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 was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed 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 out 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 right 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 ESV
We’ve seen the ugly face of racist violence in New Zealand. So I thought it would be helpful to address this question to demonstrate that God has no place for racism in His kingdom.
Muslim polemicists point to this passage to argue that Jesus was only a prophet to Israel, after all, He told the Canaanite woman that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.
When people question Scripture, usually contextualisation is all you need to do. So in this case, Jesus may sound at first hearing to be racist, but when you hear Him commend her faith and deliver her daughter, you see that’s not true.
As for being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, think of what He said in John 10- “I have other sheep who are not of this sheepfold- I must call them too… so there will be one flock and one Shepherd”.
Jesus may have been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, but He sent His followers out to the world to call other sheep into His flock.
As for the Canaanite woman, she was of the ethnicity that God ordered Joshua to wipe out in Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Wasn’t that racist?
It wasn’t because of the Canaanites’ ethnicity that God ordered their destruction, but because of their sin. The reason Israel was in Egypt for so long was because the sins of the Canaanites hadn’t reached their full measure. They were the kind of people who sacrificed their children, not on the altar of their careers or convenience like Western aborters, but on the altar of one of their many gods. They had cult prostitutes as well, they worshipped sex and death cults. Sounds like the Western and Muslim words to be honest.
But far from calling for mass destruction, Jesus came to bring good news to enemies, as well as His own people. Far from calling down death upon the Canaanite woman, He commended her faith and delivered her daughter. His talk of dogs and tables was most likely Him employing a dose of irony that has got lost in translation.
He was giving the official Jewish line on Canaanite “dogs”, but His actions demonstrated the reality of His love for her and her daughter.
So was Jesus racist? No. If you’re a sinner, or a “dog”, He’s got good news for you. He can deliver you and your family, even from some things as ugly as demonic oppression and racism. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, Jesus can deliver you. Just repent and turn to Him for mercy and grace.