Monday, June 14, 2010

Jesus Could Be ‘Tricky’

[from “No More Christian Nice Girl”]

Or what about in Matthew 15 when the Canaanite mother begs Jesus to heal her daughter, and he responds with, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (v. 26). If he were anyone else, believers would denounce him as being hard-hearted, cruel, and perhaps not even a Christian because he wasn't polite or helpful. In fact, Jesus sounds rude, like he's calling her a dog. What's up with that?

Kent comments:

This is an article denouncing the feminization of Jesus.  As a whole it is fairly good, but the comment on Matt. 15 reminded me of something important.

It can be dangerous to be overly creative in reading the Bible.  This doesn’t mean that historical background, broad context, and even theological considerations cannot help us better understand scripture.  But sometimes people do ‘find’ things in the Bible that simply are not there.

But I don’t think I am being overly creative when I say that many people misunderstand the episode of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matt. 15.  It seems clear to me that Jesus’ seeming standoffishness toward this woman was primarily for the benefit of the disciples.

Jesus closest followers were all Jewish men who had, to a large extent, adopted (perhaps without even thinking much about it) the then current attitude of Jews toward Gentiles.  Jesus knew something these disciples did not yet understand:  His followers would one day be largely Gentiles.  For that to happen, some of his Jewish followers would have to change their attitudes toward Gentiles.

It appears that Jesus intended to heal this woman’s daughter all along.  He could have just done it, of course.  But in striking the ‘Gentile woman is below me’ attitude He was no doubt assuming a position toward the Gentiles with which all his immediate disciples were very familiar.  Jesus’ initial approach to this woman let the disciples see their unexamined assumptions about Gentiles on display.  It looked ugly because it was meant to look ugly, and the disciples needed to see that.

Jesus’ pronouncement at the end of the episode that the woman’s faith is great reveals His true attitude toward this woman.  (The disciples sometimes failed the ‘great faith’ standard.)

This whole encounter seems to have had its desired effect, at least on one disciple by the name of Simon Peter.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter – though it took some more convincing – was willing to enter the house of the Gentile Cornelius (see Acts 10) so that Gentiles could hear the gospel.

When Peter reached the house of Cornelius and entered there into the company of many Gentiles, he said, “"You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

God had begun to show Peter that as Peter observed Jesus with the Canaanite woman.

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