Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jesus calls a Canaanite woman a dog

Matthew 15:22-28 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.


Many people think that it was offensive for Jesus to call this Canaanite woman a dog. However, I looked up the explanation for this on the Christian Apologist site

Here is one of their explanations:

The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet "puppies" (the Greek word for 'dog' here is not the standard, 'outside' dog--which MIGHT BE an insult--, but is the diminutive word, meaning 'household pets, little dogs'...) at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master (cf. 2 Sam 12.3f: but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.), were to be fed AFTER the children (notice: not DENIED food--there was no "NO" in Jesus image--only "WAIT"). But the temporal order is clear--Jesus must take care of His disciples FIRST, and if meeting her need involved interrupting their rest and GOING SOMEWHERE, then it was going to have to wait.
I guess the woman's reaction was unmerited when she responded "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." She must have misunderstood Jesus' "image of endearment."

[Read today's reading in The Brick Testament - An Illustrated Bible]


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? That's what they came up with?

doc said...

Although dogs are supposedly man's best friend, and are usually fed under the table during a meal or on the scraps after the meal, I think there is an underlying principle revealed in both the Scriptural reference and the Apologetic explanation, and this principle is also revealed throughout Scripture.

It is the principle of starting at the center and working outwards as it pertains to learning, growing, living, and teaching.

It is the principle that says we must first learn ourselves before teaching those of our house and before teaching those in our community, or as Luke 24:47 says, "Teach the Good News beginning in Jerusalem", which was the center of Israel.

IOW, the principle is that of moving outward from the center, much as a seed grows, how the universe came to be, and how knowledge is dispersed, for example.

So in a manner of speaking, it wasn't right that a non-Jew should gain something before the Jews, who were 'next in line', received it.

In addition, I believe Jesus also went through a spiritual growth process before He became to know that He was One with God, and I imagine He had quite a few social prejudicies and fears to overcome on His journey as well.

But starting with the self and then working outwards is the underlying principle of those types of verses, this being a principle that underscores life itself.

Ed Aust said...

I think Jesus is being ironic here. He's speaking from the disciples' point of view in order to show them its limitations. They say, "Lord [heal her and] send her away [because she's annoying us and we want some rest]". Jesus says, "How can I? I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." (He's quoting them. This is their elitist viewpoint and he's throwing it back on them.) He continues to talk as if he were them: "It isn't right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." It's not that Jesus believes this himself; he's quoting a popular Jewish "us/them" sentiment. The woman persists: "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Jesus likes this. She's sparring with him. She's also making a theological point - that God's grace is so generous, even a crumb is sufficient. Jesus commends her faith and gives her far more than a crumb - he heals her daughter. And if that isn't enough, he goes on to feed 4,000 Gentile followers in the very next story. So much for "crumbs."

Anonymous said...

I've researched it too. The greek word Jesus uses for dog is beloved pet. The word she uses in her quick response is mangey mutt. We need to be careful though not to focus on the "name calling" but look at the woman's faith. Women were second rate people in those days and to the Jews a non-jewish person was even WORSE and for such a woman to approach a Jewish man was incredibly brave. Even more so when you see that Jesus denies her first request. How much bravery and faith must this woman have had to worship Him and have her prayers answered!

Anonymous said...

regardless of the translation, Jesus was implying that the Jews were first in line for salvation. but in his ministry he mentioned many times that salvation would not be exclusive; the first shall be last and the last shall be first. he was merely testing the faith of the woman within the boundaries of her personality and knew that she wouldn't be offended; God knows each of us and will never give us more than we can handle. But what we receive, in turn, is worth so much more.

Anonymous said...

Strong's Concordance shows that both Jesus and the woman used the exact same Greek word.."kynarion".. meaning "little dog".

There's no indication in the text that this was intended as anything other than a reference to her being of lesser status than the his opinion. Only after she acknowledges this "fact" does he reward her.
It's perfectly clear to me.


Anonymous said...

What is perhaps most disappointing about this all-too-common take on the Gospel passage (according to which Jesus is taught by the woman) is that it misses the essential thrust of the event: It is not that our Lord is learning from the woman, rather the good Savior is teaching her (and us) how to pray.

The woman is ignored
The woman is twice rejected by our Lord. Even before that, she had been ignored for some time. As the Canaanite woman calls out to Jesus, he at first did not say a word in answer to her. Perhaps you have felt this sometimes – have you ever prayed and prayed, and it seemed as though our Savior were not listening? Remember, Matthew does not say that the Lord “did not listen to the woman”, but he only states Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. In other words, the good Lord does most certainly hear her prayer (and yours), but he refuses at first to answer. He is listening, but he delays his response.
The first rebuff
When the Savior does respond, it is to rebuff the woman: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is as though he said to the woman, “You are a Gentile, but I am sent to the Jews. Depart, therefore, and do not ask any good thing from me.” It is a strong rebuff indeed! Have you ever felt that Jesus said this to you in prayer? Does it ever seem that our Lord will not hear your prayers, because you are a sinner and unworthy of him? Follow then the example of the Canaanite woman!
The first repulsion does not faze the woman in the least, but rather she came and did Jesus homage. It is as though she says, “Lord, I know that I am not worthy to receive your blessings, for you are God the Almighty and I am a mere creature (and, what is more, I am a sinner).” Worshiping Christ, she humbles herself before him – a contrite and humble heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. So too, must you humble yourself before your God; for the proud are displeasing to God, but he loves the humble servant.
The divine insult – “You are a dog”
And so, in response to the woman’s great humility and perseverance, the Lord answers her request a second time: It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. How good and loving our Savior is! It is as though he says to the woman, “Good, you are learning humility. But humility is gained not so much when you humble yourself, as when I humble you through humiliations. You then, I say, you are a dog!”
This last rebuke is much stronger than the first. Our Savior calls the woman a “dog” after the manner of the Jews, who considered the Gentiles “dogs” on account of their idolatry. This accusation, this name-calling, would prick the woman in a most sensitive place: Here she is, a Gentile woman among a crowd of Jews; and our Savior humiliates her with this most demeaning term, one which was in the hearts of all.
Have you felt like this? Does our Lord give you humiliations to bear? Perhaps it seems that he rejects your prayers, when he humiliates you so – but remember this Gospel, imitate the example of this Canaanite “dog”.

Anonymous said...

Perseverance in prayer
Hear the commentary of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, on the Canaanite woman’s response, Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters – “She means to say, ‘It is altogether true what Thou sayest, 0 My Saviour. I acknowledge that I am a worthless dog, and not worthy that the children’s bread should be given to me, who am a Gentile. Yet the dogs and the curs (in Greek the word is the same, κυνάρια) are wont to eat the crumbs of bread which fall from the tables of their master’s children. Nourish me then as Thy dog. I cannot leave my master’s table. You cannot drive me from Thee either by rough words or by blows. I will not leave Thee, until thou give me what I ask. Give me therefore, 0 most merciful Lord, only a crumb, give me this least favour of my daughter’s health. Let this one crumb fall among us Gentiles, and I will gather it up.’ She presses Christ prudently, convincingly, and yet modestly by His own words; and by her humble faith and reasoning conquers Him willing to be conquered by her prayer, says S. Chrysostom.”
The woman does not reject the humiliation which Christ has given her. Rather, she knows that, if only she should embrace this humiliation (being called a “dog”), the good Savior will allow her also to be filled with his graces. To spurn the Cross is to spurn grace. But to embrace the Cross is to embrace the grace of Christ.
Jesus is teaching – Learn from him
Through it all – indeed, before even the woman began to ask – Jesus was moving her and inspiring her by his hidden graces. It was our Savior who had allowed the daughter to become ill. It was our Savior who inspired the woman to come to him and call out. It was our Savior who allowed the disciples to rebuff her, but he still sustained her with his grace. It was our Savior who gave her the strength to persevere, even when rejected. Through it all, the grace of Christ sustained this woman’s prayer – and thus, because it was all grace, her prayer was answered.
The rebuffs and the humiliations were needed so that her prayer would be nothing of herself. She needed to become less and less so that Christ could be more in her. Finally, when she cries out “I am a dog”, her prayer is clearly no longer from her, but is only from Christ. This is the mystery of prayer – it is always Christ praying in us, through his Spirit. We pray, Christ prays, the Spirit prays; and it is one prayer, which will surely be answered.

Anonymous said...

This is by far one of the best answers I have come across thus far Ed.

Anonymous said...

Like we seen obvious jesus an every other Jews dedpise.women that's
Why most of em homo an jesus got 12 dudes no women ,ppl cant admit thaat jesus was human,and sometimes ppl dont feel like doing favors for ppl outside thers family,my point is just like a bum on streets if they ask you 20 times aj follow you give you stories eventually they will bend an give you a dollar,you ppl so hypocritical,if god knows everything he should of saved her and kept name calling out,such a low blow savior

Eric said...

In my humble and learned experience, Jesus referring to the woman as a dog denotes her LOWER STATUS and that of her people below the ISRAELITES. Jesus did not come to save the ENTIRE world as most people believe. I think he actually came to uplift and save a SPECIFIC GROUP OF PEOPLE, which are the house of ISRAEL and their descendants.

Ed from Oakland said...

I really like what Kenneth Bailey has to say about this story:
"Let us look at what Jesus said and at what He did. When begged by the woman to heal her daughter, he listened to her cries. The disciples wanted Him to dismiss her, but He allowed her to remain. Then she worshipped Him. She truly believed He would provide for her, that He could and would make her daughter whole. But, He told her “it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” Christ is the bread of life, sent to the Children of Israel, the Chosen People of God. The dogs or Gentiles were not part of the covenant; therefore, they were not meet to receive the gift of the children’s bread.

Although it seemed as though the woman had been pushed aside by the Lord’s response, God revealed Himself to the woman through Jesus’ own words. She heard Him use the Greek word for dogs meaning “lap dogs” or “little dogs.” She quickly answered our Savior by reminding Him that even the “lap dogs” are allowed to eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. She believed in the Christ, and yet was a Gentile. She trusted in His Almighty power and love. She knew that He would set her daughter free.

Jesus knew she would respond this way. But He wanted to make sure that she said what she did because He wanted her to reveal something about Him that had not yet been openly revealed. He had her open up the truth about the relationship of the Gentiles to the Jews and to the New Covenant. We know that this bread is Christ, who embodies the grace of God. God’s grace is infinite. Since God’s grace is boundless, any crumbs falling from that grace would be as immeasurable. The Israelites were given a gift of grace in Christ Jesus. When the crumbs of that gift were fallen from the table, the Gentiles were allowed to eat of them because the grace provided by God through Christ to the Gentiles is infinite just as it is to the Jews.

Even more significant in this dialogue is Christ’s redefinition of the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Previously, the house of Israel was thought of only as those descendants of Abraham who had come to be known as the Jews. When the Babylonians took the Israelites captive, they became dispersed throughout the world, and were scattered, becoming the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But if Jesus was only sent to the hereditary Jews, how could the Gentiles take part? Jesus allowed the woman to see that God was opening up the house of Israel and declaring all those who would turn and follow Him to be His lost sheep, welcoming them into His fold."

His full sermon can be read at