Was Jesus Racist? Unpacking Matthew 15

Mar 18, 2020

Understanding Scripture and its teachings can often be confusing, and even unsettling. Even when we try to interpret certain stories or letters charitably, we can frequently find ourselves bewildered. How do we deal with these difficult passages? This week, Vince and Jo consider a question about Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite or “Syrophoenician,” woman (recorded in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30), where Christ refers to a suffering woman and the Canaanite people she is part of as “dogs.” How can we make sense of such seemingly harsh words and treatment? How do we square this with a Christ we say is full of love for the downtrodden? What is going on in this story? Is Jesus racist?

Question Asked in This Episode: “For quite some time now, I’ve been developing a workshop that focuses on improving race relations within the church. As the workshop primarily focuses on Scripture in the Bible that deals with how God wants us to think about and to respond to racism, classism, and sexism, among other things, there is one passage that continues to perplex me as I study these topics: In Matthew chapter 15 verses 21-28—the story of the Syrophoenician woman—even though Jesus compliments her amazing faith, at face value it can appear as if he is also insulting and making racial slurs against her when referring to his own people, Israel, as children, and the woman’s people as dogs.”

Have a question you want Ask Away to cover? Email us at askaway@rzim.org or use the hashtag #askrzim on Twitter. You can also talk about this episode with fellow podcast listeners and the RZIM team on our online community.

Don't miss another episode, subscribe wherever podcasts are found (quick links: iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify).

Follow Ask Away on Twitter:

Vince Vitale - @VinceRVitale
Jo Vitale - @Joanna_Vitale
Michael Davis - @mdav1979


Want to listen to this later?


Transcript



Please Note: Ask Away is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. Understanding scripture and its teachings can oftentimes be confusing and even unsettling. Even when we use a charitable lens in which to interpret certain stories or letters, we can frequently find ourselves bewildered. The first rule of proper interpretation is context matters, but we also know that scripture was written for all believers, not just for those who originally received it. How do we deal with those difficult passages? How do we help those around us to understand what God means in those difficult passages when we are just as confused as they are? Why would Jesus similarly call the Canaanite woman's people dogs when the gospel is for all people? But before we get started, Vince, could you tell our listeners a little bit about the upcoming Refresh conference happening on July 21st through the 24th in Atlanta, Georgia, and why it's so helpful for college bound high schoolers and college students?

Vince Vitale: You bet, Michael, this is always a highlight for us and really the week is so centered around the questions of the students. I think that's why they love it so much. We journey together for a whole week. There's a lot of time with our staff. There's a lot of time for relationship building and for conversation, but so much of the week is about the students actually saying, these are my questions and we have this great app where they can feed in their questions and then vote on each other's questions and we just make a promise to them, whichever question has the most votes, which is sometimes dangerous, that is the question that we will answer, and so the students themselves are directing the content of the week, but that means that we can really prepare them for college because it's precisely the questions that are niggling away at their own faith or that they're afraid that someone might ask them and they might have to answer that they are prepared to answer when they head off to college.

Michael Davis: Excellent. Okay. Let's get to our question. This is from Gregory. "For quite some time now I've been developing a workshop that focuses on improving race relations within the church. As the workshop primarily focuses on scripture in the Bible that deals with how God wants us to think about and to respond to racism, classism, and sexism, among other things, there is one passage that continues to perplex me as I study these topics. In Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the Syrophoenician woman, even though Jesus complements her amazing faith, at face value, it can appear as if he's also insulting and making racial slurs against her when referring to his own people, Israel, as children and the woman's people as dogs."

Jo Vitale: Gregory, thank you for this question today. Firstly, let me just say I love that you're doing this workshop. I can't think of something more timely and important than a workshop like this for the church, so thank you for being someone who is pioneering in that way, who is helping facilitate these kinds of conversations that are so essential for all of us to be having. I also appreciate that you brought up this passage because to be honest with you, it's one that I found really, really difficult for a very long time. It was one of those ones when people would raise their hand in a Q&A to bring up sort of problem Bible passages. I was always hope this wouldn't be one of the ones that they were going to ask because actually it is such a difficult passage.

Jo Vitale: As you say, at face value, when you first start reading this story, it is really hard to make sense of. You're not the only person who's struggling with that. Lots of people do. I've often had this very passage raised as an objection in all sorts of different contexts, so thank you for bringing it to the table today for us to be talking about in more detail. I think it would be appropriate to read it as we start out this morning. So I'm going to be reading and then we'll go from there. So this is Matthew 15:21-2. "Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him crying out, 'Lord, son of David have mercy on me. My daughter is demon possessed and suffering terribly.' Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away because she keeps crying out after us.' Jesus said, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' And the woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord help me,' she said, and he replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' 'Yes it is, Lord,' she said, 'even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed at that moment."

Vince Vitale: Wow. Yeah, so like you said, Jo, this seems really troublesome. I mean there would have been prejudice against a woman to begin with. Matthew describes her as a Canaanite, so that's already bringing up kind of animosity between the Canaanites and the Israelites historically. And then Jesus is initially silent, right? She comes to him, she's crying, she's under heavy suffering, as is her daughter, and she comes to him, he's silent. Then he informs her that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And then he seems to refer to her as a dog. And so it's hard to know what to do with that. You can imagine, you would think that the woman would have been devastated given the state that she would have been coming to him in. And then also, if you read this through kind of 21st century lens, you can imagine like the PR nightmare that is about to happen, right? Think of Jesus as this religious leader, right? And all of the blogs are flying and Twitter's going crazy, and there's going to have to be a public apology. I mean, that's secondary. The primary thing is that this woman, it seems would have been devastated, but in every sense, in every direction, it looks like this is really problematic. And some people just accept that.

Jo Vitale: That's right. And there's another version of the story in Mark chapter seven as well. The same story just reported in a different gospel and in Mark it specifies in further detail actually the woman is Syrophoenician, she's Canaanite, but specifically she's Syrophoenician, which the only other person we know of in scripture who's Syrophoenician is back in the Old Testament, is Jezebel. She's referred to that way as well. So there's clearly some ancient racial prejudice even just associated with that figure. And here comes another woman. And then Mark also tells us that she's Greek by which he's referring to her religion. So he's basically saying she's not a Jew and she's of a different race. So this is the woman that you're encountering. You're right. Twitter wouldn't just go crazy about this if it happened today, but actually Twitter has gone crazy about this passage.

Jo Vitale: Even the fact that it happened a long time ago and it's really interesting actually reading a lot of blogs around this text, different people's interpretations because a lot of people will say exactly that. The very point that Gregory is raising that, “Hey, this looks like a huge racial slur. This looks like it's dehumanizing her.” Jesus just straight up calls her a dog. Like this is horrendous. And one of the interpretations you'll often hear this text is as people go on to say, well, this just goes to show that even Jesus was not exempt from his kind of cultural bias and racial prejudice. And people go on to say, actually what happens here is that Jesus is so culturally blinded and trapped within his own culture that he's not even aware he's being racist and he needs this other woman to come and teach in the error of his way. So it's taken as a teaching point to say, Hey, we all have cultural blind spots, including Jesus is guilty in this way. Now hear me right. I completely agree that all of us have cultural blind spots. Absolutely. But that is a really interesting interpretation because essentially if you're saying that, what you're saying there is it Jesus is being racist and therefore Jesus is sinning here. So we've got a huge problem on our hands. If that's actually the right interpretation of this text, we've got some real issues with Jesus.

Vince Vitale: So don't stop listening to the podcast right now. This is not the time to move on to another podcast. So is Jesus being offensive or even racist here? Letting scripture interpret scripture. There are a few reasons why we don't think that interpretation makes sense. First in Matthew, immediately preceding this passage, Jesus is talking about how what comes out of a person's mouth comes from the heart and is what defiles a person. So it doesn't make any sense that Matthew would have been a huge literary error, even just in terms of Matthew's authorship for him to put that in his text and then immediately after saying it's what comes out of a person's mouth that defiles them to then have a passage about Jesus where he's explicitly offensive and perhaps racist in the way he's communicating.

Jo Vitale: Right. And then I think stripping it back even further, we've got to look at firstly what is the whole context of scripture when it comes to this issue of race? You know, because one text is always going to inform another. And when we look at scripture as a whole, actually the story from beginning to end is of a God who is for diversity and right at the start with Israel. Israel, even when God chooses them as his people to represent him on earth, the reason he chooses them specifically is so that they may go out and be a blessing to other nations. It's always that outward focus rather than God just saying, "No, these are my only people in the only ones I care about. Forget about the rest of you." That's never the goal. The goal is always at the salvation would go to the ends of the earth.

Jo Vitale: It says that in Isaiah, but it's just the means to which God does it is through a particular nation. Then you look at Leviticus 19 which gives explicit instructions, love the foreigner among you. Treat them as your native born. Basically it's the earlier version of love your neighbor as yourself. That's in the Old Testament. We could flip ahead to the end of the new Testament where Paul sums up the whole message of Christianity. There's neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one in Christ. And then we have this amazing statement in Revelation when we are given this glimpse of what is the afterlife going to be like, what will it be like when we're together in the presence of God? And it's depicted in this way as this great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne, before the Lamb clothed in white with palm branches in their hands. Basically all the nations, all the different peoples, all the races worshiping God together. And that is a picture of perfection and of heaven. That's our big framework that we're working with.

Vince Vitale: Right. And then even within the gospel of Matthew, if we go a bit earlier, we go Matthew 8, a Roman Centurion approached Jesus. So again, someone approaching Jesus on behalf of someone that they cared about, in this case his paralyzed servant, asking Jesus to heal. And Jesus just quickly responds and says, "I will come and heal him." And then they have an interaction. And then Jesus says, "I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel." So clearly Jesus is already wanting to communicate that faith is not only for the Jews. So it doesn't make sense then to say that he's doing so begrudgingly with the Canaanite woman or that she is needing to convince him or persuade him of that. He is clearly already persuaded of that earlier in the same book.

Jo Vitale: Right. I mean we could even go back into the lineage given at the beginning of Matthew where Canaanite women are included in the lineage of Jesus including Rahab and Ruth. So clearly something more is going on here. Then we could look at other gospels like the woman at the woman at the well in John 4 where not only does Jesus interact with a Samaritan woman in that case, but he actually seems to go out of his way in order to specifically meet her. She doesn't get in his way and interrupt him. He's looking for her in that story. And then of course we have Jesus teaching following on from that Leviticus passage where Jesus' example of how to love your neighbor as yourself is to tell the story of the good Samaritan. So time and again we see Jesus not only including people from outside, but actually holding them up as the greatest examples of faith.

Jo Vitale: And Vince mentioned the Centurion, but in Mark's gospel, which again, has this story in chapter seven, but if you go back two chapters to Mark 5, we read about Jesus who has already been doing a deliverance ministry among non-Jewish pagans. And we hear about the healing of the Gerasene demoniacs. There's someone else who has a demon in the region of Gerasene. So we know that Jesus has already healed someone who had a demon who wasn't Jewish. So the fact that the situation is now coming up again later on in the book, we've got to think this through and figure out something else is going on here. Cause clearly it's the issue is not that this person is of another race or another religion and that's why Jesus is reacting this way.

Vince Vitale: And it makes me wonder if the woman even knew about some of these stories, at some point, that Jesus had clearly reached out beyond the Jews. Here's a third point and sometimes I think too much is made of this, but there are at least two words that could have been used to refer to dog. One is a common word that would have been the harsher of the two words. The second word is one that is sometimes translated as little dog and could be used of a sort of household pet as opposed to kind of a wild dog. Now, sometimes too much can be made of this, but my point would just be if Jesus' intention was simply to insult, why choose the softer word, why choose the word which could even possibly have a connotation which might've been a bit more affectionate if actually his intention was just to insult? That wouldn't make sense either.

Jo Vitale: Yeah, like the way you put that, Vince, because I think sometimes people can go too far with this. It's interesting reading some of their commentaries people put in this passage where they work so hard to make the term affectionate. They're trying so hard to be like, well look at the ways we use the language of dogs. Like we talk about puppy dog eyes or we call people like a bulldog at work or we use all this language around dogs, which is true that we do, but I think people are bending over backwards trying so hard to make this not offensive. But I actually think when you look at the contrast being made here, you can go too far trying to do that. I don't think in this particular passage it's meant necessarily in a particularly affectionate way. When you look at the contrast being made between children and the household pet, yes, household pet is better than a wild dog, but it's still clearly emphasizing one is greater priority than the other. So I like the way you've said it because I think people have tried too hard to actually undo the offense here by making the passage read something that actually doesn't. I actually don't think our key to interpreting this passage will be found in just trying to do away with this word dog. I don't think we can actually do that and hold true to what the text says.

Vince Vitale: Right, right. However, you know, Michael, when we refer to you as a bulldog, that is only affectionate.

Michael Davis: Is that what you have a scowl on your face and you say that? Okay. I'll take it. I'm surprised, but I'll take it.

Vince Vitale: People can't see us well. We're speaking. Exactly.

Jo Vitale: Michael's bark is worse than his bite.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, for sure.

Michael Davis: More like whine is worse than my bark and bite.

Vince Vitale: There was one more point, as we were thinking through together, why is just the interpretation that this is intended to be an insulting passage not make sense? And a fourth point would be the woman doesn't seem to imply that she's been insulted or sinned against in any way. Instead, she agrees with Jesus. She says yes, Lord. And I'm just thinking the emotionally fragile place she would have been in, given what her daughter was going through, given the racial animosity potentially between Canaanites and the Jewish people, for her to respond the way that she did implies to me that whatever was going on in that interaction was not one where what she perceived with the intention to insult. I know how protective I am of family or of my child in terms of the way people speak about them or treat them, and seeing the way this woman responds so positively and openly to Jesus, I think that needs to be taken into account as well.

Jo Vitale: So then if we said what we don't think the passage is, what do we think is going on in this passage?

Michael Davis: We're halfway through and that's all we have time for. Thank you guys very much. See you next time.

Vince Vitale: Okay, so what is going on here in this passage? Immediately preceding this passage in Matthew, Jesus has interacted with the Pharisees. He's called them hypocrites. The disciples then come to him and ask this question. They say, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" But it's such a patronizing question for them to go to Jesus as if he was unaware of what he had said, how that might be received, calling into question whether he was intentional with his words, whether he would understand the impact of them. Interesting now in this passage with the Canaanite woman, they must've been thinking he's doing it again. Again, he doesn't realize how his words are going to be taken. Then Jesus tells them a parable. Again, they don't get it. Peter says, "Explain the parable to us." And then finally Jesus says, "Are you still so dull?" So clearly the interaction with this Canaanite woman that comes directly after that passage is intended to correct the disciples' doubt about Jesus' understanding, his intentionality with his words, et cetera. So that's our starting point. As we approach this passage, that has to be what this passage is about. It's following on from the passage before it, and it's trying to correct the disciples' understanding.

Jo Vitale: And in general that just makes sense that the pattern we see throughout the gospels of the disciples who constantly do misunderstand Jesus. In fact, you see instances time and again where they try to send people away that Jesus actually doesn't want sent away. Like think of the little children who were trying to reach him and the disciples are getting in the way and holding the crowd back. And Jesus has to say, "No, let the little children come to me." Or again, you look at an example like in John 4 with the Samaritan woman where we're told that the disciples are surprised to find him talking to a woman. They just consistently misunderstand Jesus and the people he chooses to interact with and the ways in which he's interacting with them. And so I think what we see in this passage here as a starting point is that the disciples are misreading Jesus' silence. Because the woman comes, she's yelling, she's upset.

Jo Vitale: And at first Jesus isn't saying anything. And the disciples, meanwhile, seeing the scene that she's causing, they're getting really flustered. And so their response in reaction to this say, "Jesus, just sent her away. She won't leave us alone. Just make her go away." That's their reaction. So Jesus is watching the scene. He's watching this desperate hurting, suffering woman who's in agony. Then he's seeing the way the disciples on the other side are responding to her, just dismissively trying to get rid of her. They're not seeing her pain. They're seeing her as an inconvenience. And particularly interesting. Vince has mentioned pointing out to me earlier, the way that they say, "She won't leave us alone," as if it's about them when actually clearly it's about Jesus so they're completely reading the whole thing wrong.

Vince Vitale: I think Spurgeon made that point. But yeah, just in terms of the attitude, the heart posture of the disciples, she's coming after us. Like really? You?

Jo Vitale: She's such a bother. Just send her away. And so Jesus is watching this. He's watching his disciples getting it wrong again. He's watching this hurting woman and so then out of his silence, what is he going to do?

Vince Vitale: Yeah, so we think this is a really actually sophisticated and powerful passage. We'll take a little bit of a roundabout way to get to what we're going on here and we'll start with two days ago I saw this YouTube video. You have to watch it if you haven't watched it. I thought it was really good, although I guess I'm going to kind of give a spoiler away here, but it's okay because it's in the context of interpreting scripture, which is more important. So there's this video and it's interviews for the hardest job in the world. And so this guy, dressed in a tie and official interview, is interviewing and just kind of split screens and it goes back and forth. So about five people that he's interviewing for the hardest job in the world and they put out an advertisement for it and now they're conducting the interviews and the interaction goes something like this.

Vince Vitale: He says, "Well, it's not just a job. It's really the most important job. The title we have going right now is director of operations, but really it's so much more than that. The responsibilities and the requirements are extensive. The first requirement is mobility. It requires that you must be able to work standing up most or really all of the time, constantly on your feet, constantly bending over, constantly exerting yourself. A high level of stamina." They ask about the hours, and he said, "About 135 hours per week to really unlimited hours a week. It's basically 24 hours a week, seven days a week. There are no breaks available." They guy says, "Well, surely once in a while you get to sit down, right?" He says, "Do you mean like a break?" He said, "No, there are no breaks available. What about lunch? You can have lunch, but only once the associate that you're working for is done eating their lunch. You must be able to wear several hats. The associate need constant attention. Sometimes you have to stay up with the associate throughout the night. There are no vacations. In fact, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and holidays, the workload is going to go up and we demand that with a happy disposition. But when would there be time to sleep? Oh no, there's no time to sleep. 365 days a year. Yes, but the meaningful connections that you make and the feelings that you get from really helping your associate are immeasurable. Also, let's cover the salary. The position is going to pay absolutely nothing, pro bono, completely for free.”

Vince Vitale: At this point each of the candidates is saying this is insane. No one in their right mind would ever consider this job.

Vince Vitale: The interviewer says, "What if I told you that there is someone who actually currently holds this position? In fact, there are billions of people." Who? Moms. Then everybody got quite emotional and they realize everything he's said was like exactly, literally true of being a mother and Jo can affirm. But the power in it and if you watch it, I find myself, I get emotional. I've watched it like three times. Oh, I got emotional each time. The reason it was so powerful is because you think the interviewer is saying one thing and being particularly harsh. Okay, and then right at the end he reveals that the entire conversation was actually intended in a different way. The interviewees are saying, that's insane. No one would do that. Right. They think that they have one posture towards what's being said, and then at the very last second they realize, Oh no, wait, actually, I'm totally wrong that that's insane.

Vince Vitale: I'm totally wrong that no one would do that. Everyone's done that. Some of the interviewees themselves have done that and that change right at the end and we think something similar might be going on in this passage, so let's re-look at it in light of that. Here's the relevant text. "And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, Have mercy on me, oh Lord, son of David. My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. But he did not answer her a word and his disciples came and begged him saying, Send her away. She's crying out after us. They said, Send her away. He answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And to me, that's one of the first clues there, because it seems that that's clearly not true.

Jo Vitale: That's not true. I mean, we know that Jesus was sent first to the house of Israel, first to Israel in order as we've been already talking about, right through the Bible that God starts with the people of Israel. But the whole point is always to go forwards and bless. And how does Jesus, and the gospel, his great commission is to go and make disciples of all nations starting in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Clearly Jesus was not sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. He was sent first to them in order for it to then go out from there. So as soon as we hear that word only, it's like ding, ding, ding. Okay. Something here isn't right in terms of what Jesus is actually expressing, which says to us, okay, are these actually the opinions and words of Jesus, or is he actually reflecting the opinions and words of somebody else? Whose expression is he quoting here?

Vince Vitale: and maybe this Canaanite woman had heard some of the stories of Gentiles who had come to faith who were following Jesus. Maybe this is in particular something he was looking to correct in the disciples or in those who are following him or in the way culture was thinking about him that he had said first to the Jews and that was being interpreted as only to the Jews. And maybe that's one of the things he's looking to correct here. FF Bruce writes, and I think this is really important because I wonder if something like this could be going on in the passage. We can't be too confident in our interpretations here, especially when the interpretations are relying on possibly interactions that aren't just verbal, but FF Bruce says, "What if there was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke? The written record can preserve the spoken words. It cannot convey the tone of voice in which they were said. Maybe the tone of voice encourage the woman to persevere."

Vince Vitale: And I find it really interesting then as this passage goes on, she knelt before him, right? Taking that that posture almost of a dog under a table. And then he says, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." She responds, "Yes Lord. Yet even the little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from their master's table." I mean it's potentially almost theatrical in the way that they're going back and forth and you can imagine this being spoken with a tone that sort of implies we are playing out here before you some of the things that we have heard said in culture, maybe even some of the things that Jesus has heard implied by the disciples themselves. Imagine how powerful that would have been to see this acted out and then this woman putting herself in that position and then him saying the little dogs, her saying the little crumbs, both of those words would've had the eon at the end of it. They almost would have rhymed, those two words for a little dog and little crumb. And here they are kind of going back and forth in this interaction.

Jo Vitale: It's interesting because even the way that, I mean I've done it several times teaching in a classroom, I've seen Vince do the same thing. Often as a teacher, you take the role of devil's advocate, you express the opposite point of view in order to get your pupils and students to a place where they express the answer that you actually believe and think, but you're pushing them to it by the way that you're interacting and teaching. I mean we it all the time and I think we actually seeing Jesus doing the same thing. He's taking a rhetorical approach to this conversation, which is classic of Jewish teaching as well, isn't it? That you make a statement, you want the student to respond and the teaching comes out, not just by you saying this is exactly what you need to know.

Jo Vitale: Write it all down. But it's in this back and forth, this ebb and flow. And what's so beautiful actually about this interaction is it's rather than just saying what he thinks, Jesus is allowing the woman to be the one who's making the teaching point as if actually the word she's expressing are actually his perspective too. But he's allowing her to be the one who's making that point. And in that way he's actually putting her almost in the position of teacher over the disciples who are trying to send her away and having the wrong reaction. He's allowing the message to come through her and the message has been driving the conversation towards, and one scholar that I really respect is RT France, New Testament scholar, and he said it this way, "Jesus pays like a wise teacher who allows and indeed incites his people to mount a victorious argument against the foil of his own reluctance."

Jo Vitale: He functions as what in a different context might be called a devil's advocate and is not disappointed to be defeated in argument. And I just think that's such an amazing way that Jesus might do this. That he's not just imposing his own point of view, but he's trying to do something here that's more powerful than that, that's demonstrated in a way that is actually going to stay with the disciples. Cause they're so clearly being rebuked in their response, but in such a way that Jesus is lifting up the woman at the same time.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I think it's absolutely beautiful actually. And it also reminded me when I was boxing or in sporting context in general, but say you were supposed to do five rounds or something, and you'll understand this, Michael, being in the military as well, but you're supposed to do five rounds of something in training and you get to the fourth round and all of a sudden the words coming out of your coach's mouth is, "Is he going to do the fifth round? Nah, he's not going to do it. He's not tough enough. No, he can't go another round. He's about ready to give up. He's too tired. We better get somebody else in here. He's doesn't have a fifth round in him." And you know, there's that motivation that comes in in the tone of the voice of the coach.

Vince Vitale: You know that's not actually what the coach believes, but he's putting into his own voice what other people would say. And that motivates you to be ready for that fifth round. And I just think it's so powerful, this idea is that if Jesus is putting into his own voice some of the comments that maybe he has heard, even people who are following him say about Gentiles, referred to them as dogs, say that the gospel is just not for them. It is only for the Jews. And now he's putting these words into his own mouth. It's both challenging the woman because if the woman is going to follow him, people are going to call her these things, right? This is going to be part of the cross that she's going to have to bear. And it's partly him challenging her and saying, these are the sorts of words that you may have to deal with to follow me.

Vince Vitale: And she responds with that great statement of faith. And at the same, he then challenging the disciples and challenging those who are following him and challenging culture who maybe are using this type of language about her. They think they hear that coming out of Jesus's mouth and they want to affirm it. And then all of a sudden it gets turned around. He puts himself in the position of her being the one who teaches, right? She's not actually teaching him because it's not actually what he believes, but he elevates her to that position for her to be the one that then corrects culture and perhaps even some of those who are following him. I mean, that is so powerful.

Jo Vitale: And so in that sense, I think, yeah, this passage is jarring and it's hard for us to read, but I think the reason it's jarring is it because it's supposed to...It hits on the very things that we're struggling within in our own culture in terms of racism and we're panicking, is that what Jesus is saying? But actually it's just reflecting back to us, what are our prejudices? We've been taught something really important just like the disciples are here, but not because that's the view that Jesus holds, but it's kind of reflecting a mirror back on us and saying, where's your heart in all of this? Who do you think has a right to come to Jesus? Who do you think Jesus welcomes? And are they the people that you would welcome into your home, into your family? Are they the people that you would go out of your way to love and to serve, to lay down your life for?

Jo Vitale: Because they're clearly the people that Jesus is willing to lay down his life for. And it just one further contrast that stands out to me in the Mark passage is the way that right before this, immediately before this actually in Mark's gospel, Jesus has just been with Peter and called him out of the boat to walk on water. And after a while Peter has begun to sink. And then Jesus says to him, "You of little faith," and then you have this other passage where this woman who isn't a disciple, who's a woman, who's a foreigner, who's of a different race and religion. Though obviously at this point she's come to Jesus with faith, but she is the one who's being elevated. And the word used here is great is your faith, great is your faith. And so I think again, we're seeing that contrast and that teaching point really being dragged out and powerfully hitting home.

Michael Davis: What a great conversation. Guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, I hope that this is given a bit of clarity to this passage and just shown it as another instance of Jesus treating always, especially those who culture thought were outside the realm of who God could reach and said, no, the gospel is for them. The gospel is for him. The gospel is for her. The gospel is for everyone. And we have found as we've wrestled through this passage, it to be a beautiful one, one that has really lifted our faith. One that we thought was such a challenge and it was, and actually was a frustration at some point and now it had turned into something that really causes us to worship Jesus even more. We hope you found the same. The encouragement would be to continue to dig into passages like this deeply and to just be encouraged by the promises of the gospel. Colossians 3. "Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, [inaudible 00:00:32:36], slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all."

Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you guys next time.

Every article, podcast, and video on this website is made possible by the kindness of our supporters.

If you'd like to support our mission of sharing a thoughtful Christianity to the world, you can donate through our site.

Get our free , every other week, straight to your inbox.

Your podcast has started playing below. Feel free to continue browsing the site without interrupting your podcast!