Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32
Make no mistake: the story of the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman is one of the most troubling in all the Gospels—and yet it’s one of the most rewarding.
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus meets a woman and implies that because she is a Canaanite person, she can be called a dog. It’s what we would call these days a ‘racial slur’; the Canaanites were ancient and bitter enemies of Israel, whose ancestors had led Israel away to worship idols. If this were the only story of Jesus that we knew, would he be an attractive figure?
This story is an embarrassment, it always has been. People have tried to get around it in various ways. They note that Jesus said ‘puppy’, not ‘dog’; but puppies are just as religiously ‘unclean’ as grown-up dogs.
They say that Jesus was testing the faith of this woman who was only trying to get help for her daughter. They are trying to ‘protect’ Jesus, but they are unconvincing. Again, think: if this were the only story about Jesus we had, what opinion would you have of him? Actually, I hope you’d still end up with a pretty good opinion of Jesus. I’d hope that if this was all we knew about Jesus, we’d think highly of him.