Scripture: Matthew, chapters 14-16
Matthew 15:1-14 (NASB):
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves also break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘THE ONE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or mother.’ And by this you have invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME. AND IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.’
Hear and understand!
After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand! It is not what enters the mouth that defiles the person, but what comes out of his mouth, this defiles the person.”
Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone; they are blind guides of blind people. And if a person who is blind guides another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Most of us are familiar with the first part of this passage. We understand that God’s Word is more important than our traditions. Jesus clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees – those who were supposed to be examples. We’re also familiar with Jesus’ teaching in response – that it is not what goes into a person which makes them unclean, but what comes out of them. That doesn’t mean that everything that goes into our mouths is good for us, of course!
The principle that Jesus teaches is summed up in his quotation from Isaiah: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEARTS ARE FAR FROM ME.” It is not enough to just “talk a good game.” Jesus would later tell the disciples, “If you love me, you will obey me.” Hearts which are truly close to God seek to honor Him through obedience, not just through nice words.
That’s clear in what Jesus says next: “TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.” There are a couple of ways to understand this statement. – Both, I believe, are appropriate. First, in the direct context of the passage, the Pharisees were teaching the “tradition of the elders” as “doctrine.” These traditions “had to be” followed. It is one thing to have a conviction about something that God has not commanded; it is quite another to elevate that conviction above the clear Word of God. The second way to understand this statement is more applicable in our day. Some people negate the commands of God by their own beliefs of “what Jesus would do today.” They use the command to “love our neighbor as ourselves” to overturn the plain directives of Scripture.
Leave them alone
In the last part of the passage, the disciples ask Jesus if he understands that he offended the Pharisees by what he said. His response is startling: Leave them alone. He didn’t want the disciples to engage the Pharisees in debate. He evidently didn’t want them to waste time trying to change the Pharisees’ minds. His pronouncement has a ring of finality to it: “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone; they are blind guides of blind people. And if a person who is blind guides another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.”
In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this statement reminds us of Jesus’ parables of the dragnet and the wheat and the weeds which we read yesterday. The “bad” plants will be uprooted. Don’t spend time trying to sort it out; leave them alone.
Jesus’ statement is a bit surprising, and perhaps a bit unnerving. Leave them alone? We’re supposed to allow those blind guides to lead other blind people into the pit?
I believe God is reminding us of two things in this passage. First, we don’t have the ability to cure spiritual blindness. Only God can do that. He may use us as part of His process to make people aware of their blindness. We may help to demonstrate the availability of a cure. However, we can’t “fix” other people. Often, our efforts to do so only make things worse.
Second, we need to focus on doing what God has given us to do. As we’re going through life, we have opportunities. Sometimes, we will be able to “sow some seed.” At other times, we will water the plants that have sprouted from seed that someone else has planted. We may even be blessed to “harvest” some fruit – to help someone to make that step of faith and receive new life in Christ. We also have opportunities to teach and nurture and encourage one another on our faith journey. There’s enough work for us! So when Jesus reminds us to leave them alone, we should do that.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for them!
Father, it is a shocking thing for us to hear Jesus say, “Leave them alone.” Help us to remember that even when we “leave them alone,” that doesn’t mean that You do. Show us Your way today, that we may do the things that will further Your kingdom. Inspire us to reflect Your love and mercy to those around us, that they may find their way to You. Amen.