Was Jesus a racist? According to Miguel De La Torre, he was. In an opinion-piece for the Associated Baptist Press, De La Torre sets forth an interpretation of Matthew 15:21-28 that is nothing short of heretical. De La Torre charges that, when Jesus addressed a Canaanite woman as a dog, he revealed that he was a racist.
Rather than summarizing the essay, I’ll ask you to read some of this one for yourself. Here’s De La Torre in his own words:
In the fullness of Jesus’ divinity, he had to learn how to be fully human. His family and culture were responsible for teaching him how to walk, how to talk, and how to be potty-trained.
He also learned about the superiority of Judaism and the inferiority of non-Jews, in the very same way that today there are those within the dominant culture who are taught America isÂ No. 1 . . .
Nevertheless, for Christians, the imago Dei finds its fullest expression in the personhood of Jesus as he turned many “rules” upside down. This is a truth that even Jesus, in his full humanity, had to learn.
To deny this woman a healing and call her a dog reveals the racism his culture taught him. But Jesus, unlike so many within the dominant social structure of today, was willing to hear the words of this woman of color, and learn from her.
And thanks to her, Jesus’ ministry was radically changed. The Canaanite woman responded by saying, “For even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”
Her remark shocked Jesus into realizing that faith was not contingent on a person’s ethnicity. In fact, Jesus had to admit that this was a woman of great faith.
This woman of color had to cross the “border” demarcated by Jesus’ culture. But she crosses this border not to worship her oppressor (Jesus), but to demand an equal place at the table of the Lord. She demands to be treated as an equal.
It matters little if she belongs. It matters less if she has proper documentation. Her daughter was sick and because of her humanity, she was entitled to a healing. She was more than the dog he called her.
Up to this point, the gospel message was exclusively for the Jews. In Matthew 10:5, Jesus sends his 12 disciples on their first missionary venture. He clearly instructs them, “Do not turn your steps into other nations, nor into Samaritan cities, rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Yet five chapters later, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman who existed on the margins of his society. She challenged Jesus with the good news that healing was not the exclusive property of one ethnic group. Instead, healing should be available to all who come.
Jesus learned something about his mission from this woman of color. How do we know this? By the end of his ministry when he gives the Great Commission, he commands his followers to go out to all nations, not just the people of Israel.
Now, if Jesus is willing to learn something from the margins of society, from those who he was taught were his inferiors, no better than dogs, shouldn’t Euro-Americans who call themselves his disciples today be willing to do likewise?
Friends, this essay in not just bad, it’s not even Christian. It’s so shot-through with error on so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to start. The Gospels nowhere depict Jesus as if he learned from sinners how to be more righteous. Sinners learned from Jesus, not vice versa. Moreover, since the New Testament consistently presents Jesus as a flawless human, the idea that Jesus needed moral tutelage is ridiculous. Just to name one text, Hebrews 4:15 says very clearly that Jesus was tempted in every way yet without sin (which would include the sin of racism!).
Exegetically, De La Torre has totally missed the point of the passage about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman. As a result, De La Torre couldn’t be more wrong in his indictment of Jesus. This is liberation theology gone to seed, and it is ugly indeed.