Everybody’s a little bit racist, or so the song goes. But what about Jesus? The more time I spend with Matthew 15 (and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it), the more clearly it becomes a racially-motivated exchange. It’s one of the problem passages of the New Testament where Jesus comes out looking racist. It’s the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman who needs a miracle. To call her Syro-Phonecian is putting it nicely; Mark puts it nicely in his parallel version (7:24-30). But Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, a derogatory, outdated term that recalls a long history of racial tension between Jews and Canaanites. Where Mark tries to de-escalate the situation, Matthew reports that sparks were flying and tensions were high.
Jesus was only in Tyre and Sidon–a non-Jewish territory–because he’d gotten into a kerfuffle with the Pharisees and was laying low. Jesus left his rural Jewish homeland to spend a couple weeks hiding out with the Gentiles (read: pagans and hedonists). It’s not that Jesus and the disciples want to be around the Gentiles, it’s more that they don’t want to put their lives at risk by standing too close to an angry Pharisee. Continue reading