“Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” “ (Matthew 15:10 -15)
It was not Jesus’ calm in the face of the Pharisee’s upset that Peter needed explanation of, but that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person. Remember, Peter was raised as a Jew and as such obeyed the dietary laws with the same adherence as the 10 commandments; okay, maybe even more strictly!
“Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Verses 16 – 20)
While one could spend some good and worthwhile time thinking about, pondering, and then speaking about this passage from Matthew 15, RCL actually does not focus on the verses 15 to 20, but the verses that follow. What I wonder is how the two sections might connect.
“Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” (Verses 21 – 23)
In order to understand the disciples reaction, you have to understand that a Canaanite woman was not a Jew, and therefore not someone who a Jew who cared about his/her reputation would talk to or pay attention to. Any problems a Canaanite person had were not the concern of a Jew. Jesus’ initial response to here was just what the disciple expected.
“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Verse 24)
And yet, just above in the previous passage Jesus was all for consigning the “blind” Pharisees to be forever lost and not understanding the message that Jesus had to bring. And furthermore, as evidenced by the passage not listed here (verses one to nine) the Pharisees were according to Jesus not following God’s commandments at all. So something more than what is going on at the surface . . . . is going on.
“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Verses 25 -27)
I encourage you to think about this, beloved reader. What was coming out of this woman’s mouth were words of faith and belief in God, even when it is not part of her cultural or religious heritage.
“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Verse 28)
Where the Pharisees faltered and failed in keeping faith, this Canaanite woman exhibited faith in Jesus as Divine and capable of healing, and having compassion for all people. Where she might have had different faith practices (ie, eating with unwashed hands) what came from her heart, mind, and mouth were words of faith and belief.
When Jesus was turning upside down long held (but erroneous) ideas and traditions, it is no wonder the disciples needed help in understanding what was meant. And it is at such times that I am very grateful for the theological teaching I received from childhood on up. It is only now, as an adult, that I realize the gift that was given to me. Understanding the “upside down” messages that Jesus told his disciples.
May you, beloved reader, incorporate these teachings of Jesus into your life. Selah!