Reading: Matthew 15
You may be familiar with the statement Jesus made, “What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'” (Matthew 15:11) Jesus offended the Pharisees because He was talking about their worship. It was their unclean worship coming out of their mouth that was causing them to be unclean.
I just noticed that today. This statement follows an interchange about their worship of God.
7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)
So when Jesus calls the crowd, in the next verse and talks about “what comes out of the mouth,” he is talking about worship, specifically, the worship of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. In effect, He is saying, “These Pharisees are telling you about what will make you clean and unclean if you eat it, or touch it. But I am telling you, that their very worship is unclean.” No wonder the next verse reads,
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)
Then they ask Jesus to explain the parable. I always found that funny because it didn't seem like parable to me. But it was. So Jesus explains that more familiar portion of the chapter,
17"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:17-20)
The parallel is striking: What was coming out of the Pharisees mouth was making them unclean... their false worship. And in the explanation, what comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the heart and it is, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Their false worship was the equivalent of evil thoughts, murder, etc.! No wonder Jesus could say, as we recently saw on Sunday Morning in John 16:8, that the world (including the Jews) needed to be convicted of their guilt in regard to not only their sin, but also their righteousness (John 16:8). The Jewish leaders believed they were doing God a service to crucify Jesus.
But so far, we have only learned what makes us unclean (the inside of us), and what cannot make us unclean (dirty hands, or different foods). We haven't yet learned how to get clean!
How are unclean people to get clean?
Jesus leaves this place and goes to a place that smacks with outward uncleaness... and apparently inward uncleanness too!
21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." (Matthew 15:21-22)
Now here is someone who is unclean (both externally, by the Pharisees' standards, and internally because she is demonized, or as Mark writes in his Gospel, “an unclean spirit”. (I find that Matthew's Gospel seems to often be more subtle than Mark or Luke.) Now, if ever a heart were unclean, this would be it. Is there any hope for the unclean heart of this little girl? The disciples apparently didn't think so. They wanted to get rid of her as a nuisance. After Jesus tells them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,”1 the woman gets through to Jesus and he tells her, “"It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." (Matthew 15:26) It seems as if Jesus is accenting the fact that this woman and her daughter are unclean, by referencing her status as a “dog” (an unclean Gentile). Never mind there may be some irony in the fact that she is not offended at being called a dog, while the Pharisees were offended when Jesus said their worship was unclean.
Her response reveals how unclean hearts are made clean.
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:27-28)
This Gentile woman believed there was enough provision at Christ's table for the crumbs to be sufficient to cure her daughter. Her faith was great because the object of her faith was the abundant provision of God's mercy in Christ. And it is from hearts that are cleaned by Christ that true worship comes.
29Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31)
After Christ healed them, true worship could come. This was different than the false worship of the Pharisees that this chapter began with.
And we know there is plenty of these crumbs to go around for all of us who need to be made clean. There is no limit here. For Jesus takes but seven loaves of bread, a few small fish, feeds 4,000 plus women and children. And the disciples pick up seven huge basketfuls of crumbs! There are plenty of crumbs of God's mercy availble for all of us who need it!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Since he said this to the disciples, it causes me wonder if he was testing whether or not they would even think it possible that this woman and her unclean daughter could possibly be one of those lost sheep.