The Curmudgeon


Sunday, March 04, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 15 xxi-xxviii

Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who asks Him to help her devil-vexed daughter. He refuses to speak a word to her, but her persistence annoys the disciples so much that they ask Him to send her away. He responds that He is sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The woman worships Jesus and again asks His aid. He says that it is wrong to throw the children's food to the dogs, and she replies that the dogs can eat crumbs from the master's table. Jesus acknowledges her faith and her daughter is cured.

As a Canaanite, the woman is a leftover from the genocidal conquest perpetrated at God's command: a native of Tyre and Sidon (whose successful resistance is noted in Judges 1 xxxi) and thus a despised yet fearsome racial enemy. The Jews' own humiliation by the Romans evidently did little to increase their compassion towards the remaining Canaanites; perhaps because the Roman conquest lacked the sanctifying fanaticism of Joshua and the Judges. Accordingly, Jesus displays to the full His credentials as His Father's Son by treating the woman with utter contempt until she propitiates Him. He does not respond at all when she calls him Lord, son of David, which implies that an earthly king holds seniority over Him; He condescends to speak to her only when she grovels and calls Him Lord only.

Such is the Saviour's disdain for the woman that He initially refuses to address her directly even for the purpose of sending her away and sparing His disciples the inconvenience of her petitions. The pretext for His refusal is that His words are meant only for the chosen race and would be wasted on lesser breeds. Being well acquainted with Scripture, Jesus would have fully understood and intended His implication that the Canaanite woman and her daughter are the kind of animals which ate the flesh of their fellow Sidonian, Queen Jezebel (I Kings 16 xxxi; II Kings 9 xxxvi). A more degrading dismissal would be hard to imagine; but having delivered this vicious insult Jesus changes His mind in the face of the woman's witty and flattering response.

As theologians, we are not permitted the assumption that Jesus lied about His ministry's jurisdiction; therefore we may take it that this incident was at least partly what prompted Him to expand His ambitions beyond the lost sheep of Israel and across the whole barking world. The idea that a person of faith could be an eater of human flesh may even have fed into His later invention of the Eucharist.


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