Did Jesus insult a woman as a “dog,” look down upon her because of her ethnicity, gender and religion, and dismiss her as an irritation?
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus is the Son of God, God Among Us, Immanuel. He reflects perfectly the character of God in human form.
If we understand Jesus’s motive, we will understand the meaning of His words. The overwhelming evidence is that in almost all of His relationships, Jesus showed no attitude of division or cultural bias. That is, he interacted openly with people of other religions and cultures (Samaritans) and disdained outcasts (prostitutes, tax collectors, uneducated fishermen, the poor). This interaction is different. Is it an aberration?
The key is that Jesus granted the woman’s ardent desire. This woman loved her daughter, and was desperate to release her from her suffering. She believed Jesus had divine power, and that she could access it. Most importantly, she was willing to humbly submit herself to Him even as he insulted her. She was not too proud, and she knew she had nothing to offer in the bargain. She needed God.
Jesus too was a teacher, and his interaction with woman was a public event that would be the basis for a teaching. What was his motive? His motive was to teach that faith and humble dependence on God are the keys to healing. Jesus did not insult the woman. To the contrary, he embraced her with love. His words were didactic. His point was that the keys to healing are not given to a particular race, a particular gender, a particular religion, or a particular gender. The keys are given to all who enter into right relation with God.
Throughout society, people are always looking at other people as “on the wrong side of the tracks.” The divisions based on poverty, education, race, disability, gender, religion, nationality, housing, age, and a million other labels, create isolation, misunderstanding, social and economic injustice and even killings. The civil dialogue, as well as the personal, can turn acrid, cruel, accusatory. There is no healing in such attitudes. Jesus turned a prevailing social attitude on its head. He repeated the prevailing prejudice of his day, then dramatically showed it had no place at all in the Kingdom of God.