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.” 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.”
Matthew 15: 21-28
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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 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.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
We have just heard two stories that have followed one another in the Gospel of Matthew. One story about Jesus and a crowd with a conversation about what defiles a human being, and another between Jesus and a Canaanite woman and the healing of her son. These stories from the off set seem like two unrelated stories that just happen to fall in chronological order of the life of Jesus. However, as we first begin to understand this scripture we see in the Gospel of Matthew that this is a re-occurring pattern that is happening with Jesus. You see Jesus gets into some kind of conflict, addresses the conflict, and then leaves to go to another place. And here, in this scripture lesson, we have just that. But often with Jesus, when he leaves to another place because of conflict, he reveals some truths about the conflict he had just left. So let us first enter into this scene with Jesus and the Pharisees as we come to understand what Jesus is talking about.
“Then he called the crowd to him” This opening line seems to give the impression that there has been some things that were being said before Jesus addresses this crowd, and perhaps this crowd has been overhearing this exchange of conversation and would be one of great interest to them. Well, this suspicion is exactly right. Verses 1-9 brings out a dialogue that Jesus and the Pharisees were having about why Jesus’ disciples do not follow the tradition of the elders? The tradition of the elder refer to the laws of the Mishnah and the Talmud, guides per se of giving explanation to the laws of God in grander details. This particular tradition that they were referring to was the ceremonial washing of hands before they eat. Jesus, however gives a rather quick reply with a question as to why they, those who are so proud of following the 1000’s of laws according to the Tradition of the Elders break one the 10 commandments, Thou shall honor your father and mother? And then Jesus proceeds to say that Isaiah had prophesied rightly that, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
So now we enter into the scripture from today’s text. Jesus calls the crowd to him and says, It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Jesus sometimes will speak in words that will shock the listener and sometimes it seems that Jesus has it backwards, when in reality he does not. This is one of those times. You see even the disciples mention…Ummmm Jesus, you do realize that you may have offended the Pharisees who came up from Jerusalem to see you, who kind of are a big deal in the Jewish world right? You see, Jesus was in some ways taking a stab at the strict dietary laws of the Jewish world and saying that there are bigger things in life than these dietary laws. Don’t mind yourself with these laws if you first cannot understand this one…that it is what comes out of the heart that matters. Jesus responds to the disciples who tried to maybe give direction to Jesus that God has not planted what these Pharisees suggest and they will not be simply dug out and replanted elsewhere, they are to be uprooted, which for a plant means certain death. And today this is what I want you to make sure we take with us from this first part of these two stories.
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.”
“Good and evil do not well up from the food supply but from the heart. The filth of the gut cannot compare with the filth of the heart. We easily dispose of the filth of the gut, and it ceases to affect us. The filth of the heart is both more persistent and more deadly.”
You see because where our hearts are, is where we are. It is where the words in our mouths are, it is in the actions that we do or don’t do. If our heart is filthy, if it is trashy, then so are our lives and the fruits from it. These Pharisees did good things, but their hearts were not in what they were doing. The outer appearance of looking faithful is meaningless work, it is complete trash if the heart is not clean and faithful. Who knew the power of the words from our lips. That they could result is such destructive endings. Jesus actually in this passage refers to the faithless appearing to be living good as the wastes that comes out of our bodies and into the sewers. I believe you know what I mean. Living a life that looks faithful, but is not backed with faithfulness and a deepened spirituality is equal to the crap that we flush in our toilets. It is disgusting in the sight of God and often does more harm than good. And Jesus says that from the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. Don’t these sound quite a bit like the second set of the 10 commandments. The set that speaks about relational sins of people, those that are long-lasting and often conclude with tragic effects.
Now from this scene, we transition into a completely different context. Jesus is no longer in the Jewish lands of the Sea of Galilee but has traveled outside the Jewish/Samaritan Territory, the only time travels outside of this territory except that of when he was a child and escaped to Egypt. So this provides for a very unique encounter with Jesus as he no longer is within the territory of the Jews and Samaritans. And as he enters into this district of Tyre and Sidon, who comes to meet him but a Canaanite woman. Now this is trouble. You see, first off, Jesus is in a male dominant culture and a female does not address a man, especially a rabbi as Jesus was. The next big no no is that she is a Canaanite, and the Jews and foreigners do not belong together. And yet, here we have her speaking to Jesus. And what peculiar words does she speak. This woman, who is filth among the Jews addresses Jesus as Lord, Son of David. Lord… She surely did not call him Lord as that would mean she respectfully places herself below, humbles herself before a Jewish man. And Son of David, isn’t that a Jewish traditional meaning for someone who was to be the Messiah? It is through the house of David that the Messiah would come, and here is this Canaanite woman who is filth giving Jesus the title of Messiah? And she tells him why she has sought him out, her daughter is being tormented by a demon. Oh how awful. But Jesus is a good guy, we know that he is going to take care of this woman in need right? Right? But no, Jesus does not respond. Instead his disciples first speak, to Jesus….Jesus please send her away…she won’t stop, she’s starting to get annoying. Jesus she’s at it again, how long must we keep up with her? Jesus, send her away, she’s shouting at us!
Finally, Jesus is going to do something at the insistence of the woman or the disciples right? Finally he turns and says sorry I couldn’t hear you for I was in prayer or something! Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Now let us see if we cannot make sense of this before we continue on. Matthew is a Jewish Christian who is writing this gospel for the Jews. Matthew is pleading here with the Jews saying see, God has not abandoned us, but he did come first for us through Jesus. Jesus did not want to do anything for this outsider. Alright, back in. She in response to this kneels before him. “Lord, Help me” Kyrie Elison, Lord Have mercy! Round two. Jesus is going to redeem himself and do the thing that we all want him to do, right?! He answers this plea with words that we do not like to hear. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Now dogs in this sense is not the cute cuddly part of the family that we have in the 21st century. Dogs were pets in the first century, but they did not receive special food that was processed for the best health of the dog. Nor did they receive the special toys and treats. Certainly they were not allowed on the kitchen tables.
“Dogs occupied a less lofty place in Jesus’ day. While people kept dogs as pets, most Biblical references to dogs are negative. One of the most terrible things that could happen to a Jewish person was to die and have one’s body eaten by dogs. (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:23-24). When evil King Ahab died, dogs licked up his blood (1 Kings 22:38). God’s judgment on Ahab’s evil wife, Jezebel, was that dogs would eat her flesh and “the corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel” (2 Kings 9:36). “
But this woman picks up on something very important in the word choice of Jesus. Jesus used the greek word to mean household pet, not just some stray dog on the side of the road. So this woman replies to Jesus, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. She not only acts with faithfulness, she is faithful in that she believes that Jesus not only can heal her daughter, but will heal her daughter. And Jesus responds finally, Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed instantly.
So what? What is the big picture from this story and what does it mean in our life? The Pharisees who appear to be holy, who do holy things, are no better than the stuff we put in our toilets because they lack faith. And this woman, who by her outer appearance, and by her place of birth is looked upon as filth but is deemed a woman of great faith. Let me clear it up as much as I can. All the things that we do in this church family here at Red Valley, all of the mission, the outreach, the USDA, the choir, the Wednesday night alive, if we do these things without seeking God’s righteousness but do them because we think that is what we are supposed to do because it is what is nice and has always been done, then we are no better than the Pharisees. Without developing our faith spiritually, our work here is no different than any government run social service. And that’s great, but we are a church to nurture lives and a life is more than the physical needs of an individual. It is also the spiritual needs as Jesus reminds us when he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by the every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) We as a church MUST be willing to spend time in the Word of God together as we learn then to serve together. And it will be in the searching of scriptures, and these spiritual disciplines that we will come to allow God to create within us a clean heart, one that will not defile but rather make a holy and righteous nation. Thanks be to God!
 Copyright 2011, Richard Niell Donovan Lectionary.org p. 9