Continued from Part 1.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
Why it’s mean
I’m not sure this needs much explanation. He begins by ignoring a woman asking for help for her daughter. Then the disciples ask him to get rid of her. Then he insists he’s only been sent to help Israelites. Then she kneels and begs again for help. Then he calls her a dog.
What it means
I’ve heard some interpretations that sort of soften this passage – for example, the Greek word for “dogs” might mean something cutesy like “puppies,” or maybe that whole phrase “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” was a common saying at the time that Jesus was just quoting, not speaking with his own words. But still, he quotes it, he ignores her, he calls her (at best) a puppy. I’m not sure I’d like anyone calling me even that.
Maybe (it’s easier to use that word than to go through 80000 boring pages of Biblical commentary to find support for what follows) something else is going on. Jesus had just argued with the Jewish elders about some of their traditions (notably about food), and found only hypocrisy and stubbornness in their responses. And then he runs into this Canaanite woman.
Let’s say you’re the Son of God and you’ve come to earth to teach, heal and save the human race from its sins. Let’s say you’re particularly fond of living as an example for others to follow. Let’s also say that one day you’re especially annoyed at some stubborn old jerks who can’t admit when they’re wrong, and you wish you could show them how to do that. But there’s a problem: you’re the Truth incarnate. You can’t be wrong.
Ok you’re not the Son of God, but Jesus is, and let’s say he’s in that same situation, and here comes this woman from a foreign land professing a foreign faith. Opportunity strikes, and Jesus takes it. He treats her as a typical Jew would at the time (ignoring her), and when he has to, speaks as any Jew would speak, quoting their common sayings about dogs or puppies or kittens or hamsters or whatever. Then she answers, and her answer strikes like a thunderbolt (green shirt?), because it is an answer spoken in desperate but humble, even humiliated, love:
Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.
“HAH! That’s a helluva point lady. You’re right and I’m wrong. Sorry for everything. Here’s some of that sweet, sweet healing you’re looking for.” That’s what Jesus might have said if he wasn’t Jesus. But the problem with Jesus is that he’s Jesus. So the Jesus version of that is what he actually says: “O woman, great is your faith!” The elders he’d been arguing with didn’t have the humility to admit that Jesus had a point. He takes this opportunity to show them that someone – even a nonbeliever – might have a good point, and that IT’S OK TO ADMIT IT WHEN SOMEONE HAS A GOOD POINT.
It would change the entire political landscape of America if we could do this as a culture. But as things are now, if President X said something, it’s wrong simply because he said it. God forbid our enemy might have a shred of truth or goodness, or might do something slightly decent. Then we might also have to be decent human beings and admit that.
Also, it’s interesting that the central image here is food, from the beginning of the chapter when he’s arguing with the elders, to the symbolic crumbs falling from the table. I enjoy food.
Jesus likes when you admit you’re wrong.
7. Ripping the Scribes and Pharisees a New One
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, `If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. (Matthew 23:13-38)
Why it’s mean
Here’s a list of the insults Jesus hurls at the scribes and pharisees in the verses above:
– children of hell
– blind guides
– blind fools
– blind men
– blind guides
– blind Pharisees (it’s awesome to use someone’s own name as an insult)
– whitewashed tombs
– sons of those who murdered the prophets
– brood of vipers
– those who won’t escape being sentenced to hell
– those upon whom will come ALL THE RIGHTEOUS BLOOD SHED ON EARTH
– those whose house is forsaken and desolate
Reminds me of Prince Hal addressing Falstaff in Henry IV:
Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack
and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the
day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes
capons and clocks the tongues of bawds and dials the
signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself
a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no
reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand
the time of the day.
These lies are like their father that begets them;
gross as a mountain, open, palpable. Why, thou
clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou
whoreson, obscene, grease tallow-catch…
I love that play.
What it means
Sometimes you just gotta call a spade a spade. When you’re in a position of privilege and authority, of high education and responsibility, and you take advantage of people instead of helping them, then yeah, you earned every word Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees. And maybe when you’re so close to the holy things of God you get numb to anything gentle, and the only way to get to your soul is to get mean.
Not sure what else to say here.
Jesus isn’t a fan of abused authority.
6. Yo Mama is Satan
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:31-44)
Why it’s mean
Rational Interlocutor A: Yo mama so fat, her gravitational field attracts satellites.
Rational Interlocutor B: Yo mama so ugly, when she walks into a bank, they turn off the security cameras.
Rational Interlocutor A: Yo mama so dumb, she bought tickets to Xbox Live.
Rational Interlocutor B: Yo mama is Satan.
Game, set, match.
What it means
Even on a list of the meanest things Jesus said, this is pretty mean. So it’s worth asking the question why calling someone a child of the devil was merited. Well, if there’s one thing Jesus doesn’t seem to tolerate at all, it’s lying. Maybe the reason why is that he saw the damage it does, not just to others, but to ourselves. We get used to lying to others; then it gets to be easy; then we lie to ourselves; then we believe our own lies. Then, in the end, the truth becomes so alien to us that it’s painful, and we treat it as an enemy. “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”
So telling the truth keeps us in tune with reality, whose source is God. Lying breaks that harmony and eventually throws us into a world of illusion and isolation. When we lie, our nature follows that of Satan, and therefore we become his children. So maybe we should tell the truth. Maybe even community leaders. Like politicians. Crazy.
Jesus: not a fan of the lying.