Mark 7.24-37 'The Syrophoenician Woman's Faith' (New RSV):
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.' 28 But she answered him, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' 29 Then he said to her, 'For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter.' 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Matthew 15.21-39 'The Canaanite Woman’s Faith' (New RSV):
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22J ust 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.' 23 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.' 24 He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, help me.' 26 He answered, 'It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.' 27 She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' 28 Then Jesus answered her, 'Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed instantly.
So what does the main man of that blog state about these passages? In the context of having a crack at Brian Mclaren in an article, Matt Kennedy further comments for explanation:
And Jesus is still overcoming his own religious prejudice today thanks to the grace of Brian Mclaren
Poor benighted Jesus - trapped in first century ethnic prejudices and, worse, he's a Jew - an oppressor of Palestinians. It has been such a struggle but the syrophonecian woman, Brian Mclaren, and TEC have together managed to bring some enlightenment to the world despite Jesus'
Moreover, the woman did not "teach" Jesus anything.
If you are correct that Jesus learned to overcome prejudice from the woman, that implies, necessarily, that Jesus first words to the woman, whatever the proper translation, represented a "prejudiced" estimation of her worth as compared with that of the Jewish people. [...]
The sort of ignorance you seem to assert that Jesus embraced prior to his "enlightenment" involves Jesus in a violation of God's moral character. God shows no partiality. But, according to Mclaren and your post above, Jesus did.
That would render Jesus unqualified to atone for sin…and we might as well eat, drink, and be merry.
His decision to heal the woman's daughter was not "justice". It was not the result of having been educated out of cultural prejudice in order to "treat equals equally".
It was an act of mercy and grace - an undeserved favour to a sinner who deserves hell. Such is true for every benefit we receive from him. We have absolutely no standing question the moral propriety of his initial words to the woman or to anyone else. The reality of our natural condition before a holy God is that we are far in far far worse shape than "little dogs" under the master's table.
There was also a comment that sums up the war being waged here:
The Rev. Kaeton expounded on Jesus' being "schooled" by the woman - stating that Jesus realized…(wait for it)...THAT HE HAD BEEN WRONG. Yeah, different religions, totally
So what's happening here is that the demand for orthodoxy is skewing the reading of the passage. This is the idea that because he is God, Jesus cannot learn any moral lesson or cannot be wrong. One wonders what his mother did during his formative years - perhaps she made jam while her son brought himself up.
The point of the passage is that Jesus's ministry was to the Jews and no one else, and he had the same tribal views you would expect of those who beleived they had a special responsibility in faith and were chosen as such by God and they would be first into the coming Kingdom. Thus they were dismissive of Gentiles and their religions. However, this female Gentile is complaining about her treatment by using the Jews language about the Gentiles back at Jesus, and Jesus realises he is making a mistake and puts it right. In other words, Jesus learns.
Of course it has doctrinal implications. It is one of those passages that has caused the so called 'orthodox' to wriggle in their explanations.
I'd much rather read the verse straight; in fact I'd much rather understand the different schools or strands at the time, from the different early Churches, and how they contributed to all the different tendencies in the New Testament among Christians who were hardly trinitarians (!) and undergoing some narrow orthodox dance.
For such insights on purely evidential work I have not seen better than the material April de Conick has been putting out on her blog. I keep a link to it from this blog, and I use it myself to read hers. The Creating Jesus strand and now Jesus on the Road to Nicea is excellent material. Of course she gets challenged and she replies. It so happens that the The Syrophoenician Woman's Faith matter has arisen in comments relating to the division between Jews adapting to a rabbinical faith and mainly Gentiles creating a distinctive Christianity. Here are the relevant comments:
This is an interesting change for Christianity, given that Jesus started out anti-Gentile. He commanded his disciples to not preach to the Gentiles, but only the tribes of Israel. And when approached by a Canaanite woman to heal her daughter, Jesus responded that the "dogs" did not eat off the Master's table - basically calling Canaanites and other Gentiles "dogs" which is still used in the Middle East as an epithet. Interesting to see how the Christian Church changed from anti-Gentile to anti-Semitic in so few short years.
April DeConick said...
Indeed, a clear and straight answer regarding the use of the word "dogs". There is clearly a moral element to this tale, with Jesus learning.
The lesson is further clear: don't let doctrine pre-determine the meaning of a passage. You need to know the context, and you need to see the drama involved. How historic is the passage? Who knows: it remains secondary material about any such encounter, but there is the story chosen to be in the texts by Mark and by Matthew. There may have been any number of encounters with non-Jews and Jesus, but the focus towards his people was clear and the early Churches were becoming quite different regarding their population.
The biggest error of course was that the Kingdom did not come quickly; the motivation for the ministry of Jesus, and for those early Jewish believers in his messianic status, led the various believers to face disappointment. As April de Conick herself suggests, there were two results of this mistake: one was to intensify the Kingdom vision, and the other was to establish the Church as a long haul institution and that saw those revolutionary social attitudes replaced by more usual hierarchies.April De Conick is not making any theological point: she just deals with the textual and historical evidence. But I am. Yes, this does get discussed in the seminaries and, for me, it demonstrates that so called narrow orthodoxy is wrong, and it further demonstrates that religious content is principally cultural and relativistic.