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69. Teaching about cleansing (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23)
A common practice of the Jews in Jesus’ time was the ceremonial washing of hands. They believed that those who came in contact with ‘unclean’ people or things had to pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves. This was not a command of the law of Moses but a tradition of the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-5). Jesus argued that such traditions not only caused people to misunderstand the law, but stopped them from doing the more important things that the law required (Mark 7:6-8).
In support of this assertion, Jesus gave an example. The law of Moses taught people to respect and care for their aged parents, but the Jews had added a tradition that enabled them to ignore their parents. They could make a vow that when they died, their money and goods would be given to the temple. Having promised such things to God, they said they were not free to give them to anyone else, such as needy parents. Yet they themselves continued to enjoy their possessions as long as they lived. Their tradition contradicted the plain teaching of the law (Mark 7:9-13).
The Jews would not eat certain foods, believing that such foods made them unclean. Jesus said that just as eating with unwashed hands did not make a person unclean, neither did eating prohibited foods (Mark 7:14-16). The people really unacceptable with God were those who taught such traditions (Matthew 15:12-14).
What makes a person unclean is the evil that comes out of the mouth, not the food that goes into it. The source of all evil is a wicked heart, and this is what must be cleansed if a person is to be acceptable with God. The Pharisees’ traditions of cleansing prevented them from seeing this, even though it was the goal towards which Moses’ laws of cleansing pointed (Mark 7:17-23).
FURTHER WORK IN THE NORTH
70. In Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)
To get some peace and quiet away from the crowds, Jesus and his disciples went out of Palestine to the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon on the Phoenician coast (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24). When a woman of that area asked Jesus to drive a demon out of her daughter, he tested the genuineness of her faith before helping her. At first he did not answer; but the woman persisted (Matthew 15:22-23).
Jesus then told the woman that his work was with Israel, not with the surrounding nations. But her pleas for help continued (Matthew 15:24-25). Jesus added that the people of Israel were the favoured ‘children’ to benefit from his ministry, and it was not right to neglect them to feed the Gentile ‘dogs’. Still not giving up, the woman replied that although she was an unworthy Gentile ‘dog’, not fit to eat with the ‘children’ at Israel’s table, she would be satisfied to eat the crumbs that fell to the floor. Jesus was impressed with the genuineness of the woman’s faith and granted her request immediately (Matthew 15:26-28).
71. Ministry in the Decapolis (Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-8:10)
From the Mediterranean towns of Phoenicia, Jesus returned to the region around the Sea of Galilee, then continued on into the Decapolis, where the population was largely Gentile. It seems that for a period his ministry was mainly among Gentiles, and many became believers in the God of Israel (Matthew 15:29-31; Mark 7:31). One of the people he healed was a deaf and dumb man. Because of the man’s deafness, Jesus used actions rather than words to ensure that the man’s faith was active and that he understood Jesus’ actions (Mark 7:32-37).
Again Jesus had compassion when he saw a multitude of hungry people around him and he decided to feed them. On the previous occasion the crowd consisted largely of Jews (see John 6:14-15), but on this occasion it probably consisted largely of Gentiles. That may have been why the disciples doubted whether Jesus would use his power to feed them (Matthew 15:32-33; Mark 8:1-4). But he fed them as miraculously as he had the Jews (Matthew 15:34-39; Mark 8:5-10).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18