Reading for Friday, June 29: Matthew 15
Matthew 15 begins with the Pharisees questioning Jesus yet again. They questioned Jesus about His Sabbath practice in ch12, culminating in an accusation that He operated by the power of Satan rather than God. Of course, this leads to the double-barreled response from Jesus about judgment and the sign of Jonah. You’d think these guys would learn their lesson, but they’re back again, this time questioning Jesus about hand washing.
Yes, you read that right. Hand washing.
Apparently this was a really big deal back in the day. Ceremonial cleanliness was very important in Jewish culture. Still is. But it seems as if the whole thing just exasperates Jesus. Here he is, feeding the hungry, restoring sight to the blind, teaching these shepherd-less people about the nearness of God’s Kingdom for them…and these Pharisees show up with their nitpickiness about His lack of hand washing.
So, in essence, Jesus decides to address them on their own terms. “You want nitpicky? Okay, how about the way you get around God’s command to honor your father and mother?” It seems that it was a common practice to avoid this additional expense by claiming that you’d devoted that portion of your income to the Lord. Jesus sees this for the ruse it really is. “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me!'”
The disciples, in all sincerity, I believe, come to Jesus with an interesting question: “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Um, yeah. Pretty sure that was the intent.) Jesus replies with a teaching about what comes out of a man’s heart, not what he takes in through the mouth. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’,” (v19-20).
Matthew contrasts the attitudes of the Jewish religious leaders with the faith of the Canaanite woman. Jesus seems to be testing her with some of his statements: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” And, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” But she is undeterred. She continues to ask Jesus for help. She’s at the end of her rope, nowhere else to go. Wouldn’t we do the same thing on behalf of our children? Or our dear loved ones? Finally, Jesus turns to her and says, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And with this, Matthew winks to us. This is what faith looks like.