Jesus, Disciple and Pharisee

Matthew 15:1-20

Matthew continues to move forward in his narrative, and beginning with this passage, he shows Jesus teaching the disciples to keep their distance from the Jewish religious leaders and their teachings. The scene begins with a confrontation between Jesus and some Pharisees who were sent from Jerusalem. They challenge Jesus over the issue of hand washing; His disciples don’t do the ritual hand washing before they eat. The washing of hands prior to eating is a traditional practice of the “righteous”, but it isn’t a requirement of the Law or of any of God’s commandments. Jesus quickly takes the offensives:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (15:3).

He continues in 15:4-6 to make His charge that their tradition allowed a person to not honor their parents by dedicating a possession to God, when it was needed by their parents. In order for a person to “honor” their parents, it would have been incumbent upon the person to see to the financial and physical needs of their parents when they were no longer able to work. If the person was wealthy, they might be able to “dedicate” assets to God (whatever that really means in practice) and still have resources to help their parents, but most people are not wealthy, and there is the loophole. They “dedicate” assets to God, give some money to the Temple, and fail to properly care for their parents, and yet still seem to do quite nicely themselves… all with the blessings of the Pharisees, who collect some extra cash in the process: Interesting arrangement.

Jesus equates this with “cursing” one’s parents; His reasoning is that cursing, as in language is a capital offense, and is not neglecting their needs a more serious act than saying something bad? Their little “tradition” might have lined their cash coffers, but it negated a divine imperative in the process… and they are here complaining about hand washing?

Jesus isn’t buying it.

After reciting the prophecy of Isaiah in vv. 7-9, He calls the crowd over in 15:10-11 to tell them that it isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him (food from non-ceremonially washed hands) but what comes out of a man’s mouth (like the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees).

The disciples react with concern, for they perceive that Jesus has offended the Pharisees sent to Him from Jerusalem; Jesus’ reaction shows us that He really couldn’t care less that they are offended (15:12-14). Perhaps one of these days, I’ll write a post about that.

Peter asks Jesus to explain His parable, and Jesus explained it like this:

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (15:16-20)

Tradition of the Church requires that I find a spin on this that makes you think that Jesus was always nice, gentle, sweet and diplomatic with the disciples, and with everyone other than the Pharisees, and that He was never all that tough on the Pharisees, but our traditions aren’t much better than those of the Pharisees when you get right down to cases, so here’s the obvious truth: Jesus wasn’t concerning Himself with their little feelings either at that moment. “Are you still so dull?”

The rest of what He said here really doesn’t require any further comment from me.

What happens next in Matthew’s narrative is that Jesus is going to move into Gentile territory and demonstrate this teaching in action in two different scenes, and we’ll get into the first of these next time…


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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7 Responses to Jesus, Disciple and Pharisee

  1. As I recall, the Gospel of Mark is filled with accounts of the disciples being “so dull,” and Jesus responding in frustration. They and he show their human side; they reflect they are slow to understand before they receive and abide in the Holy Spirit; he responds as a friend, wishing they could see the Father in him and hear his words as they were meant to be heard.

  2. ruffle4253 says:

    Great post. There are too many out there preaching the wrong messages of God. You are right on with your thoughts and insights of who Jesus was and how he treated people.. he may have seemed angry and frustrated but it was for their salvation. He hoped that his message would teach them how wrong their teachings and thinking was and to make changes. The apostle Paul was a lot like Jesus in his words as well.. To many pastors etc try the feel good and having to be all righteous to be even considered a Christian. Jesus never expected everyone to be perfect, only that they did their best, no less than that. Some were called to do more and more are expected from them. The Pharisees was a group who pride themselves on the power they had. A lot of people are that way and have become a stumbling block for many Christians, both new and old…..In my book I talk about the way the Pharisees and others were like and how we should learn from their mistakes… The one Pharisee that I talk about is Saul of tarsus who later became Paul the apostle of Christ. If you read the Old Testament, which I am sure you have, you can understand where Saul was coming from with his believes, even though they were distorted by his elders..Many religions that started out have become distorted and no longer hold all the truths the apostles once spoke of. In my book, I try to lead everyone back to a time when people believed and new the whole truth……. “Journey through the Bible A Fathers love for his children” By Kenneth Ruffle…. If you have any questions feel free to ask…

  3. It would not have been loving at all for Jesus to schmooz the Pharisees with platitudes and diplomacy. Jesus is always loving towards others, it’s our definition of loving that’s wrong. To quote JacobEmet: “There is no love without Truth.” That’s not verbatim but what stuck and I heard it first from Jacob.:-) Good post.

  4. Don, the practice of dedicating possessions to God is equivalent to our current practices of a “bequest”, where upon the death of the individual everything would go to the Temple, but until then the person has the right to use it for their own needs. In that manner anything beyond the persons needs was seen as belonging to God (i.e., the Temple) and was not available to be given to the parents.

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