Deconstructing Jesus: Jesus the Racist, Sexist, Jerk

Jesus can be a real racist, sexist jerk.

Remember when Jesus was a racist and a sexist in Matthew Chapter 15? Let me allow Matthew to tell you the story:

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region…”

Let me stop you there, Matthew. The first thing the author points out is that the woman is a Canaanite woman. She’s not Jewish. We will see Jesus “other” her. Canaanites are out. Jews are in.

OK. Continue Matthew…

“…came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But (Jesus) did not answer her at all.”

What parent cannot relate to this woman pleading for healing for her child? But Jesus gives her the silent treatment. It is interesting that the writer added the phrase “at all”. The writer is making it clear that Jesus’ completely ignored her. Not even a flinch, a grimace, or a dismissive fake smile to acknowledge her presence, much less compassion for the woman’s pain and desperation. The woman and her daughter are Canaanites.

Do the disciples plead with Jesus on behalf of the desperate woman and her tormented daughter?

“And (Jesus) disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

Jesus’ disciples share Jesus’ contempt for the Canaanite woman.

Jesus responds to the intercessions of the disciples on behalf of the woman and her daughter.

“(Jesus) answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus declares that he was sent by God only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Not for the lost sheep of Canaan. Jesus has a ‘race-based’ ministry.

The woman continues to plead and beg:

“But she came and knelt before (Jesus), saying, “Lord, help me.” 

Is Jesus moved by this woman on her knees pleading for the life of her child?

“(Jesus) answered, “It is not fair to to take the children’s food and throw it to the dog’s.”

Wow! So many things wrong with Jesus’ response. First, how would Jesus healing this woman’s daughter take anything away from anyone else? Does Jesus’ only have a limited amount of healing power? Second, Jesus says that the house of Israel are his children and the Canaanites are dogs. Jesus distinguishes between people based solely on their race. Explicit racism. Third, Jesus has no empathy or compassion for the woman and her daughter. Annoyed Jesus dismisses the woman and her daughter with contempt.

I have to wonder at this point if there is some sexism in play. When a Roman centurion pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant Jesus’ immediate response in Matthew 8:7 was, “I will come and cure him.” But the Canaanite woman does not get that response.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

For the sake of her daughter the woman was willing to play Jesus’ game and accommodate his misogyny and racism.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” 

Wouldn’t it have been reasonable and much more compassionate for Jesus to respond to the Canaanite woman’s first humble request? Why is Jesus only moved by an extraordinary and clever expression of faith? Why isn’t a desperate  mother and a dying daughter enough to move Jesus to action?

Those who defend Jesus’ behavior often contend Jesus was “testing” the woman. Isn’t having a tormented daughter on the brink of death a big enough test for any person? What kind of jerk needs to “test” a grieving and terrified mother!

In my opinion, the writer of Matthew was trying to demonstrate how righteous and compassionate Jesus was. Matthew was writing to a largely racist, sexist audience. Jesus was so righteous and compassionate he would even heal the DAUGHTER of a WOMAN who was a CANAANITE!

And, in fact, Jesus may have been rising above, to a degree, the racism and sexism of his culture. Maybe there is something commendable in that. But there isn’t anything Divine about that.

Is Jesus a racist, sexist, jerk? At times. Yes.

And Jesus is also very much a human being of his time and place in history.





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