Every few months, it seems, a new article pops up claiming that Jesus was racist.
The claim is based on the story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:21–28; Mark 7:24–30). When the woman asks Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter, he says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” The woman responds, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” at which point Jesus commends her faith and heals her daughter instantly. Until now, the argument goes, Jesus has been racist, dismissing foreign people as “dogs.” Supposedly, this encounter shows him the error of his ways.
We could respond at several levels. Theologically, we know Jesus was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Exegetically, the Syrophoenician encounter resembles many other healing stories in the Gospels that take the same broad shape: a request for healing, followed by a dialogue where Jesus raises the stakes (“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Who touched me?” “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”), with the miracle completing the sequence.
Canonically, we should note the Gentiles Christ has healed already (Matt. 8:5–13, 28–34), not to mention his conversation with a Samaritan woman, which scandalized his disciples (John 4:1–42). And historically, talking about “race” in this period is anachronistic in the first place. It’s also implausible that Matthew, who opens with Gentile Magi worshiping the newborn King and finishes with a commission to go and make disciples of all nations, would include a story meant to portray Jesus as motivated by ethnic prejudice. ...1
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