Red Letter Year: 4/24

Matthew 15:1-20

15 Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They said, “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they do not [ceremonially] wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered them, “And why do you, through your traditions, break the command of God? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say the one who says to their father and mother, ‘Whatever of mine would have been given to you is a gift to God,’ does not have to honor his father. And so you void the word of God through your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied well about you, when he said,

These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.Their worship is vanity, teaching human concepts as commands from God.’” 

10 Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into your mouth does not defile you; what comes out of your mouth defiles you.”

12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know the Pharisees heard what you said and were offended?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. 14 Leave them alone. They are blind guides. If a blind person guides another blind person, both will fall into a ditch.”

15 Then Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Do you still have no understanding? 17 Don’t you know that what goes in the mouth passes into the stomach and then is thrown out in the toilet. 18 But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, those defile a person. 19 Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, prostitutions, thefts, perjuries, and slanders. 20 These are what defile a person. Eating with unwashed hands does not defile a person.”



I have written before about how God hates religion. This passage is a prime example of why. The religious folk try to pick a fight with Jesus over a ceremonial ritual they have blown all out of proportion. Jesus responds with a more significant case study: these same religious folk were using God as an excuse for not caring for their parents – even though care for parents was required by God. They trade actual worship of God – expressed as care for those in need and those we have responsibility to – for false worship, vanity – keeping rules they themselves have made up to suit their own selfish interests. People in religious communities who are in positions of power are quite prone to this. As we saw yesterday, such expressions of power are always pretense, legitimate kingdom power never acts this way. Religion leaves people imprisoned and walking in a circle. Not moving anywhere, not engaging in real moral or personal development. Just playing a sad little, pointless game.

It’s interesting that the disciples try to play diplomat between Jesus and the religious folk. But Jesus wasn’t interested. “Leave them alone,” he says, they cannot be argued out of their folly. I agree. My point here is not to dissuade religious folk. But for many, that sad pointless game brings a lot of hurt. People hurt by being told they are “defiled” for various things they have or have not done. People hurt by being condemned for not eating the right food, for not completing the right rituals, for doing things related to careless, vague translations of what does defile a person. It’s also interesting that Peter asked for an explanation of the “parable.” There is no parable here. Jesus is direct and plain. But we still want to play at religion. I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Saved by grace, not by works, BUT…

It is true, true, true that we are saved by grace not by works – but that is not the whole story.

Eph. 2.8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We usually stop the quote there, but the next verse is important too:

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Take Peter for example. Jesus called him to be a disciple while he was (in his own estimation, see Lk. 5.8) a “sinful” man. Peter followed Jesus for three years. Peter healed people, cast out demons, walked on water. Then at the Last Supper, Jesus went around washing everyone’s feet. (John 13) When he got to Peter, Peter refused, telling Jesus, “you will never wash my feet.” To which Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part in me.”

We are saved by grace, but to remain with Jesus, we have to give in to what he requires of us. Which will make us uncomfortable. Press us. Kill our pride. Expose our vanities, our quirks, all the things we want to hide. Pretty much the way any intimate, loving relationship will. Being in relationship with Jesus will change us. Radically.

We all get like Peter sometimes. We all say to Jesus, you can’t have this, you are not washing that – I am too proud (or pseudo-humble, same thing) to let you do that. Whatever “that” is for you, the sooner you give in, the better. A lot better.

Whatever Jesus asks for – say yes. And I do mean what he personally asks you for – not what someone presuming to speak in his name asks for or thinks you should do. Jesus will make it clear to you directly. He may use others to help, but he will speak directly to you. When in doubt, ask for clarification. Because God speaks. Listen. Do what God says.