During the Jan. 18 class on Jesus’ intercessory miracles (Cana, Jairus’ daughter, the Centurion’s servant, etc.), a student asked about the miracle where Jesus calls a woman a dog. I gave an off-the-cuff answer I wasn’t satisfied with, said I’d come back next week with something better.
Here’s the story from Matt 15: 21-28:
“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28* Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
Because she’s a pagan Canaanite it’s no surprise that she’s indirectly compared to a dog. And not in a nice, faithful Fido way, but like this: “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.” But as we’ll see, sometimes a dog is not a dog.
Here’s how it worked in class:
“Hey, daughter, remember last week you asked about the woman that Jesus called a dog. That’s a great story I’ve never covered in class before, but let’s look at it now before we get into the lesson plan.
Here we go: “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” The story starts with Jesus getting out of Judea for a while because he had been aggravating the scribes and Pharisees. Sidon is also where Elijah fled to after he aggravated King Ahab. You may remember he stayed in Zarephath. Tell me about it. He made food for the woman! Yes, her flour and oil didn’t run out; why? Cause she was nice to him! Yes; God favored her with miracles because of her charity, even though she was a…pagan! Yes. And remember Jesus aggravated people at the synagogue in Nazareth when he reminded them about Elijah working miracles for the pagan widow in Zarephath instead of helping Chosen People during the drought.
“And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” They don’t want a pagan woman hanging around. But Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Who are these lost sheep? Jews! Yes. But is Jesus telling her he won’t help? No. Right. He’s just saying that helping her isn’t his job. At the wedding in Cana what did Mary tell Jesus? They have no wine. Yes, and Jesus said…why is that my problem? Yes, and...my time has not yet come. Yes, good. Is Jesus saying he won’t help? No. Right. He’s not being mean or uncooperative in either case…I think he’s just giving people a chance to show their faith more clearly for the benefit of the people around them.
“But [the Canaanite woman] came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Is she giving up? No! Right. But Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Who are the children? Well…people’s kids? Umm, that’s not a bad guess; the children are God’s sons and daughters…his family…the Jews! Yes. And the dogs? Pagans! Yes, like…the woman! Yes. If we say “throw it to the dogs” or “work like a dog” or “live like a dog” is it good? No it’s bad. Yes, we don’t mean a happy family dog, a pet. We mean a rough dog, one that has a hard life. As Jesus said on another occasion: “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.” Yikes! So Jesus says the kids get the bread, not “the dogs.”
Do y’all know what swine are? Pigs? Yes, just checking. Pigs and dogs were unclean, like pagans.
The word dog shows up 41 times in the English Bible; pretty often. And what language was the New Testament written in? Greek! Yes. The Greek word for dog is kuon [on the board] (κυων). Almost every time an English Bible says dog, the Greeks say kuon. But when Jesus says “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the Greek word is kunarion [on the board] (κυναριον). Now in English if we want to call a dog [otb], we’d say, “here, dog.” But if it were a little dog, we’d say…here, doggie! Yes, doggie [otb]. To add an -ie or a -y does what to an English word? It makes it little! Yes. Well in Greek, -arion does the same thing. So if kuon means…dog, yes, then kunarion means…doggie! Yes. Can it mean puppy? Yes, puppy is ok too. We might also say lapdog. What’s that? A little dog that sits on your lap? Yes. Hey somebody dígame, cómo se llama “dog” en español? Perro [otb]. Yes. Some Spanish Bibles say perrillo [otb] in this story, what that mean? Puppy! Yes. the -illo suffix means…little! Yes.
So what Jesus says to the woman is, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the doggies, the pups.” I think the apostles expected Jesus to refer to the woman as a kuon, a dog. That was a common way for Jews to describe pagans. But instead, Jesus says “doggie,” which is kind of affectionate; how you’d call a pet. Maybe he was smiling a little bit as he spoke. Jesus is showing the apostles that even though he was sent to the Jews, he can include “all peoples” in his work, as Isaiah used to say.
Now, has Jesus rejected the woman this time? I don’t think so. Right. The woman now says, “even the doggies eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” What’s she mean? That she just wants a little bit of help? Yes. She’s not a greedy dog, but a harmless little…puppy! Yes, who’s happy to have what the children leave behind. She knows “the Master” will give them more food than they can eat. And how many times has she asked Jesus for a little help? Umm…three times! So…it’s a contract! Good thinking; in this case it’s not so much a contract as it is her firm demonstration of faith. How many times do you think she’s willing to ask Jesus to heal her daughter? As many times as it takes! Yes, but three times is enough. And Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. I bet the apostles were thinking, “Wow, this is like when Elijah fled to Sidon and brought the pagan widow’s dead son back to life.”
Tell me: did the Canaanite woman’s daughter have faith? We don’t know. Jairus’ daughter? Don’t know! Centurion’s servant? Don’t know! Paralyzed man? Don’t know! The wedding party at Cana? Don’t know! Right. Jesus did those people a favor because other people of faith asked for them. What’s that called? Intercession! Yes. And remind me who intercedes when a baby is baptized? The parents! And does Jesus do the parents a favor? Yes! Right!
Y’all are smart children!
For those who must know: Greek kuon κυων is related to the Latin canis via the Indo-European stem kwon. And a quick tour of other Bibles show the “dogs” to be cagnolini (Italian), cachorrinhos (Portuguese), petits chiens (French), små hunder (Norwegian), and щенята (Ukranian): not dogs, but doggies.