Did Jesus use a racist trope?


#1

On another forum I wrote about the occasion when Jesus appeared to refer to Gentiles as ‘dogs’. I then blogged about it. The core of my argument was this-

I incline to the believe that, like the Cana episode, our Lord had clearly decided to follow a particular path, in the one case the public performance of miracles and in the other the extending of His mission to the Gentiles. What He was undecided about was when to do so. He needed to encounter an event that would precipitate the change of direction, to act as a catalyst. In one instance it was His inability to refuse a request from His mother and in another it was His inability to resist an appeal to His compassion

Am I right do you think? Or is there a better way of understanding this episode without thinking that Jesus pandered to a form of racism? The Good Samaritan parable kind of proves that it is inconceivable that our Lord was racist but why would He use a word like ‘dogs’ in this context? Was it as derogatory in 1st Century Palestine as we think that it would be today?


#2

In one instance it was His inability to refuse a request from His mother and in another it was His inability to resist an appeal to His compassion

This take on it, though, suggests that Jesus wasn’t up to the task – that, in one case, his mother was more virtuous than He and in another, that a Gentile was more just than He. How might we suggest this and still hold to the doctrine that Jesus was fully man and fully God?

In the case of the Gentile woman, what we have is careful assembly of the Gospel by the inspired writer. Jesus has just finished castigating the Pharisees for (1) not following their own Law and (2) missing the point of the Law completely. As a result, in demonstrating His teachings, Jesus grants the woman’s request. He starts from the standard position of Jews in his day (i.e., Gentiles aren’t worthy of God’s mercy) and then moves to the position that He’s been teaching all along: the children of God aren’t accepting the graces that God is offering to them, and so, they’re letting them fall off the table. Therefore, it’s not a matter of “feeding the children first” or “taking food from children,” but rather, of allowing all to share in the food of life… :wink:


#3

I take your point. My contention, however, is that Jesus in both instances had anyway intended to perform public miracles and extend His mission to the Gentiles the question was when. He needed to unfold His mission in a progressive fashion in order to take His disciples with Him, or at least enough disciples to be able to carry on His mission after the Passion and Ascension. So it was a fine point deciding when in each case His ‘hour had come’. Something needed to happen to cause Him to decide to move from one phase of His mission to the next and the something in these cases were the prayers of our Lady and then the Canaanite woman.

The question of how the balance between the fully human and fully divine natures of our Lord worked themselves out in His daily life is ultimately beyond our power to comprehend.St Luke tells us that He grew in wisdom as He grew in stature (Lk 2:52) which at least implies that at certain moments He, as a man, had moments of insight which enabled Him to fully grasp something that He had not fully grasped before although that knowledge had always been acessible to His divine nature.


#4

For a long time I was stumped about this and thought it must have been His human nature that caused Jesus to speak that way. However, that wasn’t satisfying. What was satisfying, on the other hand, is a response I read from another Catholic (don’t remember who it is, but all credit goes to him or her!). I hope it’ll be just as satisfying, and interesting, for you as it was for me:

"Jesus was using the rhetorical device known as “analogy”.

For example, say I was trying to explain to Bobby why Bobby shouldn’t run around telling everybody he’s going to win 100 dollars in the lottery, when he doesn’t know if he’ll win or not. So I use the old proverb and say, “Bobby, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Am I calling lottery tickets eggs, and dollars chickens?

No, I am drawing an analogy. Telling people about theoretical lottery winnings is like counting eggs as chickens when you don’t know whether or not they’ll hatch. I don’t come right out and say that; I just draw the analogy and let you see it. Analogies are a way of explaining one’s reasoning, through making a sort of picture in people’s minds of a parallel situation.

So there’s an analogy drawn of Israel to children and Gentiles to housedogs, but it’s an analogy only. Analogy means it’s not the same; it’s a parallel situation that is like it, but not the same.

And since rabbis only challenged people they thought could give them a good answer back, and only did that as a way of teaching them, Jesus was actually making a pretty flattering offer to the Gentile woman that she give him (and the disciples and the Jewish crowd, some of whom really did think of Gentiles as lesser critters) a good answer for why Gentiles have the right to ask help. And she did.

The other thing to know here is that it was polite in the Mideast (and still is) to put yourself down a little, if you were asking for a favor or inviting somebody to your house. Your house is always going to be “my poor miserable hovel”, just like nowadays in the US, people tend to say things like, “Oh, we’re just having a little party, nothing fancy, don’t dress up and don’t bother getting all dressed up, but just come.”

So for the Gentile woman to draw the analogy of herself and her daughter as being like “puppies” being slipped food under the table, was not only turning the analogy to her advantage, but making it into an even more polite invitation than before. She was a clever lady and a quick thinker, which was probably why Jesus gave her a fairly strong rabbi challenge. She was up to it, and thus laid the groundwork in the apostles’ brains for Gentiles receiving Communion and otherwise being in the Church.

Of course, the problem with rhetorical devices is that not everybody is going to get it, unless they’ve heard the rhetorical device used before. That’s why in the olden olden days, everybody learned rhetoric right after grammar, at the beginning of their education, particularly for reading the Bible. That’s also why we’re supposed to learn this stuff in school, particularly in English/literature class; but a lot of schools don’t teach it now, because ooh, it’s so old-fashioned."


#5

I think you have received excellent responses to your actual question, from which I certainly learned a lot :slight_smile:

However, I am concerned that you seem to be leaning towards a form of “low Christology” in your thinking. This is not really Catholic–the Church teaches that Christ is fully human and fully Divine and cannot be separated.

Here is an good explanation embedded in a review of a review.

I hope this helps you!


#6

I don’t for a nano-second doubt that our Lord is fully human and fully Divine, I thought that was abundantly clear in what I had written. I am saying that none of us knows what that feels like and what the process of ‘growing in wisdom’ meant. In any event what both the events at Cana and with the Canaanite woman shows is that prayer can have the effect of changing God’s apparent purpose and that He has unfolded Revelation in a progressive manner. The only real question is why did He apparently refer to Gentiles as dogs?


#7

I am sorry I misunderstood you :o


#8

To apply modern expressions and outlooks to people of a previous era is invalid.The Jews 2000 years ago regarded the gentiles as " dogs" i.e. less than human, To call them racist for that is plainly off the track. Jesus used an expression which would be well known to his hearers,to emphasise that He was offering salvation first to the Jews.


#9

Well, Rabbi’s certainly used rhetorical devices and our Lord could have been doing that on this occasion. However, St Matthew also records that He said that He was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. If that was rhetorical it veers awfully close to deceit, which is unthinkable. If it was a straightforward statement of intent then it makes the argument that the ‘dogs’ statement was an analogy less likely IMO. The two things are obviously linked in some way.


#10

=catholicscot;11710033]On another forum I wrote about the occasion when Jesus appeared to refer to Gentiles as ‘dogs’. I then blogged about it. The core of my argument was this-

Am I right do you think? Or is there a better way of understanding this episode without thinking that Jesus pandered to a form of racism? The Good Samaritan parable kind of proves that it is inconceivable that our Lord was racist but why would He use a word like ‘dogs’ in this context? Was it as derogatory in 1st Century Palestine as we think that it would be today?

Glad you asked:)

That is precisely what Jesus would have ALL of us do when we don’t fully understand something.

What is needed here is a bit of historical perspective.

Go back to Mt. 10: 1-8 where Jesus transfers some of his Godly powers to the Apostles; which the instruction go forth and teach that “the Kingdom of God is at hand”;cf BUT DO NOT GO TO THE GENTILES

The Hebrew nation alone were the Chosen people in the OT times and history. If you were not a member of the 12 tribes you were looked down upon as a “lesser being.”

The term “dog” was indeed a derogatory comment: but one taken as the NORM [no shock to anyone Jesus was talking too;] it was a common slang term for outsiders.

**The evidence of this is in the response of “the dog” who was asking for a miracle.

cf. Yes Lord; but even the puppies eat the scraps that fall on the floor.**

Coming from a foreigner this was a SHOCKING display of FAITH in God. Christ recognizes her GREAT faith and does the miracle; then tells the lady: “go it is as you asked”

Her faith is again demonstrated when she does nOT question this fact.

So Christ used the term “dog” to teach a great moral lesson to the Jews He was teaching.:thumbsup:


#11

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28* Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

In verse 26, Jesus isn’t calling her a dog. When Jesus says “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the Greek word is kunarion (κυναριον), that is, puppies, pet dogs. So what Jesus says to the woman is, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the doggies, the pups.”

I think the apostles expected Jesus to refer to the woman as a kuon, a dog. That was a common way for Jews to describe pagans. But instead, Jesus says “doggie,” which is kind of affectionate; how you’d call a pet. Jesus is showing the apostles that even though he was sent to the Jews, he can include “all peoples” in his work, as Isaiah used to say.


#12

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