Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is Just Jesus, Week 59, Matthew, Part 57 in the series. Today Pastor G covers Matthew 15:1-28. Jesus engages in some “prophetic theater” with a Canaanite woman to show His disciples, and others observing, that He is not just the Savior of the Jews, He is the Savior of the world.
Welcome to week 59 of our Just Jesus series. This is Matthew Part 57. Last week we talked about Jesus and Peter walking on the water together. We talked about the true nature of Biblical faith and more. We finished out chapter fourteen of Matthew’s Gospel. Today, we’re starting in on Matthew 15. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today, let me hear you say or type “Hit Me Wit’ It G! I’m Ready!” Awesome. Let’s dive into chapter fifteen.
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” ~ Matthew 15:1-2.
Sheesh! Right? Here we go again! It was only a couple of chapters ago, only a couple of weeks ago in our study, that Jesus had to deal with one Pharisee complaint after another but these guys just don’t give up. No matter how much good Jesus does, they will always find an excuse to complain or criticize. What’s their beef this time? The Pharisees were very concerned with outward displays of religion and in keeping with the traditions of the elders. Not necessarily keeping the Law of God. It was just as big a deal to them to break a tradition of the elders. Traditionally, Jews are required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that includes bread or matzah.
The ritual, known as netilat yadayim, is typically done using a two-handled cup, but any vessel is acceptable. There are various customs regarding how the water should be poured, but a common practice is to pour twice on the right hand followed by twice on the left (this is reversed for those who are left-handed. Hasidic custom is to pour three times on each hand. The tradition is unrelated to personal hygiene, and a person is still required to perform this ritual even if his or her hands are already clean. After washing, they recite the blessing: Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al n’tilat yadayim. Which means Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands. Evidently they saw Jesus’ disciples just sit down and eat some bread without going through the netilat yadayim and this is what got them bent out of shape.
There are just some people in the world like that, who never seem to have anything good to say, quick to point a finger of blame or criticism, while not realizing there are still three fingers pointing back at themselves. Amen? Watch out for people like this! Avoid them if possible! Negative, pharisaic people will demean your value, destroy your image, disparage your dreams, discredit your imagination, dismiss your abilities, disbelieve your opinions and drive you crazily! Jesus is clearly not in the mood to take any guff off of these guys this day. Look at His response. He doesn’t even dignify their question with a response or try to defend His disciples actions. He just turns the tables on the Pharisees and points out how loosy goosy with the Law they are when it suits their purposes.
And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. ~ Matthew 15:3-6
He’s calling out the Pharisees on their breaking of the Law. Not just breaking tradition, but breaking the actual Law of God. The Law requires them to honor their parents but some of these guys are neglecting their parents in their old age, not caring for their physical needs, and they are justifying it by saying they are keeping the tithing commandment.
Mom and dad are starving and ask for some help and the Pharisees say “Sorry. Can’t help you. I already gave all my money to God.” Here they are, griping that Jesus’ disciples aren’t washing their hands before eating, meanwhile, they are all standing by and neglecting their own parents. Jesus continues His smackdown.
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” ~ Matthew 15:7-9
We’ve already talked about this a little but Jesus makes it crystal clear for us here. The Pharisees are taking precepts or teachings or traditions of men and treating them like doctrine, treating them like the true Law of God. That’s what they are doing with the handwashing thing. It’s not a Law. It’s a tradition.
Jesus backhands the Pharisees again, equating them with this prophecy of Isaiah. Remember. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is their creator. He and the Father are one. He is speaking the words of, and the opinion of their heavenly father. God says the Pharisees are hypocrites, fakers, liars. They honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him, therefore, from God’s point of view, their worship is in vain. That phrase in vain comes from the Greek word matén (matane) which means “to no purpose. Aimless. Pointless. Without any grounds.” All your religious show, all your going through the motions to impress people with how pious you are, it is pointless and accomplishes nothing in your relationship with God. Your heart is more important and your heart is false. The Pharisees were also ultra concerned with eating specific foods and avoiding specific foods, and not eating food without ritual handwashing first.
They were so concerned about things like that. Yet, they treated people like garbage, including, evidently, their own parents. Jesus addresses this too when He continues:
After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” ~ Matthew 15:10-11
Jesus says it’s not really about what we eat or don’t eat or drink or don’t drink. It’s really about how we speak and act and treat other people. The Pharisees are failing that test miserable. Look at verse 12.
Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” ~ Matthew 15:12
Yeah! I’ll bet they were! Horrible, negative, evil, hurtful people are always offended when you call them out on their horribleness, aren’t they? They can speak to you any way they like, be as rude and as dismissive and as hurtful as they want to be. But, if you point out any flaw of, any flaw, even a super obvious flaw that they are aware of and know they need to change? Oh my! How dare you! Right? The Pharisees are offended the disciples say. How does Jesus respond? Look at verse 13.
But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” ~ Matthew 15:13-14
If they are not of God, they will not stand. Jesus calls the Pharisees blind guides of the blind. Again, He’s obviously speaking of spiritual sight, spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding. Many times He’s said to us that we need to have eyes to see and ears to hear. This is connected. The Pharisees, have no spiritual vision. They are not true worshipers who worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. They are fakers and so they are leading everyone who follows them into the same trap. They are actually pulling people further away from God with their teachings. Peter addresses Jesus next.
Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? ~ Matthew 15:15-16
I’ll be honest. I’m with Jesus on this. That point He is making about calling the Pharisees blind guides and uprooted plants is pretty clear. Pretty obvious what He means to me. Jesus says “Are you STILL lacking in understanding also?” I get it! Right. Really Peter? You don’t know what THAT meant? I don’t know if it is just that we have the benefit of hindsight that the twelve disciples didn’t have or what.
But sometimes, they don’t get it, when, to me, it is incredibly obvious, and it just blows my mind. I want to pull Peter aside and say “For realz brah? How can you not get that? What do you mean “explain the parable to us.” Brah. It’s obvious. What’s to explain?” But Jesus is far more patient that I am so He takes the time to explain the parable to them. Look at verse 17 and following.
Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” ~ Matthew 15:17-20
In the original Aramaic and Greek this is more colorful. Basically, Jesus is saying “Why do the Pharisees make such a big deal about food. All food eventually becomes poop. That’s essentially what He’s saying. Why are you so worried about how My disciples eat food? It all becomes poop in the end. Pun intended.
Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? ~ Matthew 15:17
Don’t be so concerned about what goes INTO your mouth! Be far more concerned about what comes OUT OF YOUR MOUTH. The mouth is the outlet for what is in the heart. If the heart is full of evil thoughts and murders and adulteries and fornications and thefts and false witnesses and slanders. That’s the stuff that upsets God. Being critical and evil and false and hypocritical and mean-spirited is what defiles people, NOT eating bread without washing your hands. Let’s see what happens next. This next passage is one of the most difficult passages in the Gospels to reconcile with our general world view of the Gospel and of Jesus Himself. It’s tough and raises lots of questions. Look at verse 21 and following and we’ll stop a few times along the way and talk about why it feels problematic. After we get through the whole thing I’ll try to pull in some CIE to explain what Jesus was really up to in this uncharacteristically harsh conversation.
Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” ~ Matthew 15:21-23
Right away this seems pretty harsh to us, doesn’t it? We assume Jesus would want to help anyone who asked. That’s been His pattern so far. People from all over Israel come to Him with all manner of ailments and He heals them all. This basic scenario plays itself out over and over again throughout the Gospels. So, why in the world does Jesus ignore this Canaanite woman asking for help with her demon-possessed daughter? Not only Jesus but the disciples too? We’ve just heard Him talk about how important it is to do right, think right, speak right. Compassion is big in Jesus’ Gospel. Yet, the disciples are kind of like “UGH! This lady keeps bugging You to heal her demon-possessed daughter. She is soooooo annoying. Can’t you tell her to buzz off Jesus? She is giving us a headache with her constant bellyaching.” That’s not super out of character for the disciples at times but even Jesus, Himself seems to be ignoring her. He did not answer her a word. We say, “Where is the splangknidzomai? Where is the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus has been showing for everyone in Israel?
Now, we need to remember, during the Exodus, in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Joshua and the Israelites were commanded to basically exterminate the Canaanites, along with the Hittites and the Amorites, and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. It’s a tough passage to read and understand as well as God seems to be ordering genocide against six different groups of gentile people. That’s beyond our scope today, but just to understand the history and ongoing animosity between the Israelites and Canaanites.
For this Canaanite woman to address a man, an Israelite man, and use an Israelite Messianic term “Son of David” in that culture, in that time, was astounding and upsetting to the Israelite men. The disciples are irritated and want Jesus to dismiss her. Send her away. Jesus doesn’t send her away but He does finally speak to her.
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” ~ Matthew 15:24
Again, this seems so out of character for Jesus. So contrary to how He was treating everyone else who has been asking Him for healing and help. He’s only going to help Israelites? But in other passages we see Him speak to the Samaritan woman at the well. We see Him heal the servant of a Roman Centurion in Matthew 8 without any issues or initial refusals. So, this is really very strange yeah? Something else must be going on here. Based on everything else we know about Jesus He must be making a point. We already know healing and exorcising demons is simple for Him. It takes very little time and very little effort. Why does He seem so resistant to do it? He tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But God is the Creator of all people, all races, all nations right? Why limit His acts of healing and compassion to Israelites alone? Especially, when, as I mentioned He has already granted healings for Gentiles before? We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Let’s continue.
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” ~ Matthew 15:25-26
Now, this, especially feels harsh yeah? He basically calls this lady a dog. It’s not good to take the children of God’s bread and toss it to the dogs. Now, again, remember this woman is a Canaanite. The ancient Israelites and the ancient Canaanites were sworn enemies at one time during the Exodus and current relations aren’t great either. He’s voicing what most Israelites truthfully feel about the Canaanites. The Jews are the chosen race. Jesus has come to bless them. His time on earth is limited. If He spends time helping her it might take away time from helping an Israelite in need. That’s the general point, and again, Jesus is voicing what most people in Israel felt. What happens next?
But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. ~ Matthew 15:24-28
Throughout all of this, the woman remains humble. She admits her lesser status as a non Israelite, but still, she persistently asks and begs Jesus for help and He finally helps her, instantly healing her daughter. So what was all this about?
Essentially, this is “prophetic theater.” Jesus always intended to help the woman and heal her daughter, but knowing the thoughts of those around Him He orchestrates the conversation. So all of this was a lesson for the disciples and for all other Jews and for any Gentiles who witnessed it. She calls Jesus Son of David and calls Him master or Lord. In short, Jesus was role-playing when he referred to Canaanites as “dogs.”
He was doing this with the loving motive of freeing people from the racist curse that had persisted since Joshua’s bloody conquest of the land of Canaan. This HAS to be what is going on because the alternative simply doesn’t fit with any of the other contexts of Jesus we know. Jesus must have been up to something here, speaking in a leading or even tongue-in-cheek kind of way. It seems like perhaps He was teaching the disciples, the woman, and all of us that His power is much greater than we can imagine, and His redemptive reach is far greater than we can conceive. Jesus uses this conversation with the Canaanite woman and the words she speaks that He already knew she was going to speak to teach everyone else a lesson about God’s grace. God’s grace both to the Jew and also to the Gentile.
She knew she didn’t deserve God’s grace. She knew she didn’t deserve the blessings of the Messiah. She was not even Jewish! But, she also knew that the power of Jesus was so great that even the leftover crumbs were miraculous enough to set her daughter free from spiritual bondage! The lesson for all of us Gentiles reading this 2,000 years later is that the Jewish Messiah is willing to bless us as well if we come to Him in the same way this woman did. Humbly, persistently, and full of faith. “I KNOW that You CAN Jesus! I HOPE that You are WILLING.” That’s the recipe for you and me to experience the miraculous power of Jesus in our lives as well. He’s not just for the Jews. He is the Savior of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. It’s like the Apostle Paul tells those of us who follow and trust in Jesus in Galatians 3:8-9 and 28-29
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer…. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. ~ Galatians 3:8-9, 28-29
Jesus, in His little role play lesson with the Canaanite woman makes this clear to the disciples and others around. While you may all think the Messiah is only for the Jews and while you may all think of the Gentiles as dogs compared to you, if they come to God in humble repentance and faith, through Jesus, like this woman did, they will be counted as children of Abraham and heirs according to the same eternal promise God gave Abraham. We are adopted into Abraham’s family and God’s family. We have been grafted into the Olive Tree that is Israel. Paul talks about this in Romans 11 and reminds us who are grafted in Gentiles to remain humble and recognize the great honor we have been given.
How humble, how gracious, how full of faith are you today, compared to this Canaanite woman? When you come to God and ask for a miracle and His answer at first seems to be no, do you give up and walk away dejected? Or do you, like this woman, persist and persist, knowing God can help you and just humbly praying that He will help you. Jesus urges us in parables to be persistent in our asking, seeking, and knocking, just as this woman was. That’s a powerful lesson for each of us today. Amen?
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~