How can Jesus call Gentiles dogs?
In his interaction with Sidonian – Canaanite woman Jesus compares Gentiles to dogs and Jews to children. This comparison has rightly disturbed millions of people (Christians and Jews alike).
What are we missing here?
Two Gospels record a meeting between Judean Jesus and a Greek woman – Canaanite (Mk.7:24-29; Matt.15:21-28). Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon (allotment territory of the tribe of Asher that was never fully taken over by Israelite). There he meets a desperate mother willing to do anything for her suffering child: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.” (Mat. 15:21-22)
As we continue reading we see that Jesus first gave her the silent treatment. Then, when his Jewish disciples demanded he answer her, he responded: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” However, the woman was relentless. “She came, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, help me!” He answered her: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mat. 15:23-26)
The most offensive statement, of course, has to do with Jesus’ comparison of Greek Gentiles to dogs. The key to understanding this text is found in realization that only in the modern Western world dogs are thought to be part of the family. Dogs (often) live inside and not outside of the family home, but it was not so in the ancient times in the East. In other words, the comparison to dogs was not meant to dehumanize the Greek woman but to emphasize that Jesus’ primary mission was to Israel – to those inside of God’s family, not outside of it.
Understood this way, we see that there was nothing dehumanizing in Jesus’ response. It is no different from what Apostle Paul would later write: “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” In spite of some misunderstood statements about his seeming disregard for the physical family, Jesus here says – family first!
But what made Jesus act different towards her now? Clearly it was her response: “Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus replied to her, “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.” (Matthew 15:27-28)
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This Sidonian woman displayed the true faith of Israel exemplified in the Torah by both Abraham and Moses. Just like them, she was willing to argue with God, believing with unwavering faith that He is just, good, and merciful.
MY ADDITIONAL NOTES: COME AS YOU ARE AND RECEIVE
You don’t have to pretend to be more than what you are to receive the blessing you need from God. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else to appear more deserving to receive from God.
Knowing that He healed and did miracles among the Jews, she pretended to be a Jew, calling out, “O Lord, Son of David!” (Only the Jews addressed Jesus as the “Son of David.”) Jesus did not answer her. His silence made her drop her pretense and cry out, “Lord, help me!”
Only when her pretenses had melted away did she see the grace of God extended to her. Jesus made a way for her to receive her miracle even though it was not yet time for the Gentiles to receive His blessings. He told her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
Many people might be offended at being called a “dog.” Actually, the Greek word used here by Jesus means “puppy,” and is thus an affectionate rather than offensive term. So this woman was not offended. In fact, she knew then that she could receive healing for her daughter because even puppies get to eat what falls from their masters’ table.
She saw that the crumbs under the Master’s table were enough for a Gentile, a “little dog,” like herself. You must understand that the Jews then considered Gentiles dogs. But what Jesus was trying to say was that He was called to the Jews first, not the Gentiles. Yet, He loved this Gentile woman and her daughter enough to provide a “loophole” for them to receive their miracle.
So when the Canaanite woman took her place by dropping the title “Son of David” and just leaned on Jesus’ compassion for her, her daughter was healed from that very hour.
If God was willing to extend His grace to a Gentile, how much more you, His beloved child! You do not need to depend on pretensions to receive a miracle from Him. Come as you are and lean on His grace. If He has delivered Jesus up for us, “how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
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