Matthew 15:1-20 The Heart Of The Matter.
Tradition must take a back seat to God’s commands. The Religious leadership in Jerusalem, of the scribes and Pharisees, objected to Jesus’ disciples not keeping the tradition of washing one’s hands before eating (vv. 1-2). Probably not surprising given that they were mostly working men. There was however a bigger question and concern here, why these men used their tradition to obviate the requirements of God’s commands (v. 3). We must not miss the fact that Jesus quotes both the fifth commandment and the case law respecting the honouring of one’s parents (v. 4; Ex. 20:12; 21:17; Dt. 6:16). There is a reason why this was a capital offence where the maximum penalty allowed was indeed death. To fail to support ones parents meant their death sentence. There were no pension plans or government assistance etc. Children were to provide for the sustenance of their parents, even as their parents had done for them. To fail to do so was equivalent to outright murder. Note well! Jesus criticized a tradition which obviated not only the command of the decalogue, but of the case law as well.
The case law in this case, addressed a specific example of the application of the fifth commandment. This is why the case laws are so crucial, and according to Jesus are still in force. The case laws seek to address the application and interpretation of the decalogue. In this case, it was a capital offence to argue that it was ok to let one’s parents starve to death if the resources one had were declared to be given directly to God. It is the worst kind of religion, which makes religious offerings a scapegoat from the obligation to support one’s family. Even though capital punishment was the maximum penalty in this case, this could obviously be commuted to financial compensation, as the only crime one could not commute capital punishment was first degree murder (Nu. 35:31). The apostate religious leadership obviated the force of the fifth commandment through elevating their tradition above the case law application of this commandment. This has been the case throughout history to the present, where individuals and the church are obviating the case laws through a tradition that teaches that they no longer have any force (vv. 5-6).
This tradition was pure hypocrisy, for they taught that it was ok to break the commandment if it was cloaked in the religious garb of serving God instead, when to serve the LORD in this case would be to keep the case law with the commandment. This was outward religious activity, of fine sounding words of supposed devotion, from those whose hearts were far from God’s. In so doing they were fulfilling the words of Isaiah, “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (vv. 7-9; Is. 29:13), to which Paul concurred (Cf. Col. 2:20-22). There is also an important principle laid down here by Jesus, that it is “not what goes into the mouth (that) defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (vv. 10-11). The apostate religious leadership were offended because their religiosity consisted in outward presentation without contrary inward substance. In fact, their outward words and acts were a cover up for the evil in their hearts. These are those not planted by the Father. To be truly in the family one must be planted, as one cannot plant themselves by their own efforts (vv. 12-13).
Apostate religious leaders and institutions are nothing more than blind leaders of the blind, and “both will fall into a ditch” (v. 14). Peter asked for this parable of one eating food to be explained, and it would not be the last time when the distinction of what is eaten would need to be explained to him (Cf. Acts 10:9ff.). Clearly what one eats is processed and the waste is eliminated. But what comes from the heart in actions and words speaks to the core of who a person really is. Words and deeds done are but the expression of the desires in a person’s heart – “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’ (15-20). Note well, the heart in the bible refers to the core of who a person is, and in most cases to the core of one’s thoughts. It is not the modern understanding which equates the heart strictly with emotions. There is nothing sentimental about the importance of one’s inner thinking given expression through words and deeds.