What if Jesus Called You a Dog?

Check out this story about Jesus… 

Matthew 15:21-28

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Or how about this rendition from Mark?

Mark 7:24- 30 
 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.


The above story is one of those that has bothered me for years. The idea of Jesus calling someone a dog seems hard for most modern readers to accept. Some believe that the offensive language was later added by the authors. Others point to this statement as illustrating Jesus’ humanity. Some think of it as a test to demonstrate true faith in the face of a challenge.

It is an odd story where the woman almost seems to be the hero who teaches Jesus something. She is the one on the moral high ground although He is the one with the power. Jesus could have been exhausted from everyone wanting something from Him.

This story definitely shows Jesus’ awareness of His mission and focus on it. He relents to help the woman only after she demonstrates great faith and determination. Some might have thought of the woman as a trouble maker. It is clear that the disciples just wanted her to go away. In Mark’s rendition, Jesus and His disciples were in a house trying to get a break from the crowds.

At first Jesus did not respond to the woman’s request. When He does speak, He makes a challenging comment. The woman does not dispute his comment. Instead she humbly maneuvers through it to convince Jesus to act. Modern readers must be aware of the fact that Jesus made these comments to a foreigner on her own home turf. Jesus didn’t seem worried about causing offense. Throughout His ministry He seemed to say many things that even His closest disciples found hard to accept. 

Jesus was speaking to a foreigner. As a Jew, he had no responsibility to help her. She belonged to a group of people that were not liked by the Jews. All of these factors help fill in gaps in the story.

While I may never be able to reconcile Jesus’ words with my view of what a Messiah is supposed to be, I do believe that Jesus had a godly reason for what He did. More importantly I believe the woman shows us the impact of persistence and great faith.

2 responses to “What if Jesus Called You a Dog?

  1. Jesus seems to be calling forth humility, submission, and faith from the lady’s heart–admitting her own need to herself so that she would press on in spite of all else to seek salvation. Isn’t that what salvation is all about? I am lost (a hopeless sinner separated from a Holy God) and I need what You have, in spite of the discomfort and negative pull I feel at having to leave my comfort to admit it and step out in faith.
    Jesus does really understand the depths of the human heart.

  2. Shannon, M.Div.

    When faced with passages like this one, passages that challenge us to view God with more complexity than we would perhaps prefer, I believe we should sit with them. The temptation is to flatten them into the box we’ve predetermined for God, but if we do that, we will miss the opportunity to make our faith more real–that is, more based on the actual Christ rather than the one we think we know.

    In fact, in our attempts to rationalize Scripture and make it fit into our preconceptions, we can twist it so that it looks nothing like the text that’s actually there… like reading this story and being convinced that Jesus only called her a dog because the woman needed correction. As much as we might like to think so, that’s not the story as we have it in Mark or Matthew.

    So I applaud your wrestling with it. I hope the story never stops bothering you.

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