Could Jesus Learn Things?

The second part of my series on Jesus and the Canaanite Woman.  Here’s a taste, read the rest at the link:

Lt us continue with my reader’s remarks:

The prepaschal Jesus was ethnocentric to first century Israel. He called her a dog—you know what he called her. Not a female pet dog. A vermin little (not CUTE) FEMALE dog. This is an enormous insult to the woman. Gentiles were commonly referred to as dogs by ancient Israelites. Jesus apparently repeats his culture’s stereotype. Calling a woman a dog is offensive in every language.

Here we begin to run into deeper waters. The first thing to question is the division of Christ into a pre- and post-paschal Jesus, as though there are two of him, before and after his Resurrection. It is true that Jesus, in the Incarnation, “emptied himself” and submits to various human limitations. He gets tired. He needs to breathe, and sleep, and eat and use the restroom. But it does not follow that he therefore accepts ethnic stereotyping that dehumanizes other people. That, above all, is the thing to question here: the suggestion that Jesus intends to viciously insult the woman and that Jesus, blithely accepting Israelite ethnocentrism, casually does so on that basis. Stick a pin in that, for we shall come back to it. This is the heart and soul of the problematic reading of the text, though other things are questionable as well.

Was Jesus really all “talk to the hand” and racist towards the Canaanite woman? Source: Jean Germain Drouais, Wikimedia Commons

We continue:

And this is the only woman in the Gospels who beat Jesus at his own game of arguments and challenge and riposte. To everyone’s amazement, including Jesus, the woman retorts with cleverness: “Lord [note the honorific title], even dogs eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). She is the only person in the Gospels who proves to be a good match for Jesus’ wit.

The fact is not lost on Jesus. He responds with the equivalent of “touché!” and grants her request. The daughter is healed instantly.

I appreciate the fact that this reading grasps Jesus’ delight in badinage with the Woman and that he does indeed express amazement (though not, I argue, surprise) at her. He has done it before in the gospel. And he has been “bested” in such badinage too, most notably when his mother calls him to reveal himself as Messiah at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), he deflects, and she (with her eyes on him as she addresses servants in an “I dare you to refuse” tone of voice) says, “Do whatever he tells you.” That too is Middle Eastern dickering at its finest and there too, he is bested by a determined peasant woman who will not back down with her importunate prayer—exactly the kind of prayer he loves and commends (Luke 11:5-8).

But something else is lurking in my reader’s words and it is important to tease it out. It is the suggestion (also notable in Fr Martin’s remarks—see my previous column) that Jesus is learning here: that the Canaanite Woman is the teacher and Jesus is the learner.


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