Friday, April 25, 2014

Jesus didn't want to break the rules?

So it's kind of funny, 2 weeks ago we talked about how Jesus was so not a fan of "the rules" when they got in the way of loving people, and in this week's passage, he kind of had the same problem himself.

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Let's take a look at Matthew 15:21-39 (go over and read it yourself first). The first half is about a Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter, and the second is about the feeding of 4000 men and a ton of other people.

So. A Canaanite woman chases after Jesus, begging and begging for his help, because her daughter has a demon. (Is that real or not? Okay we'll just go with it.)

And Jesus just ignores her. Until the disciples can't stand it anymore, and they make Jesus do something.

He's kind of hemming and hawing about it, because you know, he's only supposed to be working with Jewish people. He says, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs."

But the woman says, "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table" and Jesus is convinced! He heals her daughter, long-distance, and tells the woman she has "great faith."

So, why didn't he want to help her in the first place? Because he's Jewish, and the plan was to go to the Jewish people first, and from there they could spread the good news of God's kingdom to the whole world. But Jesus was just 1 person so he had to start small.

That's all well and good and makes sense. He has to focus on just a small group of people first.

It's fine, until a mother comes running after him, yelling and pleading for help. But he can't, because, you know, he's supposed to just help Jewish people. Gotta start small, remember?

In other words, it's against the rules. The rules say he can't help her.

But didn't the previous passage just say loving people is so much more important than following all the rules? I mean, clearly in this case he should make an exception, right? That "rule" about only helping the people of Israel is just a general guideline to make his ministry more effective- not an absolute.

Right? Jesus was like, the king of valuing people over rules. So what's his problem here?

Image source.

A few other interesting things: It seems like Jesus is just thinking out loud, talking to no one in particular, when he says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" and "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." Like he's trying to reason with himself and figure out what to do.

Also, the mom just goes along with the whole "dogs" thing. (Which is kind of racist, right?) And somehow this proves that she has "great faith" and deserves Jesus' help, I guess. Maybe something about admitting she is a "dog" and isn't worthy? Yeah, there could be some truth to that, but DEFINITELY NOT based on her race.

I don't really get it. Anyone have a better explanation?

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Okay, on to the next part. "Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them." OKAY THIS IS WEIRD. Right after that whole dilemma about the Canaanite woman, Jesus goes and heals a massive crowd, presumably without checking if they each were the "right" ethnicity and had enough faith.

What gives?

And then Jesus feeds thousands of people, using only some bread and fish, and... this story is so similar to the "feeding of the 5000 [which wasn't really 5000 but people were sexist]"... so why did Matthew write it down? And in so much detail?

Maybe because of how the disciples responded when Jesus said they'd feed the crowd? There are many Sunday school lessons that say "the disciples should have known! They've already seen Jesus do this!" Eh, I don't know. It's not logical to expect God to do miracles all the time just because he can.

All right. That's the whole passage. But I'd like to introduce one more theory about the Canaanite woman:

Perhaps Jesus' concern was that she believed in the wrong religion, and therefore would interpret the healing incorrectly. And I'm putting this theory out there because of the priority evangelicals place on "being right." You know, because if you're wrong about Jesus, then you go to hell, so making sure people have the CORRECT beliefs is the most important thing.

So what if this mom, because she was not Jewish, believed in a different religion, and prayed to the god(s) of that religion (or did various other religious/superstitious practices), and then Jesus healed her daughter and it strengthened her faith in that (wrong) religion?

I'm not an evangelical anymore, I don't believe the most important thing is being right, and I don't think there should be strings attached when we help people. So I am very much hoping that this "Jesus only wanted to heal people if it brought them closer to the 'correct' beliefs about God" theory is totally wrong.

Yes, Jesus did often talk with those he healed, telling him their faith healed them- possibly to clarify/correct any misunderstandings about that. But it was in an encouraging way, not a "trying to get you to convert" way.


Discussion questions:
Why was Jesus hesitant to help her?
Why do we have 2 stories about Jesus feeding thousands of people?
What was up with that whole "dog" thing?

Image source.

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: But where's your Scripture to back that up, Jesus? (Matthew 15:1-20)

Next post: In which Jesus mentions both science and the bible (Matthew 16:1-4)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. Hi there! Here's an explanation I read that puts Jesus in a better light from a modern perspective. What do you think?

  2. Thanks for posting this! I was about to send her there myself! - krwordgazer

    (To put my position in very short terms, I believe Jesus said what he did to invite the Canaanite women to challenge him. He wanted to lose the argument!

  3. This is really helpful, thanks! Especially the part about the honor/shame dimension that's invisible to modern western readers.

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