PassageIn this passage Jesus travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and once again, though he would prefer to remain hidden, he is immediately recognized. One of the people who recognizes him is a Gentile woman who comes and falls at Jesus’ feet, begging him to cast out a demon which has possessed her daughter. His response might seem shocking to modern-day readers:
And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (verse 27 (ESV))In other words, the bread is only for the “children,” the Jews, not for the “dogs,” the Gentiles. Her response, however, is that even though this is the case, the dogs under the table still eat the children’s crumbs. Jesus tells her that for this response she can go her way, for the demon has left her daughter, and when the woman goes home she finds that it is so.
ThoughtsAs mentioned, many modern-day readers are probably shocked by Jesus’ response to the woman. After all, we live in an age where it’s obvious that Christianity has spread outside of the Israelites, and is for all people rather than just for a specific people group. It might surprise us to learn that when Jesus was on the earth His ministry was focused on the Jews. This is one of only a few examples of Jesus ministering to a Gentile.
As surprised as we might be, however, the woman herself doesn’t seem surprised at all from what is indicated in the text. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of “how dare you” attitude; instead she simply points out that the “children” aren’t consuming all of the “bread,” so maybe it couldn’t hurt for her to take some of the crumbs that are left over. And I guess Jesus agrees with this reasoning, since He heals the woman’s daughter. (The ESV Study Bible notes make the assumption that Jesus had planned to heal the daughter all along and was simply testing the woman, which I’d mostly go along with. I’d probably put it more along the lines of Jesus specifically having this conversation with the woman to call the disciples’ attention to it, and thus calling the attention of the the Bible’s readers to it.)
I’m wondering if there are also cultural issues clouding modern readers’ understanding of this text, since Jesus calls the Gentiles “dogs.” In our society that’s considered insulting, you wouldn’t equate someone with a dog in this day and age, but it wasn’t necessarily insulting in Jesus’ culture. Again, I go by the woman’s response; she didn’t seem to be insulted at all by Jesus’ words. I’m thinking that this might have just been a metaphor, not the insult that it seems to be to our modern eyes.