Jesus and the team head out from Galilee to Phoenicia, close to Tyre and Sidon. There a Gentile woman comes and asks him to heal her daughter but Jesus at first appears reluctant, he says that in the family, the children should eat first. She responds by pointing out that even dogs get to wat the scraps that the children are dropping. On that basis, Jesus tells her that her child is healed.
There does seem to be a starting priority in the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus goes to the Jews first, then Gentiles, later Paul will do the same. This reminds us that we are not God’s plan B but are grafted in as part of his plan A. The imagery of dogs picking up the kids’ scraps shows how Jesus’ kinsmen were careless in rejecting and ignoring the gospel so that we have benefited from its overflow.
But, is Jesus here having to learn from the woman? Is he wrongfooted by her response. Was Jesus narrow minded and racist even? I would suggest that the context helps us answer those questions with an emphatic no.
You see, here we have another parable about food and what we eat. Here, again we have images associated with uncleanness (dogs and Gentiles). Yet the dogs are in there with the family all eating together. Place this event and Jesus words in the context of his teaching that we are not defiled by what goes in but by what comes out and we have a strong message. Gentiles are not blocked from benefitting from Christ’s outpouring of grace due to uncleanness.
And so too, we should not be discouraged and assume that Christ will ban us from his table because we do not meet the expectations and standards of either religion or society around us. We do not need to be enslaved to shame and fear. We have a saviour who beckons us close and welcomes us in to the family.