Today: [Matthew 15] Jesus Purposefully Offends the Pharisees and Rebuffs a Woman with a Sick Child: In chapter 15, we see Jesus conducting Himself in ways that are certainly contrary to the accepted standards of political correctness. He purposefully offends a group of leaders who are seeking after Him. He further verbally lashes a poor woman with a sick child, and actually refuses initially to heal the child because the woman is of the wrong race. Can you imagine this happening today?
[Mat 15:1-39 KJV] 1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. 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; 6 And honour not his father or his mother, [he shall be free]. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7 [Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. 10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand : 11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. 15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. 16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? 17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20 These are [the things] which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
In chapter 15, the Pharisees again, challenge Jesus on His alleged laxity regarding Jewish custom and religious laws. They observed that the disciples did not practice ceremonial washing of their hands before eating their bread. After returning from Babylonian exile, Rabbinical practice and teaching incorporated many extended interpretations and applications of the Torah related to everyday life. The demands were codified in written form and extremely stringent. The common practice of handwashing was not just hygienic. Each hand was to be washed three times using a specific cup, alternating each hand, respectively, and repeated both before and after each meal. This practice was to be practiced as well after rising from sleep and before engaging in worship. The disciples not practicing this ritual were constituted transgressors not because they were violating God’s word, but rather because they ignored the contemporary traditions of the Jewish elders.
We might look at this encounter and conclude how legalistic the Pharisees were. The fact of the matter is that the Pharisees and scribes put rules around God’s rules so that no one would break the rules. They would then (and still do) elaborate on these traditions until their legalism became so layered that it was no longer anchored at all in God’s word. Just as this is typified in the Jewish religion today, so there are many extra-biblical traditions and expectations in the church that have no actual connection to biblical mandate. We are talking about the unwritten, unspoken expectations that constitute the Christian cultural construct of what makes a good Christian or a bad Christian. One instance is church attendance itself. Certainly, it is a prerequisite upon Christians to gather together, but the early church came together every single day after laboring 12-18 hours in their common work and would pray, study and fellowship with a meal into the wee hours of the morning. Christian culture meets once a week in a special building constructed for that purpose and guilts anyone who doesn’t show up as being a lapsed Christian. From the first and second century perspective, this arrangement would be unrecognizable. The modern church has adopted many practices and standards of expectation by which it judges its adherents, whether they are sinful or not, that have no basis in biblical truth. Thus sadly, we can only conclude that Pharisaism is alive in well in our day just as it was on this particular day when these illegitimate authorities dared to challenge Jesus.
In answering the challenge of the Pharisees, Jesus levels a very personal and pointed charge at His accusers. He decries a common practice at the time, whereby they Pharisees justified neglecting their elderly by claiming that resources that should have been used to support their aged parents could not be used for that purpose because the monies had been dedicated to temple service. In verse 7, Jesus simply calls them out for their hypocrisy in justifying abuse of their elderly as an act of sacrificial piety by giving those funds into the temple treasury. What about today? How much of the budget of the church is expended for building programs, various upgrades in equipment or facility that if Jesus was in charge would be dispensed to the poor, the elderly, the widow and the orphan? The fact of the matter is that benevolence ministry in the church has been greatly marginalized, all in the name of allegedly necessary improvements and projects, and neither the leadership nor the people seem to think anything is amiss. Jesus calls this hypocrisy, and while we cannot hope to correct this systemic ill insofar as it exists in the church we are a part of, we can certainly as individuals address it in our own lives in terms of taking upon ourselves the responsibility that the church has so roundly and universally neglected.
In verse 12, the disciples take Jesus aside and bring it to His attention how offended the Pharisees were by what He had said to them. They apparently were expecting Jesus to garner the favor of these self-appointed religious authorities, but when Jesus acted so callously toward them, they were scandalized. Jesus dismisses their concerns and instructs the disciples to leave these alone, for they are blind leaders of the blind. We see here a profound truth that the failings of our leaders are always reflected as well in the character of their constituents. It is pointless to try to be an agent for change in a situation where both leaders and their constituents are past feeling. Multitudes of sincere believers remain in dead churches with spurious leadership with the belief that they will be uncontaminated or perhaps they think they can be an agent for change. In fact, this thinking is just a high-minded version of procrastination and cowardice, in not wanting to confront, not wanting to withdraw from a situation or group they may be ensconced in, but the instruction of Jesus is plain – leave them alone, separate from them lest you fall with them into the snare of their own making. Sadly, in verse 15 we see that the disciples weren’t listening as Peter speaking for all 12 asked Jesus to expound this “deep parable” to them, showing not only were they incapable of understanding but in fact were not interested in seeing things any differently than they did, in spite of Jesus clear teaching to the contrary.
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. 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. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast [it] to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 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. 29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. 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: 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. 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. 33 And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? 34 And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. 35 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. 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. 37 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken [meat] that was left seven baskets full. 38 And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children. 39 And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.
In verse 22, Jesus is greeted by a pagan woman asking Him to heal her daughter, who is grievously vexed with a devil. Again, we see the frequent encounters Jesus had with the demonic. This is very little in evidence today, and most Christians would identify various situations around them as arising from the demonic, and certainly not as prevalent as it seemed to be in the gospels. What the gospels identify as demonic, arising from sin and transgression, modern leaders address in terms of therapeutic language, seeking to merely rehabilitate through human agency what they, in fact, have no power to deliver in terms of simply casting out the demonic that holds so many captive.
There is apparently something in the woman’s approach that gave Jesus pause. He initially ignores her in v. 23 and then plainly tells her that His ministry is not available to her because she is not a Jew. The woman takes a different approach, coming closer to Him and falling on the ground in prostrate worship, asking Him to help her daughter. Jesus still refuses, calling both her and her daughter Gentile dogs, not eligible to receive the healing that is children’s bread only. Can you imagine a minister doing this today? I remember, as a young pastor, people would come to the altar for healing prayer, and I would ask them, “if God totally heals you will you give up your disability check and go back into the workforce?” They would invariably answer “no” whereupon I would send them back to their seat saying, “go sit down, healing is not available to you unless you are willing to take up your bed and walk…” (kind of lets you know why I am no longer a pastor at that particular church, doesn’t it?)
Having rebuffed the woman twice, something in her third impassioned plea convinces Him. After outright insulting her, she says, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table…” She has now humbled herself. God has an autonomic response to humility. Jesus, without another word, declares that her faith is great and that her daughter will be delivered, which happens at the very hour. What about you? Do you have situations in your life where you called out for healing, clearly provided in scripture as a past provision (by His stripes ye WERE healed)? Why didn’t you receive? Pastors and leaders will tell you that God chose not to heal you because He loves you so much, or that He is teaching you something, or sparing you from a greater evil by allowing you to continue in the sickness or disease you have not been healed of. What if exactly the opposite is true? If you are going to approach God’s word with any intellectual honesty, you have to ask yourself is the reason you are not healed because you have come to God with an unsanctified sense of entitlement that MUST be dealt within your own heart first if you ever hope to receive the touch of heaven? Sadly, many would rather go on their way in sickness and torment than to every look at themselves under such naked scrutiny.
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