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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 15

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-39

Chapter 15

Then came to Jesus Scribes and Pharisees, which were from Jerusalem ( Matthew 15:1 ),

Hey, these guys had come a long way to challenge Him. They came all the way from Jerusalem clear up to Galilee, which was about a journey of over a week from Jerusalem to Galilee. So they came up to the Galilee and they said,

Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? ( Matthew 15:2 )

Now the Jews of course had the written law. But on top of the written law, they had developed the oral traditions. And these oral traditions many times actually superseded the law. As traditions have a way of becoming so imbedded in our being, that it's harder to break traditions then almost anything else. And Jesus was not one to conform to traditions. He was not in any wise a traditionalist. Of course, they also had the Talmud, the several volumes of the amplification and explanation of the law. So in it many, many traditions.

"So why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?

For they don't wash their hands before they eat bread ( Matthew 15:2 ).

Now from this, don't immediately conclude that they are a bunch of dirty slobs. According to the tradition, there were many things that could make a person unclean. But this uncleanness was a ceremonial uncleanness, which if you were ceremonial unclean, you could not enter into the temple. And many things could make you ceremonially unclean. If you would touch anything that was unclean, you became unclean. Now if you touched anything that was touched by something unclean, you became unclean.

And to them Gentiles were unclean. And if a Gentile walked across the dusty road, and you would walk across, and the dust that his foot touched would become unclean, because he was an unclean Gentile, and thus if you walked in the same dust, you became unclean because you touched the unclean dust that was made unclean by a Gentile, who walked over it.

There were certain foods that if you ate them would make you unclean. And so this business of washing became quite a tradition. And there were certain ways by which you had to wash in order that you might insure that you were cleansed from all of the dust or impurities, or the unclean things that you might have come in contact with. And you had to do this before you touched your food; else your food would be unclean. And when you ate it, you would become unclean because you were eating unclean food.

So they had the traditional ceremony for washing, and you would have to hold out your hands in an upright manner. And they would pour water over your hands as you rubbed your hands back and forth, up and down, and the water had to drip off of the wrist, because the water is now unclean, because it's touching whatever was unclean on your hands. And you got to make sure the water doesn't fall on you. So you hold it out and up, so that the water drips off your wrist, and doesn't hopefully run up your arm or that portion of your arm would be unclean.

Having then poured the water over, and washing your hands in this upright manner, then because the dirty water from your unclean fingers has come down over your hands, you've got to get rid of that. So you put your hands down next, and they pour water over the top of your hands, as you're rubbing your hands in a downward manner. And then finally rubbing your fingers together, as water is poured over, to get rid of all the uncleanness.

And here with the disciples just grabbing the bread and eating it, without going through this whole little ritual. And this is what Jesus was being challenged on. "Your disciples aren't following the traditions." There is nothing in the Bible that says you got to wash your hands a particular way. And at this point Jesus is about ready to blow tradition totally out of the window. So His disciples were accused of transgressing the traditions. Not going through the ceremonial washing of their hands before they eat their bread.

But he answered and said unto them, Why do you also transgress [not the tradition, notice] but you transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? ( Matthew 15:3 )

Oh, oh, watch out now, because even within the church it is possible for us to develop certain traditions, and to get hung up on traditions, and it is also possible that many of the traditions within the church are actually a violation of the commandment of God.

There was a lady who came to church here at Calvary Chapel invited by some of her friends, and she was visiting here from Missouri. And she happened to belong to the Missouri Senad Lutheran Church, and after service she came up to me and she was shaking. She was so angry. She said, "Why didn't you face the altar when you prayed?" I mean she was really upset. And I said, "What?" She said, "When you prayed you didn't turn and face the altar. Why didn't you?" I said, "Well, I guess because I don't think Jesus lives in the altar." But the traditions you see; "Why didn't you turn towards the statue of Jesus when you prayed?" But by traditions there is the violation of the commandment of God that says, we're not to have any images.

So you see, we're not too far removed from the Pharisees and from the Jews, who allow tradition to actually develop to the point, that by the traditions there was actually a violation of the commandment of God. So they were accusing the disciples of Jesus of not keeping the traditions. Jesus said, hey, you're violating not the traditions, but the commandments of God by your traditions.

For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curses his father or mother, let him die the death. But you say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mayest be provided by me; and he honors not his father or his mother, he shall be free. And thus you have made the commandment of God of none effect by your traditions ( Matthew 15:4-6 ).

Now the Bible says you weren't to curse your father or mother, that's the commandment of God. You're to honor them, not to curse them. But they had a tradition. If you preface your curses by saying, "look, this is for your good and your benefit, you're a dirty rotten... " It's a gift now, I am doing it for your benefit. I am telling you this for your benefit. They were free, as long as they would preface it by this is a corban and this is something by which you might be benefited.

And so Jesus points out that through their tradition they had actually made allowance for it, an actual violation of the commandment of God. And thus you've made the commandment of God of no effect by your traditions.

You hypocrites ( Matthew 15:7 ),

Jesus is pretty straight. In fact He gets so straight it's almost scary, when we move along in Matthew here.

You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draw near to me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men ( Matthew 15:7-9 ).

Now the church has developed many dogmas that they teach for doctrine, and are in the same position as were these Scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ, who began to honor and hold traditions and the commandments of men, even over the commandments of God.

So he called the multitude, and he said unto them, Now hear, and understand this: [and here goes tradition, bombed.] It's not that which goes into the mouth that defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this is what defiles the man ( Matthew 15:10-11 ).

Call the multitude and say," listen now, here me out, it's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, it's what comes out of your mouth that defiles you." Oh boy, that is just going against that whole tradition of how you're to eat with washed hands, and really even what you're to eat.

So go out and enjoy a pork chop. It's not what goes into your mouth that's gonna defile you, just make sure it's cooked well so all the tapeworms and the Trichinella is dead, so that you won't become infected. Yuck. Eat shrimp. Because it's not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles a man, it's what comes out of his mouth that defiles him. This is heavy, heavy duty.

Then his disciples said unto him, Hey, Lord don't you know that they were really offended at what you said? And Jesus answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up ( Matthew 15:12-13 ).

There are plants that are growing, weren't planted by the heavenly Father, they are gonna be rooted up. Just let them alone. Notice He didn't say: "go out and argue with them."

Just let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both of them will fall in the ditch. Then Peter said to him, Lord what did you mean by the parable? ( Matthew 15:14-15 )

And the parable was it's not what goes into the man's mouth that defiles him, but that which comes out. Peter said, "what do you mean by that Lord?"

And Jesus said, Don't you understand that whatsoever you eat goes into your belly and is cast out into the draught. [It goes through your body. It's perched.] But does things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they are the things that defile a man. For out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts, and murders, and adulteries, and fornications, and thefts, and false witness and blasphemies: and these are the things that defile a man: but to eat with unwashed hands doesn't defile you ( Matthew 15:16-20 ).

You don't have to go through a ceremonial washing before you eat food, it doesn't defile you, it goes through your body, passes through. But what you say, what comes out of your mouth, it reveals what's in your heart. And out of the mouth the hatred, the bitterness, those things that you express, the lust, the desires, these things that are in the heart, the things expressed by the mouth, and there is the true defilement of a man.

Then Jesus went from there, and he departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon ( Matthew 15:21 ).

Now going into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon He is actually moving into the territory that is Phoenician, and thus moving out from the totally Jewish community.

And, behold, there was a woman of Canaan [a Serah-Phoenician woman] who came out, [or lived in those same areas] and she cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; for my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and they besought him, saying, Lord would you send her away; she is bugging us ( Matthew 15:22-23 ).

What they were saying is, "Lord take care of the daughter, get rid of the woman, she won't let us alone."

But he answered and said, [no doubt in the hearing of the woman] I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord, help me. And he answered and said, It's not right to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs. And she said, unto him, That 's true, Lord: yet the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as you will. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour ( Matthew 15:24-28 ).

Now as we read the translated text we have difficulty. Difficulty understanding Jesus treating a woman in this rather cold and almost insulting manner, as it would appear from our text. But let us note a few things. Number one, Jesus from the beginning knew that He was gonna heal the daughter. He knows all things.

The Bible says they didn't need to testify to Jesus about anything because He knew all men. He knew what was in men. He knew what was in the heart of this woman. He knew the faith that was there, and He was drawing skillfully from her this great expression of faith that was there. And His first rebuff was that of silence. He didn't answer her at all. And over the apparent silence of Jesus, she persisted, until the disciples were so bugged by her, they said, "Lord why don't you just take care of her. She is a menace."

And Jesus, no doubt, as I say in her hearing, said, "Look, I am only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And so she came and she worshiped him, saying, "Lord help me." Now continuing to draw her out, He said, "It isn't right to take the children's bread." That is the children of Israel, and those benefit of healing that He had brought to them. It isn't right to take that and to cast it. And here you got to be careful; there were two words for dogs. And the Jews often called the Gentile, "Gentile dog", and it was a dirty word.

Now there are no swear words in Hebrew. They have no words to swear by in Hebrew, no curse words. If a Jew wants to curse he has to curse in English. There are no curse words in Hebrew, which I think is quite fascinating. But the dirtiest thing they can call a person is a dog. They had these wild dogs that run in packs, that everybody hated. They were vicious. They were just hated. And so they would refer to usually, rather then say, he is a Gentile, they would say, "he is a Gentile dog."

But then there was another Greek word for dog, which is a little puppy, which was usually around the table as the children were eating. Now when they ate they didn't have utensils like we have, the knives, and forks, and spoon, and so the kid didn't have to learn table etiquette. But they would just pick off with their hands and you would eat with your hands. And after you were through with your meal, you would then take a piece of the bread, and you would wipe your hands off with the piece of bread. Just clean all the grease and juices off with a piece of bread. And then they usually take that piece of bread and toss it to the little puppies that were around the table.

And so it was a very common picture in the minds of the people when Jesus said, "It isn't right to take the children's bread, and to cast it to puppies." And she said, "yes, Lord, but the little puppies eat the bread that falls from the master's table." Jesus said, oh, aha, all right. "Great is your faith." It was faith that conquered over the silence of Jesus. It was faith that conquered over the seaming reluctance of Jesus. It was faith that won. This mother was desperate.

Some of you mothers have wayward daughters. Now probably none of you would go so far as to say they are vexed by the devil, but here was a mother in real distress. And she came to Jesus and her faith triumphed. Listen, come to Jesus. Don't go away, until you've received. There was no way she was gonna go until she received help. Jesus answered and said unto her, "Oh woman, great is thy faith." Interesting He said that also of the Roman Centurion and of this Serah-Phoenician woman.

And Jesus departed from there, and He came near to the sea of Galilee; and he went up into a mountain, and he sat down there. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, and blind, and dumb, and maimed, and many others, and they cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them: Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, and the lame walking, and the blind were able to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and he said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have continued with me now for three days, and there is nothing to eat: And I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way. And His disciples said unto him, Where should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill this great multitude? And Jesus said unto them, How many loaves do you have? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And again they did all eat and were stuffed: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside the woman and children. And he sent away the multitude, and they took the ship, and they came to the coast of Magdala ( Matthew 15:29-39 ).

Now Magdala is probably two miles south of Capernaum there in the Sea of Galilee. They have discovered the ruins of the city of Magdala from which Mary Magdalene did come. And you can see the ruins there of Magdala today. And incidentally, someone wasn't reading the scriptures carefully and they built a church there at Magdala, that they call the Church of the Loaves and the Fishes, where they said Jesus fed the multitude. But notice He didn't come there, until after He had fed the multitude in the mountains apart from there. But it's convenient for the tour buses, and so they take you down by the Sea of Galilee there at Magdala to show you the mosaic of a church where there is loaves and fishes, and the mosaic on the floor. And they swear that this is the spot where it all happened. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/matthew-15.html. 2014.
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