Matthew 15 (NRSV)
The Tradition of the Elders
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem
Up to this point, most of Jesus’ ministry had been in the region of Galilee. Galilee was north of Judea, where Jerusalem is. These scribes and Pharisees were an official delegation from Jerusalem, coming to investigate and assess the words and work of this man Jesus.
and said, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”
Many ancient Jews took this tradition of the elders very seriously. One Bible commentator has written, “The Jewish Rabbi Jose saith, He sinneth as much who eateth with unwashen hands, as he that lieth with a harlot.”
3He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
8‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
9in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
How very convenient! A person could appear quite righteous by declaring that all his goods were devoted to God (while still himself retaining control of them) — and thereby deprive his parents of any access to them.
Things That Defile
10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
Psalm 19:14 (English Standard Version)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”
Now the Pharisees here were offended because their customs and preferences had been called into question. They were so sure they were right!
Ahh, the old matter of taking offense. How easily we become defensive when our fur has been rubbed the wrong way, when we have been caught in an act which does not reflect well upon us, when we speak harshly to others before we think of their perspective. Then, because we are offended, we offend others. Such a poor way to live! I have said it before and I will keep reminding myself until I die — the answer is simple — Choose NOT to be offended. Die to self. Keep your eyes on Jesus, be obedient to him, and show his grace to your world.
13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Unfortunately, the emphasis of the religious leader’s in Jesus’ day – and often in our own – is often only on these external things, not the internal things that make for true righteousness.
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
“Herein she reads us all a lesson. If we have had no answer to our pleading, do not give up, but go nearer to Christ.”
–Charles Haddon Spurgeon
26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
From Morning and Evening,
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
GREAT THOUGHTS OF CHRIST
This woman gained comfort in her misery by thinking great thoughts of Christ.
The Master had talked about the children’s bread. “Now,” she argued, “since You are the Master of the table of grace, I know that You are a generous housekeeper, and there is sure to be plenty of bread on Your table. There will be such an abundance for the children that there will be crumbs to throw on the floor for the dogs, and the children will fare none the worse because the dogs are fed.” She thought Him one who kept so fine a table that all that she needed would only be a crumb in comparison; yet remember, what she wanted was to have the devil cast out of her daughter. It was a very great thing to her, but she had such a high esteem of Christ that she said, “It is nothing to Him; it is but a crumb for Christ to give.”
This is the royal road to comfort. Great thoughts of your sin alone will drive you to despair; but great thoughts of Christ will guide you into the haven of peace. “My sins are many, but oh, it is nothing to Jesus to take them all away. The weight of my guilt presses me down as a giant’s foot would crush a worm, but it is no more than a grain of dust to Him, because He has already borne its curse in His own body on the tree. It will be only a small thing for Him to give me full remission, although it will be an infinite blessing for me to receive it.” The woman opens her needy soul very wide, expecting great things of Jesus, and He fills it with His love.
Dear reader, do the same. She won the victory by believing in Him. Her case is an instance of prevailing faith; and if we would conquer like her, we must imitate her tactics.
It would have been easy for this woman to give up. But she kept persisting, and finally Jesus told her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (15:26), referring to Israel’s priority over Gentiles. I find her response amazing: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (15:27). She was saying, “Jesus, if we’re talking about the power of heaven, then even a scrap is sufficient.”
She was right: The scraps that fall from God’s table are sufficient to meet any need on this earth. And she had faith that even the smallest measure would deliver her daughter completely. Friend, that is true faith! This woman didn’t ask timidly. She asked believing in God’s goodness, knowing that even the smallest scrap of His glory was enough to perform a miraculous deliverance.
Jesus Cures Many People
29After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. 30Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, 31so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
“A miracle is a sign of the love of Jesus
who yearns to heal each one of us
so that we can become truly alive and grow in love.”
–Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John.
What miracle(s) have you seen? How, then, have you grown in love?
Feeding the Four Thousand
32Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”
33The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?”
34Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.”
35Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 38Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
Back to verse 27, which teaches us the proper response to all of of Christ’s dealings in our lives: YES, LORD! We join the Canaanite woman HERE and say, “Yes, Lord” in the song “Trading My Sorrows.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.