That Which Defiles: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  “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” (verses 1-2; 16-20).

This passage focuses on the main idea that spiritual uncleanness is in the heart, the will, the mind, or whatever term is used for the spiritual nature of the person. It does not come from eating without washing the hands. The keeping of external regulations was to have directed the faithful to focus on inner spirituality, but it did not do this. And so external ritual replaced inner spiritual reality! Jesus took this opportunity to teach that truth—at the expense of the teachers’ reputation. As far as He was concerned, they had failed in their task because they misunderstood the Scripture, and so they were useless as guides. They would be rooted out and destroyed.

The of the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-28)

“Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

This story in Matthew 15 is very troubling. A Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus to heal her daughter. By the end of the story, her daughter has been healed — but between the crying and the healing, Jesus says some “un-Jesus like” things.  But Matthew doesn’t clean up this story. Matthew dares to give us a very human Jesus and he paints a specific picture of this woman. She is a Canaanite woman. She is not one of Jesus’ people.

She won’t give up. “Lord, help me,” she begs. Jesus says: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the Canaanite woman is feisty and stubborn. The life of her daughter is at stake. She picks up his words and throws them right back: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” When Jesus hears this, he says, “Woman, great is your faith!” Surely there’s enough for me and my daughter. That’s what Jesus finally heard and came to believe. “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.”