Thursday, August 18, 2022

Biblical Racial Slurs and Literary Classics

Suggested Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

Not too long ago I read Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin. While I enjoyed the books and the clear societal commentary, I was a little taken back by some of the language. Living in today's society which is so politically correct we don't even notice anymore, it was shocking to hear Twain's characters use the names for black people which were commonly employed during his time. Those are simply things that we are not used to hearing today, at least not in the circles I run in.

Something we overlook at our peril is that the Bible is also full of shocking stories and language in a very similar way to Twain's literary classics. In Matthew 15, we find the account of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus begging for him to save her demon-possessed daughter. And Jesus -- are you ready for this? -- ignores her. Jesus doesn't say a word to her and she keeps begging and begging. Finally, the disciples, in frustration, beg Jesus to send her away. Jesus' response is that he was only sent to help the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). "Translation: Sorry, lady, you're the wrong race so I can't help you." Then the woman throws herself at his feet and continues begging him to help and Jesus replies, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (Matthew 15:26).

Notice, Jesus didn't say "Dawg." He called her a canine. To anyone in that region, Jew, Arab, or Canaanite, being called a dog was an incredible insult and Jesus tells her he can't help her because she's a dog from the wrong race. Rather than arguing with him, though -- rather than saying, "Who are you calling a dog?" -- rather than protesting, "Us Canaanites are just as good as you Jews", the woman responds, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Matthew 15:27, HCSB). Jesus applauds her response and sends her on her way with her request granted.

As Christians, we could learn a lot from this woman who accepted the idea that Jesus wasn't beholden to her, that he wasn't obligated to help her, that he didn't owe her anything and she probably didn't even deserve his help but was willing not only to ask anyway but to beg in humility.

It is easy for us, the longer we follow Christ and try to live the way we are supposed to, the longer we interact as a member of the community of believers, to come to a point where we feel like God owes us. Far too often we come to God assuming we deserve what we are requesting or that we have earned something from God. But the truth is that all of us are just like that woman. All of us are unworthy of God's help, none of us have earned it or deserve it, and we should never take for granted that God will answer our prayers the way we want. But we should all ask anyway, humbly, acknowledging that God is great and we, compared to God, aren't even the fleas on the dog's back.

When we approach God, we should always be aware of how little God owes us but grateful that God hears us and responds to us. God isn't obligated to listen but God does. Never take that for granted.

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