Matthew 15

The Contrast of Jewish Leaders and Gentiles

Traditions Over Commandments (1-9)  

After all of this, the religious leaders in Jerusalem came to pay Jesus a visit, ready to interrogate Him for His seeming disregard for Jewish tradition and custom. They began by asking Jesus about the tradition or custom of the Jewish elders (Jewish custom versus Mosaic directive) to wash hands before eating. This was not merely the washing of hands, but it was an elaborate and ritual washing of hands, cups, pan, kettles, and pitchers (1-2). Jesus turned their interrogation into His own interrogation, asking the delegation why they broke the fifth commandment given to Moses in order to give greater honor to virtually their own greed. Jesus quoted the fifth commandment concerning honoring of parents along with passages from Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9 concerning children who hold their parents in contempt. Jesus then went to showing them how their traditions were leading them to violate God's command for human-made customs designed to fulfill their own greed (3-4).  

The deceitful practice of the rich was actually quite sinister. They would take some valuable possession they did not want part with but especially did not want to use to support their needy older parents and dedicate it to God. Once it was dedicated to God, they could keep it in their own home for their own use but they could not use it for their parents' support. They would use their customs to nullify God's command to honor parents (5-6).

Jesus then quoted Isaiah 29:13, affirming these rich Jewish leaders honored Yahweh with their lips, but in their hearts they were not walking with God (7-8). Their worship was pure futility because it bore no genuine results. Worship should bring one near to God to walk with Him and be in intimate relationship with Him. Their worship was vain because they were teaching the rules of men as God's commandments. Genuine worship would have sought being and walking with God, deeply interested in what God had to say (9).

The Truth About Defilement (10-20)

Jesus then spent some time talking about defilement. The Jews taught about how not following certain customs defiled a person and made them unfit for relationship with Yahweh. They taught that contact with and digestion of certain external substances left them unfit for Yahweh. Jesus flipped their philosophy and teaching on its head by declaring it was not physical contact with external objects that made a person unfit or unable to walk in relationship with God. Jesus taught that it was what came out of a person's mouth that revealed their true heart nature, and it was what was in the heart that determined relational fitness. When heart motivations were contrary to God's person, then the same person would not be able to have a relationship with God (10-11).

The disciples told Jesus that He had offended the Pharisees with His parable about defilement, and they further had taken exception to His unacceptable teaching (12).  

Jesus told the disciples, in metaphor form, that every plant not planted by His Father would be uprooted. Jesus was likely speaking of teaching when He used the metaphor of being planted. Because their teaching was not spoken by the Father, it would ultimately be uprooted, so Jesus told the disciples not to pay attention to their words, which betrayed their own defilement. Jesus then used another metaphor of a blind beggar becoming dependent upon another blind beggar for guidance. In such relationships, disaster and failure is the ultimate outcome. A heart defiled cannot teach another defiled heart how to walk with Yahweh (14).

Peter wanted the parable more clearly clarified; the “planted" metaphor was not giving him the complete picture he was seeking. Jesus had hoped by now that this kind of teaching would make sense, but the disciples continued to struggle to understand that Jesus had come to restore relationship with Yahweh, not religious tradition (16). Jesus appealed to basic biology—what you eat is expelled; it does not reside, dwell, or live within (17). What comes through the mouth comes out of the heart, and what is in the heart is what is living, abiding, and dwelling in a permanent way. What remains in and a part of a person is what defiles a person (18).

Jesus then made a list of those kinds of things that can live within the heart and be a part of the heart. He listed them under the heading of evil thoughts and listed them in the order they are presented in the ten commandments. In the Greek, those evil thoughts are listed in the plural, indicating not a one-time reflection but an evil thought which rolled around in the mind again and again, thoughts that were nesting in the mind. Those thoughts eventually took the form of evil and negative words.

murders,
adulteries,
sexual immoralities,
thefts,
false witnessing,
and slanders (19).

It was not hand-washing or food-touching with some dirt on one's palm that made it impossible to deeply connect with Yahweh. What made relationship impossible was a heart filled with evil thoughts which made their way to the mouth and expressed all sorts of harsh and unloving motivations living within (20).

The Begging Canaanite Woman (21-28)

Jesus needed a break from all the harassment of the religious leaders, so He headed north to Tyre and Sidon. These were the port cities of Phoenicia, Tyre, being thirty-five miles from Galilee and Sidon being some sixty. This was the region of the Gentiles and the place where He was met by a Canaanite woman who came out crying for mercy and calling Jesus the Son of David.

Even up there in the area of Phoenicia, the land of Gentiles, Jesus' fame had been heard, and it was not easy on Jesus to find a place where He could get some rest from the load of ministry and the opposition of religious leaders. This Gentile woman needed her daughter healed of a demon who was putting her into the depths of despair (21-22).

Jesus oddly ignored her, but she cried out to Jesus all the more. The disciples were uncomfortable with that kind of attention while making their way through a region dominated by Roman power. To have a woman crying out after Jesus would have indeed made the disciples edgy. The disciples asked Jesus to rid them of her (23).

Jesus told the disciples He had come only to the lost sheep of Israel, just as Yahweh had promised, and for now that had to be the focus of His mission. It was as if Jesus saying to the disciples that He couldn't send her away with healing, but neither could He just send her away either. Jesus knew she was not the mission, but He was waiting on the Father to see what He might do while instructing His disciples (24).

The woman overheard Jesus' comment to His disciples and said something overwhelming to Jesus, "Lord, help me." Jesus persisted with His mission; He could not take the bread meant for God's own children and throw it out to the dogs (25-26). Jesus was picturing a family sitting and lounging around a table eating supper but not providing a dinner spot and family portion for the pets.

The woman's faith was amazing. It was like she understood Yahweh had to fulfill His word to Israel before He could take His saving power to the whole world, and she was fine with it. She responded as if to say, “Give the family their due, but don't deny the family pets to eat the crumbs that fall off the table." Yes, the woman is saying, “Jesus, throw me a crumb" (27).

In this one story, Matthew contrasted the faith of the religious leader with the faith of Gentile woman who did not demand anything more than the crumbs of Jesus’ ministry, believing the crumbs would be ample to heal her daughter. Jesus called her faith great and gave her the desire she requested, healing her distraught instantly (28-29).

Jesus Heals in the Mountains of Galilee (29-31)

Mark tells us Jesus went to the region of the Decapolis after Tyre and Sidon, an area made up of ten Roman cities. So Jesus left Tyre and went immediately to another mostly Gentile region where Gentiles gathered to Him after He went up on a mountain. Great crowds gathered, bringing Jesus:

the lame,
blind,
crippled,
a significant mute case (Mark 7:31-37),
and many others.

They put all their sick at Jesus' feet and He healed them.

The crowd of Gentiles wondered what it all meant when they were healed, but instead of letting their wondering turn them cynical like the religious leaders, they glorified God, knowing He was behind it all.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand (32-39)

After ministering to this large, impromptu crowd which had assembled to listen to Jesus, Jesus informed His disciples of the compassion He was experiencing for those Gentiles who had gathered. They had been with Him for three days. Jesus declared that He was unwilling to send them away to their homes, fearing some of the weaker ones would faint along the way, having come from great distances (32).

The disciples failed as miserably here as they did when Jesus fed the five thousand, but for different reasons. The disciples pondered where they might get bread enough to feed the Gentiles, not imagining Jesus Who was long on compassion would be quick to produce the same miracle among those Gentiles that He had among the Jews (33).

Jesus asked His disciples how many loaves of bread they had, and the text would imply they already knew: seven, along with two small fish. Jesus then had the crowd of Gentiles sit, and He took the loaves, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and then gave the broken loaves to his disciples to set before the people, which they did (34-36).

Deja vu—the crowd was satisfied, just like the feeding of the 5,000, and there were seven baskets filled with fragments for the disciples to eat (37).

Matthew records the number, 4,000 men, not counting the women and children (38).

Jesus sent the crowd away while the disciples claimed into a boat and went the the region of Magadan, the city of Mary Magdala, a place also called Dalmanutha (39).