What don't you like about Jesus? - Part 1

By Robin Schumacher

Oftentimes when I engage unbelievers in a spiritual dialogue, it's common to hear a litany of complaints about the Church, the hypocrisy of Christians' behavior, and so on. Some of the criticisms are valid while others have no merit. However, because true Christianity isn't based on earthly humans or things, but rather a divine Person, I do my best to bring them back to Jesus and have them focus on Him instead. A question I typically is, "I hear what you're saying, but let's talk about Jesus for a minute. Tell me, what don't you like about Him?"

The vast majority of the time, there will be a very pregnant pause in the conversation, and for good reason. When Jesus was illegally put on trial by His enemies, Mark tells us: "Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any" (Mark 14:55). Christ's enemies had literally dogged His every step, sent false disciples to try and trick Him into some verbal gaffe, and yet there was absolutely no dirt they could drudge up against Him.

But every now and then, someone I've put my question to will bring up something they don't like about Jesus. This post and the next will address two of the most common complaints.

1. Jesus called a woman a "dog."

In Matthew 15:21-26, we find the following account: "Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, 'Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.' But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, 'Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.' But He answered and said, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, -Lord, help me!' And He answered and said, 'It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.'"

The objection against Jesus is that He disrespected this particular woman who had come to Him for help. Isn't His initial silence and following response insulting?

A couple of things are worth noting in this encounter. First, Jesus deliberately went into Gentile regions (Tyre and Sidon), which no pious Jew would think of doing. However, He didn't go there so much to minister as to take a break from the pressure put upon Him by Herod and the Jewish religious leaders.

In fact, He had previously and explicitly told His disciples to — at this time — focus on Israel and not the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5). Non-Jews were not to be forever ignored, but rather Israel was the primary, initial target of Jesus, for He was their promised Messiah (who would unfortunately be rejected).

Next, His initial silence is likely due to her "Son of David" remark, which was a Jewish Messianic title. When she, a Gentile, came to Him on Jewish ground/terms, He was silent, but that silence would not last for long.

When the woman addressed Jesus as "Lord" (a respectful "sir"), He then likens her to a "dog." However, the term Jesus uses for the woman is not the slur used by the Pharisees when referring to non-Jews. Whereas the Jewish religious leaders called Gentiles kyons that were despised eastern street animals known for eating garbage and human waste, Jesus uses the term kynarion, which refers to a family pet or lap dog that is lovingly cared for by its owners.

Jesus is not insulting the woman, but delaying His answer. Why the delay? We should always remember that every accepted prayer is not immediately an answered prayer. In much the same way that Jacob wrestled with God and would not let go until he was blessed (Genesis 32:28), this woman's tenacity is being tested and will also ultimately be rewarded.

The story concludes this way: "But she said, 'Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus said to her, 'O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once" (Matt. 15:27-28).

The woman's answer produces her desired end result. Moreover, Jesus lauds the woman by telling her that her faith is great. Interestingly, only two people are praised in this way by Jesus — the centurion whose servant was healed (Matthew 8:5-13) and this woman — both of whom are Gentiles.

This particular story in the gospels showcases the distinction between the Pharisees and religious Jews, and someone not belonging to the covenant people. The religious leaders rebuff Jesus' authority, are offended by His and His disciples' conduct, and know the letter of the Law but fail to understand its application. This woman, however, is a descendant of the Jews' ancient enemies, but approaches the King of kings with great faith and asks only for grace — and He receives her request.

Up Next: The problem people have with Jesus and Hell.

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Published 8-28-12