“…the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.”
– Matthew 15:31
In Matthew 15, we see Jesus again confronted by the religious leaders. The Pharisees and scribes came asking Jesus why his disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. Instead of answering their question right away, Jesus asks them a question of his own. In , Jesus asks why the religious leaders break the commands of God to fulfill the requirements of their own tradition. Some of the traditions that were established based on the religious leaders’ interpretation of the law had loopholes in them. For instance, a person could dedicate money that they would normally use to help their parents with to the temple and continue to use those funds for their own advantage. Instead of obeying God’s command to honor your father and mother, they dishonor them by what they dedicate to the temple. While their deed is good, it results in breaking a command of God. God’s commands always come first. Jesus quotes a prophecy from Isaiah in which clearly shows the heart of the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus turns the religious leaders’ criticism into a teaching opportunity. Jesus tells all who are gathered that it is what comes out of our mouth that defiles us rather than what we put in it. Our words reveal the intentions of our heart. They can defile us when we gossip, lie, slander, etc. Jesus’ disciples said that the Pharisees were offended by what he said, but Jesus did not care. He was not afraid to proclaim the truth, even if that meant that some would be offended. Instead, Jesus uses imagery similar to his parable of the weeds in to explain what will happen to those religious leaders who reject him and are offended by his teaching. In , Jesus calls them blind guides who are leading other blind people. They are blind to the truth and are in danger of leading others astray.
Peter turns to Jesus and asks him to explain his parable. We see that the disciples may not have been the brightest bunch because Jesus is still surprised that they do not understand. He explains in very clear terms that it is not what we eat that defiles us, but the things we say because they come from the heart. He also says in that things such as murder, sexual immorality, theft, and slander all come from the intentions of the heart. The purpose of his teaching is that the rituals of the Pharisees are no good when their hearts are evil.
Jesus turns back to his public ministry to others. As he was traveling, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and begged him to help her demon-possessed daughter. Canaanites were Gentiles which means they were non-Jewish. It may seem rude of Jesus not to answer her, but Jesus explains in that his ministry is first to the people of Israel. We know that the gospel of Jesus Christ would later extend to the Gentiles, but at this point, Jesus’ focus was on his own people. As she persists, Jesus says that it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs. The children in this picture are the people of Israel and the dogs are Gentiles. The bread, the good news, was for Israel at this time. The woman, however, showed great faith by her persistence. She had trust that even the dogs would be fed in some way. Jesus, amazed by her faith, granted as she asked. This looks forward to the day when the Gentiles would be grafted into the body of Christ!
Jesus again draws great crowds of people bringing those in need of healing. Jesus’ ministry fulfills the prophecy from which Jesus had told John the Baptists’ disciples to report to John. When Jesus was with the crowds for a number of days, he had compassion on them because many had not eaten in a few days and were hungry. He asked, almost humorously, for his disciples to feed the crowd. In dismay, his disciples had no idea what to do since they were in an isolated location. They obviously did not remember what Jesus had already done at the feeding of the 5,000. Again, Jesus took what they had and multiplied it so that all were fed to their satisfaction and seven baskets of scraps were collected afterwards. As we said, Jesus’ disciples were not the most perceptive bunch and often did not understand his work or teaching. May we continually be receptive to Jesus Christ in our daily life.