Read Matthew 15
For the inquiring among you, we have begun the second half of Matthew, at least by chapter number. And the second half of this incredible book of good news begs the question.
Why do we wash our hands before we eat?
Ebola, germs, cooties, enough said.
Mostly because growing up our parents, mostly mom, told us to wash our hands before we ate. It was the rule. If mom was out and dad was in charge, he might set aside the rule for dinner and even allow you to forego the napkins and use your shirt sleeve if you needed to wipe something from your mouth.
Otherwise, rules are rules. That is what the Pharisees believed. And why not? These religious rule keepers also legislated many of the rules they sought to enforce
And so the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him why his disciples did not follow the hand washing rules they had set.
For a bunch of really smart guys, the Pharisees just never seemed to learn. Jesus chastises them.
You guys make up your own rules while ignoring God’s rules.
You find a way to bend or reshape what God intended into your own perverse purpose.
Your lips utter pretty words but they are perfunctory.
You think you say the right things, but your heart gives away your selfish intent.
The Message gives us the words of Jesus as he quotes Isaiah.
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they’re worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy.
Jesus next made a teaching point to the entire crowd. He said listen and pay attention to this.
What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
Going forward from this point you might think that the same disciples that were present in chapter 14 were replaced with the second string. These had to be newcomers.
Remember that the disciples were not only witness to but part of a huge miracle in the previous chapter. They saw Jesus walk on the water.
They worshiped Jesus as the Son of God.
Now they tell Jesus that he might have offended the Pharisees. If you are running with the Son of God why do you care what the Pharisees think?
Jesus did not sugar coat his instructions to his disciples when they mentioned the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Leave them.”
Leave them. They have nothing for you.
Elsewhere Jesus told those who would listen to him to do what the Pharisees said but not to follow their example. The Pharisees provided terrible examples of how to live God’s way.
This time Jesus tells his disciples to leave the Pharisees. He is telling his disciples to ignore their presumed authority. He is telling them that they got it all wrong and they are leading others astray.
They are the blind and they are leading the blind and they are leading them to destruction.
The disciples were gaining eyes to see. One day, they would be the ones in direct conflict with Israel’s teachers.
Give the disciples some credit. They understood that the answers did not lie with the Pharisees so they once again asked Jesus to explain this parable.
Once again, I want you to picture Jesus scratching his head and saying, “I picked these guys myself. What was I thinking?”
Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
It is about the heart!
The Pharisees sought to maintain their status and their rules.
Jesus came to change the heart.
And so we come to the region of Tyre and Sidon, not the Bible Belt for sure. Jesus is approached by an Canaanite woman. Her daughter was possessed by demons.
The Canaanite people were in the Promised Land when Joshua brought the people into the land. It would seem that some survived to the time of Jesus. This woman knew enough to call him the Son of David.
But she was not one of the lost sheep of Israel. She probably didn’t have a family tree displayed in her living room with lineage traced back to Father Abraham.
She was begging for Jesus to help her daughter. The disciples were begging Jesus to send her away.
Jesus told her, you are outside the operational boundaries of my mission. It was as if Jesus had rules by which he would play by, until he saw the great faith of this woman.
Jesus was on a mission from God. He would not bypass Samaria to get to Galilee so would he really deviate from what was surely God’s plan?
God’s plan was to send his light and love and salvation to all humankind. First it would come to his chosen people, then to the world.
The faith of this woman told Jesus, she didn’t need to wait any longer. Jesus granted her request.
The woman knew what so many modern day Christians take so long to learn. It’s not about me, Lord. It is all about you.
Sometimes we are trapped into thinking that God’s plan is a rigid, impersonal set of rules or precepts or divine regulations and altogether miss the fact that God desires our hearts to be like his.
Now that’s a big-time plan.
A multitude gathered from all around the Sea of Galilee. There were thousands of people who had come to hear Jesus. Many came for healing. Jesus was nobody’s secret anymore.
The Pharisees hated him. His hometown did not believe in him. People flocked to him and were healed.
And then it was time to feed another multitude. The disciples are befuddled, “What can we do?”
You might have to ask just how long it had been since they had just been a part of feeding a multitude of 5000 men plus the women and children who accompanied them. They did that with 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
This is a multitude of 4000 and the disciples don’t know what to do. Were different permits required to perform miracles in this region?
Were they afraid because they had a little more bread and a few more fish this time and that God would not step in?
Maybe it is just another account of the same story, but wouldn’t you think that Matthew would have consolidated these accounts in the telling of the gospel. Surely, when the gospel was finally put into written format, this would have been reconciled if it was the same event.
And most surely, the people who loved to hear the gospel again and again would have called the author on it had it been two separate tellings of the same story.
That leaves us with a rather solid conclusion that this was a second multitude and a second miracle that almost mirrored the first.
The disciples were again part of the miracle.
Why they did not recall what had occurred not too much earlier and the feeding of the 4000 seemed like a new event is hard to explain.
Perhaps the disciples could not fully comprehend what was unfolding right before their eyes.
Perhaps until the Spirit came after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were only storing data. The time for analysis and interpretation had been scheduled but had not yet arrived.
Now don’t go into your week thinking, I can save 15% of my time by not washing my hands.
And surely don’t be a smart Alec by saying everyone knows that.
Know that Jesus is working on our heart.
God wants our heart shaped like his.
Think less of God’s plan in term of times, places, and logistics and do more thinking upon his desire for our hearts.