. Here briefly are a couple of options.

I read a book several years ago about humor in the Bible. I can’t recall the title or the author. The author thought one way to read this story was to consider that Jesus was joking. That he was mocking a common attitude at the time and didn’t really mean what he said.

Maybe… I’m not sure it makes Jesus look too much better though. The woman is shouting for mercy and Jesus makes a joke.

The other, perhaps more common approach to this story is to acknowledge Jesus humanity. To recognize he was a first century CE Jewish man. That was his world view and his understanding of his work. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v24)

Jesus has something to learn and prejudices to overcome. That may be a difficult idea for us. We talk about Jesus as fully human and also fully divine, but most of us are more comfortable with the fully divine Jesus.

I want to link you to a sermon by Rev. Wil Gafney about this text and the humanity of Jesus.

What do you think? How comfortable are you with a very human Jesus?

One thought on “The Canaanite Woman and Jesus

  1. I remember being shocked during a religion class at Calvin when the professor talked about Jesus’s dirty diapers. Thanks for the intro to Rev. Gafney—great sermon.

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