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

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-2

A Lesson Concerning Defilement.

The Pharisees voice an objection:

v. 1. Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,

v. 2. Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Then, when the Pharisees were becoming so wrought up that they were holding councils to destroy Him. The movement was extending beyond their control, the popular enthusiasm was still growing. They were beginning to realize that they had no ordinary person to deal with. And so their hostility caused them to reinforce the Pharisees of Galilee with the learned men from the metropolis, for Jerusalem was the stronghold of the strictest legalism among the Jews. The purpose of the deputation was to discredit Jesus as being careless and lax toward His disciples in His insistence upon keeping the regulations of the Jewish elders. Even during the Babylonian captivity, but especially since the time of Ezra, the interpretation or explanation of the Law, as made by the great rabbis of the Jews, had gradually grown into a large body of precepts, additional to the books of the Old Testament. This Mishna, as it was called, in later years received further additions in the so-called Gemara, all of which were incorporated in the Talmud, the religious book of the present-day Jews. These additional laws and precepts governed even the minutest details of everyday life, thus laying upon the average Jew an intolerable burden. The local rabbis and elders of the synagogues were supposed to teach all these precepts and insist upon their being observed most rigidly. A breach of these rabbinical rules was placed on a level with breaking the greatest moral laws. The tradition was as yet unwritten, it was the "law upon the lip," but its authority was the greater, the more remote in the past was the elder that had first spoken it. Note: Not the unhygienic or unaesthetic feature of coming to meals with dirty hands is attacked. It is an act of monstrous impiety, a breaking of sacred religious traditions that the disciples were guilty of in the opinion of the Pharisees. For such an act they excommunicated people from the synagogue. Their question implied also that Jesus was guilty for permitting such a sacrilege.

Verses 3-6

Christ's reply:

v. 3. But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

v. 4. For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother; and He that curseth father and mother, let him die the death.

v. 5. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free.

v. 6. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

The retort immediately places the issue in the proper light. Christ becomes the accuser, and the Pharisees and scribes the guilty. He says, in effect: Let your miserable charge stand, for the present; I cheerfully admit that the tradition of men is transgressed in our circle. But here is a far more serious matter. The choice is between the actual commands of God and the precepts of your teachers; your choice is the wrong one. The contrast is emphatic and clear-cut: The commandment of God your tradition. God's Law, to which Jesus refers, was clear and unmistakable, Exodus 21:17: Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 27:10. Your demand is a mere saying of men. And it is to be condemned absolutely, since it results in setting aside the Law of God. The Pharisees permitted children in the home to say the word corban , Mark 7:11, whereby they were supposed to absolve themselves from filial duties. The words literally read: He that says to his father or to his mother. Let it be a sacrifice what thou desirest of me as a help or benefit. This, according to tradition, excused children from helping their parents with money, goods, earnings, or any other material assistance. It implied that the children wanted to give such money or gift to God as a sacrifice, though very often even that was omitted. Christ's argument is: Even the honest pleading of previous obligation to God will not excuse a child for neglecting its duty to its parents, much less the ordinary careless, heartless, and profane manner in which this pretext was grasped. Thus were the Jewish teachers guilty before God, even according to the Old Testament, Proverbs 28:24. Thus were children dispensed from even the true works of love in this manner. "For the contention with the Pharisees really consisted in this, whether it be better to give presents to the parents or sacrifices to the priests. They said it was better to sacrifice. Thus they taught that the honor due to the parents was a mere ceremony, namely, to bow the head, to rise before them, and in outward behavior be respectful toward them.... Corban , that means a gift or sacrifice to God. As though a child would say: I should gladly give it to thee, but what shall I do? Even now it is not mine any more, but is given to God. Thus the name of God must be the cover for all shameful blasphemy and wickedness; as though God had taken from the father what the latter should receive from the son. " The Pharisees and scribes surely had invalidated, and were in the constant habit of setting aside, the commandment of God for their miserable tradition.

Verses 7-9

Christ substantiates His attack:

v. 7. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

v. 8. This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.

v. 9. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

He does not mince words; their sham and deceit, their shallow acting at religion, must be branded as such. What the Lord had spoken of the hypocrisy of the Jews in the time of Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31; Isaiah 1:1-5, applies, in fullest measure, to the scribes and Pharisees. Mere lip-service is an abomination to the Lord. There is no faith, no real love in their hearts. Their supposed orthodoxy is a hallucination, their entire religion is vain. The injunctions which they laid upon men without Scriptural warrant resulted only in their own condemnation, Psalms 4:2. "Out of these words of Christ thou mayest draw strong conclusions; first: Everything that is done without the Word of God is idolatry; secondly: Everything that is done according to the Word of God is true worship of God; also thirdly: All that is done without faith is sin; fourthly: All that is done in faith is a good work, for the Word and faith are indissolubly connected, as in holy marriage... We say also that the Pharisees were hypocrites and false pupils of Moses, because they held, if they only fulfilled the ceremonies outwardly, they would, for the sake of the mere work, obtain righteousness before God. This Moses truly did not want, but the ceremonies should be exercises of the pious, who previously were just by faith, and who thus kept the First Commandment before all. Furthermore, the reprobate people should, by external discipline, be held back and separated from the heathen. That is the meaning of Moses, if one understands him correctly."

Verses 10-11

Christ appeals to the people:

v. 10. And He called the multitude and said unto them, Hear and understand:

v. 11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Publicly had He been attacked by the Pharisees, publicly He defended Himself. There is a definite connection of this parabolic saying with the matter in dispute. This they should note carefully and try to understand. His reference is to moral defilement, to uncleanness of the soul. His distinction is that physical cleanness or uncleanness does not affect the heart, but that moral pollution will stain both heart and character. "This fine and pleasing contrast, 'going in' and 'coming out. ' is attractive. As though He would say: Why, what do they bother themselves with eating and drinking, or with that which enters into the mouth? Let them rather pay attention to that which goes out of the mouth. This we ought to watch. What goes into the mouth, that does not defile; but what goes out of the mouth, that defiles. Oh, those are detestable hypocrites, that are careful not to be defiled by those things that go into the mouth (which are God's creature); why do they not rather watch this which comes out of the mouth, which are works of the devil?"

Verses 12-14

The Pharisees take offense:

v. 12. Then came His disciples and said unto Him, Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?

v. 13. But He answered and said, Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.

v. 14. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

The disciples reported to the Lord the impression which His parable to the people had made on the Pharisees. The latter were highly scandalized and horrified, partly by the direct appeal to the multitude, partly by the point of the story, which they felt was directed against them. Jesus feels little concern about the state of their mind. All plants which God Himself has not planted, which are not growing in accordance with His will, with their roots in Him and living by faith in Him, are superfluous. They sink from the rank of cultivated plants to that of weeds that must be eradicated. God is most closely associated with them that are His own, but with them only. Every doctrine invented by man will not stand in His judgment. And every promoter of false doctrine will share in the uprooting and destroying of his false production. There is no compromise. Stay away from them, therefore, from the Pharisees and elders that attempt to force their man-made doctrines upon their hearers. They themselves are blind in spiritual matters. And they have blinded the majority of the people and will cause spiritual blindness in the case of all that follow their teaching. Thus the end of both will be destruction, moral, spiritual death.

Verses 15-20

Jesus explains the parable:

v. 15. Then answered Peter and said unto Him, Declare unto us this parable.

v. 16. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

v. 17. Do not ye yet understand that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

v. 18. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth, from the heart, and they defile the man.

v. 19. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

v. 20. These are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Peter, in his impulsive way, although he might have acted as spokesman for the Twelve, wants the saying explained, which has enough of the symbolical in it to cause some difficulty. But the occasion itself furnished a clue, and Peter's plea for a clearing up of the dark saying is reproved by the Lord: Can it be that even ye are yet so dense in spiritual matters? after two years of instruction? He wants His disciples to use their enlightened intellect properly, and not make a mystery of a plain matter. It is a matter of common knowledge that the food which the body uses influences only the physical and mental life directly, and does not concern the heart and spirit. By the throwing out of the useless, the indigestible and undigested matter, the body is continually purged. This physical process does not defile a person, just as this result will not follow his eating with unwashed hands. But the opposite is true of the things, words, and deeds, which, coming out of the heart, pass from the body by way of the mouth. "The Savior implies that evil works first pass through the channel of an evil mouth, thus disclosing the evil state of the heart. " The words representing the thoughts and desires directed toward such sins, they are morally defiling, they reveal the pollution existing in the heart. The evil thoughts, the evil conversations and discussions of the heart, are made manifest in all kinds of actual sins, envyings, and murders, the breaking of the marriage tie and the unauthorized assuming of relations permissible within holy wedlock only, the acquiring of the neighbor's property by wrong means, the defaming of the neighbor's good name, the speaking evil of God and man, those are the things which cause defilement and are stains on heart and character, not the omission of a mere ceremonial custom. "He that wishes to wash his hands, let him wash them; he that does not want to wash his hands, let him desist therefrom: those matters have nothing to do with righteousness and with sin; I do not want sin or righteousness to consist in them. Therefore you must separate righteousness and sin from such precepts of men. I do not object to any one's washing himself; but I do object to it that someone for that reason should consider himself just and holy before God."

Verse 21

The Syrophoenician Woman.

A journey to the North:

v. 21. Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

The events of the last weeks and days had left Jesus weary in body and mind. The people were incessant in their attendance upon Him, expecting all manner of miracles of healing, though they cared little for the Gospel-message which He was preaching. The Pharisees were becoming more bitter in their hostility, stirring up hatred among the people and placing all manner of obstructions in His way. So Christ deliberately took a much-needed rest. He withdrew from the densely populated districts along the Sea of Galilee and journeyed into Upper Galilee, into the region of Phoenicia near the large cities Tyre and Sidon. We have no information as to the duration and extent of this journey, and only one incident is narrated in the gospels.

Verse 22

The woman of Canaan:

v. 22. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

Matthew calls her a woman of Canaan because she was an inhabitant of the ancient country of Canaan or a descendant of the former tribes of Canaan, Genesis 10:15. Mark calls her a Syrophoenician, ( Mark 7:1-37:, after the name of the country where she lived. This woman had heard of Jesus; for His fame had spread far beyond the boundaries of Galilee, especially along the caravan roads. She was acquainted also with the sacred books of the Jews, or at least with their hope of the Messiah. Under the Spirit's guidance she formed the right conclusion, as shown in her address to the Lord. She calls Him both Lord, acknowledging Him to be the Lord from on high, and Son of David, which was the name of the Messiah. Her petition was a prayer of faith also because she cried for mercy, deeply conscious of the misery of her soul, and of the fact that whatever help she might expect would be her share only out of merciful sympathy on the part of Jesus. Note also: In one of the most terrible afflictions that may fall to the lot of a mother, she turns to the Lord alone; a shining example!

Verses 23-24

Jesus makes a trial of her faith:

v. 23. But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us.

v. 24. But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Christ's Sphere of Activity in his Prophetic Office

A good many unprejudiced, believing Bible-readers have struggled with a feeling of offended surprise at the words of Christ to the woman of Canaan: "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," Matthew 15:24. It may seem strange, also, that Christ commands His disciples: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not," Matthew 10:5-6. It is a matter of record, furthermore, that Jesus spent His ministry within the boundaries of Palestine, touching the adjacent heathen countries only by way of passing through quickly, as in the story told above.

Over against these facts there seems to stand the testimony of the prophets, whose predictions as to the sphere of Christ's activity are such as to cause one to feel that the entire earth is Christ's sphere of personal effort. The prophet says: "I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles," Isaiah 49:6. "And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising," Isaiah 60:3. "He will teach us of His ways," Isaiah 2:3. "The nations shall be blessed in Him, and in Him shall they glory," Jeremiah 4:2. "All nations whom Thou hast made shall worship before Thee," Psalms 86:9.

The contradiction is only apparent, however. St. Paul rightly says: "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also," Romans 3:29. The solution is easy if we remember two points. In the first place, Christ, in the case of the woman of Canaan, speaks of His own personal work. So far as His person was concerned. His ministry was limited to His countrymen, the Jews. In the second place, His instructions to His disciples indicate that it was God's will that the work of the new covenant should begin at Jerusalem, Luke 24:47. Throughout the New Testament this fact, that God wanted to make the people of His choice the recipients of the Gospel-message first among all nations, stands out very strongly.

But the work was not to be confined to the people of Judea or Palestine, Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8. Jesus Himself gave evidence of that. The first persons to give Him homage from outside of Bethlehem were the Magi from the East, Gentiles, by all accounts, Matthew 2:1-12. He Himself praised the faith of the centurion of Capernaum, Matthew 8:10. He converted the woman of Samaria and many of her townspeople, John 4:1-54. He was overcome by the faith of the Syrophoenician woman, Matthew 15:28. He predicted the coming of the Gentiles into the fold. Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29. He, finally, gave to His disciples the great command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15. All of which goes to show that God wanted His work to be carried out in an orderly way, according to a preconceived plan.

"Now He, the Light of the world, is indeed come for the salvation of the whole world, but for the establishment of the kingdom of light and life by the preaching of the Gospel and by the working of miracles, wherein the coming of the kingdom of heaven is indicated, He is sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, Romans 15:8, in order that the Shepherd of Israel might become the Shepherd of all nations in mercy. Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:22, and Simeon's prophecy of the Savior of all people and of the Light of the Gentiles, to the glory of the people of Israel, must be fulfilled, Luke 2:32. He says indeed: 'Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also must I bring'; but the Prophet of Galilee would not be a teacher of the Gentiles, but the voice of His calling should issue only through the mouths of the apostles, after He had completed the redemption of the world, in order that all the dispersed that by faith in Him would become children of God, might be brought together, John 11:52."

Verses 25-27

v. 25. Then came she and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, help me.

v. 26. But He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.

v. 27. And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.

Here is an example of persistent, importunate pleading, not only in her own interest, to take away the anguish of her soul, but also for her daughter, who was suffering with a particularly severe form of demoniacal possession. But she received a decided shock of disappointment. At first the Lord paid absolutely no attention to her, but continued His journey as though He had not heard her. In the mean time she must have continued her clamoring without abating the least in fervor, for the disciples find themselves constrained to make intercession for her. Their tone is not exceptionally gracious. It implies that they would gladly be rid of her, that her persistent crying was annoying them. As usual, they did not come out of the test with flying colors. In a harsh manner, implying that they had better see to their own affairs, Jesus tells them that His special mission concerns the Jewish people only. That was the second rebuff. Of a truth, Luther says, Christ nowhere in all the gospels is painted as being so hard as here.

The disciples are discouraged and hold their peace, but the woman redoubles her efforts. She has set her faith on the word and works of this man, whom she steadfastly believes to be the Messiah; and she refuses to give up. With new courage she flings herself in His way, worshiping Him as the Lord from heaven, and insisting that He must help, that He must grant her prayer. If prayer fails, if intercession fails, she is ready to storm heaven itself. Christ delivers His last blow by saying roughly, with the full force of His assumed unkindness: It isn't the proper thing, it shouldn't be done, to take the bread of the children and to throw it to the dogs. The implication was that the Gentile woman and all her family and people were not on a level with the Israelites, that they could be considered in the eyes of God only as dogs, while the Jews were His children. That was a stern judgment which the Lord rendered, in which there surely was not a glimmer of hope for the harassed mother. But the eyes of faith will see light where others find only Egyptian darkness. As Luther writes, there is more yes than no in Christ's speech; yea, nothing but yes , but very deep and hidden, and it seems nothing but no. There was not an absolute denial of her request, there was still room for an argument. And, besides, Christ had not compared her people and her family to the street-dogs, but to the house-dogs that live with their masters in the home. Instead, therefore, of turning away in hopeless discouragement, she turns to the attack: Yes, Lord, for also the house-dogs share in the meal of the children, though nothing but the crumbs fall to their lot. She had caught the Lord in His own argument, she had won a decided victory over Him. She is willing to be content with, yea, she demands as her right, the crumbs which the Jews were becoming tired of.

Verse 28

The victory of faith:

v. 28. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Regardless of her birth and nationality, this woman was a member of God's people, Romans 9:7-8; Galatians 4:28. She was a child of God by faith in her Savior, the Son of David. Her faith had conquered the Lord. And as a reward of her faith her wish was granted. In that very hour her daughter was restored to complete health. "Thus God wants to do even now with us. When He has denied our prayer for so long a time, and has always answered us no , but we firmly cling to the yes , then it must finally be yes and not no. For His word will not lie: 'Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. ' Thus this story is an especially fine example of true faith, that this must be exercised, and shall yet finally conquer and obtain all, if we follow this woman; for she will not let even the Lord take the yes out of her heart, that He be kind and would help."

Verse 29

Christ Teaches and Feeds Four Thousand.

The return to Galilee:

v. 29. And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the Sea of Galilee, and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.

After the healing of the Greek girl, Jesus continued His journey northward, and then turned east, along the boundaries of Coele-Syria, and into Gaulanitis, into the northern section of the region of Decapolis. From the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi He turned southward, and thus finally returned to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of the region known as Decapolis. Here it was that He again ascended a mountain and sat down. It was His usual way of preparing for a long discussion with His disciples.

Verses 30-31

Healing the multitudes:

v. 30. And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and He healed them,

v. 31. insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see; and they glorified the God of Israel. No evidence of a hunger of the soul, no desire for spiritual enlightenment, only for healing the body.

But Christ surely did not let this opportunity go by; He spoke to them of the one thing needful. But the multitudes came in endless procession, bearing their helpless relatives and friends, the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, or mutilated, whose members were dislocated or had been cut off, and a host of others. It was a repetition of previous occasions. They indicated their complete confidence in His power of healing by casting the sick people down at His feet. They had done their share, they knew He would do His. And His healing power went out once more upon those people of the border, half heathen, half Jewish, to their delighted wonder. All of the sick and crippled were restored to complete health, to the correct use of their members. And the multitudes gladly gave glory to the God of Israel, who had sent them this great Healer.

Verses 32-34

The great need of the people:

v. 32. Then Jesus called His disciples unto Him and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.

v. 33. And His disciples say unto Him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness as to fill so great a multitude?

v. 34. And Jesus said unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.

There was a certain faithfulness about the multitudes which caused the people to remain in the uninhabited places along the eastern shore with the Lord. Their wonder as one miracle was followed by another kept them alive and expectant. But in the meantime all the supplies which they might have brought along had been consumed, and there were indications of real distress and suffering among them. Christ's tender heart was again deeply touched. Calling His disciples together. He lays the matter before them, making them feel the responsibility for these hungry people. A beautiful word: And dismiss them hungry I will not. "Let us but learn to believe that we have the same Christ who takes an interest in us, even in our physical suffering, and always shows that these words: I have compassion on the poor people, are written in His heart with living letters; that He also would like us to know this and to hear the word of the Gospel in such a way as though He in this hour and daily were speaking to us, whenever we feel our trouble, yea, long before we ourselves begin to complain of it. For He is still, and will remain in eternity, the same Christ and has the same heart, thoughts, and words toward us that He was and had at that time, and has never, neither yesterday or ever, become different, nor will He today or tomorrow become a different Christ."

But the disciples had forgotten the miracles of a few short weeks before. In absolute helplessness they cast about for some way of meeting the emergency. They discuss ways and means of procuring and transporting a sufficient amount of food way out here into the meadows on the lake shore. The great size of the multitude appalls them. The Lord cuts the discussion short by His inquiry as to the amount of food available, and receives the answer.

Verses 35-39

The miracle:

v. 35. And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

v. 36. And He took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

v. 37. And they did all eat and were filled; and they took up of the broken meat that was left, seven basketfuls.

v. 38. And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children.

v. 39. And He sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.

Christ now took the situation wholly in hand, disgusted, probably, with the denseness of His disciples. He had the crowds sit down in an orderly manner to facilitate the distribution of the food; He took the bread and the fishes, pronounced the blessing upon them, broke them, gave them to His disciples, who, in turn, distributed both bread and fishes to the people. After all had been fully satisfied, the remaining fragments filled seven baskets. They bear a different name here than in chapter 14:20, either because they were made by a different process, or because they were exceptionally large containers to be carried on the back, or because Matthew gives them the name by which they were known among the people of that region, whose characteristic was predominantly Gentile. The number of people in the multitude is again recorded: four thousand, without women and children. Jesus now dismissed them, and crossed over the sea into the region called Magdala, which, as far as can be determined, seems to have bordered on the region of Gennesaret on the south, having the town of Dalmanutha as its metropolis.

Summary. Jesus gives a lesson concerning defilement, heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, performs other acts of healing, and feeds four thousand men.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/matthew-15.html. 1921-23.
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