Meeting a Foreigner

Meeting a Foreigner May 3, 2014

A blog post about Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman was drawn to my attention. The blog in question is Wordgazer’s Words and has lots of interesting things on it. The specific post draws on lots of key scholars’ work on the historic and cultural context, and draws the conclusion:

So how do we apply this story to our own lives?

I think that for us today, this story is about how social and religious conventions can perpetuate racial and gender oppression. Oppression hurts more than just those on the receiving end. It hurts the perpetrators too– and we as human beings often find ourselves in both positions. If Jesus went against religious and social convention to set people free from attitudes that restrict and bind themselves and others, shouldn’t His followers do the same?

In discussing the topic, I added:

…while we need to be wary of attempts to make Jesus a 21st century feminist, there is good reason to think that he could have been a first century one. And given the evidence for his inclusive vision of the kingdom of God, it makes sense that some experience of interacting with foreigners and having his assumptions about them challenged would have occurred, and perhaps because of their importance in shaping his views, remembered.

See also my earlier post on the story.

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  • Joshua Smith

    Jeffrey Aernie has a really good chapter on the Syrophoenician woman in the recently released Semeia volume, Bible, Border(s), Belongings: Engaging Readings from Oceania.

  • Aah! Green! My eyes!

  • Hi, Dr. McGrath! It’s an honor to have you review my blog, and thanks for your kind words about it. With regards to your earlier post on the topic of the Syrophoenician woman, I have no problem with the idea that Jesus, being fully human, could have been mistaken about something, and certainly that he didn’t know everything. I do stop short, though, of an interpretation that makes him seem to be in sin. Even if he sincerely didn’t know it was wrong to think of Gentiles as dogs, it’s cutting the line a little close for comfort in my mind. Given the way he treated other Gentiles, Samaritans, and women in the rest of the gospel accounts, I find an interpretation of this text in a way that he truly thought of this woman as a dog, contradictory. Although I’m not a bible scholar, I think applying the work of scholars to this text as I have, helps the text stop sticking out like a sore thumb from the way Jesus is presented otherwise. I do recognize, though, that this interpretation is somewhat novel.

    I agree that we shouldn’t think of Jesus in 21st-century terms, but Jesus certainly did elevate women amazingly in his day.

  • Michael Wilson

    I tend to doubt just how accurate these vignettes are in depicting what Jesus did on any given occasion, so I really don’t know how Jesus felt about Gentiles. The statement that the apostles should only preach to the children of Israel seems likely to be authentic, so I would say that Jesus had a Hebrew-centric worldview. This is somewhat a inherent property of Christianity since it sees God’s plan as being something that starts with the Israelites and is only later extended to Gentiles on Hebrew terms, no credence is given to the myths of the gentiles. Even for a guy like Paul, salvation depends on accepting the Jewish world view, so gentiles are getting the crumbs. However, I think Mark sees this as being forward thinking even though moderns view it as chauvinistic. For many of Jesus’ contemporaries Gentiles were probably just ogres in the world stage to be eliminated or subjugated in the coming kingdom of God.