A woman once came to Jesus and begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter (Mark 7:24-30). Mark calls her a Syrophoenician (from the region of Tyre and Sidon), Matthew a Canaanite (the “sea peoples” from the Mediterranean coast). She was a stranger in the land of Israel. We never even learn her name.
To the average Jewish mind of that day, she had three strikes against her. She was a woman. She was a foreigner. And her daughter had a malady interpreted as the curse of God. (A common prayer of the day: “Dear LORD, I thank you that I was not born a woman, a Samaritan or a leper.”)
And with faith almost unparalleled in the New Testament, the woman beats down Jesus in a debate (this is a paraphrase).
“Dogs don’t deserve children’s food.”
“I’ll take the scraps!”
“My God, I am profoundly moved! Your faith just saved your daughter, my friend. Bless you.”
It is a prime example of Jesus increasing “in wisdom,” of moving beyond the culture of his day. “Mr. Jesus died for the bigot, too” (Will Campbell), but the uncomfortable truth is that Jesus had to learn a better way himself. (It is one good reason to trust the gospel, because it refuses to whitewash such an awkwardness).
It is the apotheosis of self-righteousness, btw. Not just those jagged judgmentalisms hurled at the sins of others like so many stones. Or a smug, willful blindness to my own transgressions and shortcomings. But the stubborn refusal to meet people where they are, take some time and grow together. A gas-bloated conceit that refuses to acknowledge that we all have a ways to go yet. That there is no sin in learning. That learning takes time. And that the sooner we get over ourselves and start learning to help each other, the better.
It is a special kind of bigotry all its own. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).