I have many good friends. They are really good people. My friends come from all sectors of society, because I believe diversity is beautiful. They include Muslims.
My friends and I often engage in intellectual discussions, on various issues. Quite unsurprisingly, religious affairs are among our favorite topics of discussion, because they are always interesting. Recently, I had a discussion with some of my Muslim friends on who Jesus really came for – that is, whose savior was (or is) He?
I said Jesus was sent to all people, from all corners of the world. They said Jesus was sent to only the people of Israel (the Jews), arguing and insisting that it is Mohammad who was sent to all mankind. In order to buttress their views, they referred to a scripture in the Bible where Jesus supposedly said non-Israelites are dogs. They wondered whether it can be reasonably said that somebody came to bring salvation to dogs.
The scripture in question is Matthew 15:26. This scripture is part of an encounter Jesus had with a Canaanite woman of great faith. Let me reproduce the whole passage so that the context of Jesus’ words can be fully noted. I quote from the Good News Bible, Matthew 15:21-28 (see also, Mark 7:24-30).
21. Jesus left that place and went off to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. 22. A Canaanite woman who lived in that region came to him. “Son of David!” she cried out. “Have mercy on me! My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.”
23. But Jesus did not say a word to her. His disciples came to him and begged him, “Send her away! She is following us and making all this noise!”
24. Then Jesus replied, “I have been sent only to those lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
25. At this the woman came and fell at his feet. “Help me, sir!” she said.
26. Jesus answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
27. “That’s true, sir,” she answered; “but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their masters’ table.”
28. So Jesus answered her, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.” And at that very moment her daughter was healed.
Taken at face value, or literally, it can indeed be said that Jesus said non-Israelites are dogs, in 15:26, especially considering that He had already clearly said, in 15:24, that He was sent only to the people of Israel (this is the scripture on which Mohammed and Muslims base themselves to say that he was sent to all mankind, unlike Jesus who they insist was sent to the Jews only).
But looked at more analytically, one finds that Jesus didn’t speak derogatorily of non-Israelites, supposedly calling them dogs. Rather, in speaking the way He did to the Canaanite woman, Jesus was only testing her faith, by kind of teasing her, and stretching her patience a little; but not intentionally frustrating her, to deny her request to relieve her daughter of the demon that was terrorizing her. This, to my mind, is the only logical explanation for Jesus’ speech. And that is precisely why Jesus finally told her that, ‘You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.’ Then we are told that, ‘And at that very moment her daughter was healed.’
In Romans 4:13 the apostle Paul says that, ‘God’s promises will come by faith.’ But God tests or allows our faith to be tested for authenticity or genuineness. God tested Abraham by requiring him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, whom he loved very much (see, Genesis chapter 22). God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith, by permitting Satan to strike Job with a dreadful skin disease, death of his children, and destruction of his property (see, Job chapters 1 and 2). Even Jesus Himself was tested by Satan in the desert (see, Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-13). The apostles of Jesus were tested by subjection to cruel punishments, including death (see, Acts 12:1-5). But at the end of the day, these great men emerged triumphant. So it was, with the Canaanite woman. Hers was a test of her pride, by being seemingly compared or equated to a dog. She swallowed her pride, submitted to God’s authority, and like the others before her, emerged victorious. The nature and kind of God’s tests keep changing because He is too original to duplicate Himself.
So, we learn that God’s tests are not insults at all. Rather, they are just that – tests; which A.S. Hornby, A.P. Cowie, and A.C. Gimson, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (1983), at page 909, define as a trial or examination of somebody’s powers, knowledge, skill, etc. God’s tests are innocent and harmless. Certainly, they are far from being insults. Tests are God’s techniques of judging our belief and trust in Him.
When we remain steadfast in our faith in God, with and/or in spite of our powers, knowledge and skill, we give meaning to the principal commandment that, ‘Worship no god but me’ (see, Exodus 20:3; and Deuteronomy 5:7), which Jesus stated is the greatest and most important commandment, clarifying it as, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (see, Matthew 22:36-38). We can only prove this love for God, by successfully passing His tests of our faith in Him, however burdensome or strenuous they may be. But one thing is for sure: God cannot test us beyond our ability to handle or cope with. Therefore, Jesus didn’t insult non-Israelites in His address to the Canaanite woman.