Summary: The marginal people storm into the church, insisting that the church should live up to the pattern offered by Jesus. They rock the boat, and in so doing they force the church to remember its reason for being.
There is a story of a group of the very pious who are waiting in heaven for judgment. As they are waiting and complaining about the wait, they begin to see some of the “sinners” they knew on earth coming into the waiting room: a corrupt politician, an itinerant woman who had been convicted of shoplifting many times, a prostitute, a drug addict, a criminal, etc.
With each of these arrivals, the feeling of hostility increased in the first group. They glare at the others. They talk among themselves. Within a short time, words were spoken to those others, “What makes you think you’re going to get in with the evil, sinful lives you lived on earth?”
“We are relying on the mercy and grace of God. What makes you so sure you’re going to get in?”
“Our good lives, of course.” They turned their backs to the others.
Time began to drag on for the first group. They began to complain to one another. “If those other people get in, there’s no justice. After all the sacrifices we’ve made. It’s not fair.”
The Lord arrived. He turned toward the first group, “I understand you’ve been wondering why there has been no judgment.”
“Yes!” they cried out. “We want a judgment. We want justice.”
The Lord replied, “The judgment has already taken place. You’ve judged yourselves. By judging these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you have judged yourselves. In rejecting them, you have rejected me. You have shown yourselves unworthy of the Kingdom of God”.
The issue in Matthew 15:10-28 is true holiness. Specifically, what constitutes true holiness? Is it strict observance of the law or rituals, as the Pharisees or some church-goers think? After all, the Pharisees were so concerned about obeying God’s law that they wrote countless rules to cover every conceivable situation. It makes me wonder if some government bureaucrats are descended from the Pharisees!
Or perhaps true holiness comes from the heart instead, as Jesus argues. He is right when he says that evil thoughts and deeds come from the heart. One only has to read the comments made by the man behind the recent terrorist attacks in Norway to see that this is true. On the other hand, we only have to look at people such as Mother Theresa or Desmond Tutu, or organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and the local food bank to see that good thoughts and deeds also come from the hearts of people, especially people who are willing to work for social justice.
Jesus continually pointed out the conditions of the Pharisees’ hearts. They held on to outward religious practices, but God wanted their hearts, which were hardened and cold. He wants the same thing from us today. Often times our hearts are hardened because of the world we live in and Jesus warns us of what will happen if we do not soften our hardened hearts. In Matthew 12:33-37, Jesus states:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored in him, and the evil man brings evil out of the evil stored in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.
Purity also affects the issue of just who can be admitted to God’s kingdom, as we can see from the discussion Jesus has with the Canaanite woman. His reaction to her request shocks us, but it should not surprise us when we consider the culture of Jesus’ time-a culture that treated women and children as second-class citizens. For example, Jews also thought that Gentiles were “dogs”.
In Jesus’ time, people did keep dogs as pets, but dogs were mainly scavengers who ate garbage and the carcasses of dead animals. Dogs that were pets were often fed food scraps from their owner’s table, as they sometimes do now-hence the Canaanite woman’s reference to dogs eating the crumbs from the master’s table. The Canaanites were also considered to be dogs in the eyes of the Jews because they were descended from Noah’s son Ham. He was the son who saw his father naked and passed out from being under the influence of alcohol. Instead of doing the sensible thing by covering Noah and keeping his mouth shut, Ham went and told people what he saw. Now there’s a good example of someone having an unclean heart!
In contrast, the Canaanite woman had a pure heart. She was motivated by concern for her daughter and she knew that Jesus could heal her. While Jesus did open the door of God’s kingdom to the Gentiles in his Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, his priority at this time was the Israelites. Jesus represented God’s faithfulness to the covenant he made to the Jews in the Old Testament.