Matthew 15: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Today's Bible Reading: Matthew 15

Selected Biblical Text
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them."
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" 13 He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."
15 Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." 16 "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. 17 "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them." (Matthew 15:10-20 NIV)

Reflecting and Thinking
The Jews were very concerned with cleanliness, especially in their desire to define what was ceremonially clean or unclean. In fact, an extensive tradition had developed in Judaism with numerous man-made rules and regulations to govern cleanliness. The problem with the rules was that they were superficial and external, failing to address the matter of the heart which is the heart of the matter. No wonder Jesus used the words of Isaiah's prophecy to accuse the Jews of dishonoring God, distancing themselves from God, and vain worship.
When Jesus says that cleanliness is not defined in physical matters but rather in internal thoughts that are reflected in what one says, the Pharisees are offended. Peter asks for an explanation of Jesus' words in verse 11, calling the teaching a parable. Jesus makes clear what matters in verses 17-20 of the today's text.

What matters most to you? In your Christian life, do you focus more on external measurements like what you do or on internal matters such as the condition of your heart (thoughts, attitudes, feelings, desire, will)? What is the importance of Jesus' statement that evil actions begin in the evil thoughts of the heart? How can we most effectively address behavioral problems? Do we change behavior or do we change our hearts? Why were the Pharisees offended? Are the words of Isaiah's prophecy ever applicable to us in our lives (honor given only with lips, distanced hearts, vain worship, man-made rules)?

Dear God, help us focus on what really matters so that our lives might bring you glory and honor and praise. Help us develop hearts that care about important things. Help us develop the mind of Christ. Help us understand how unimportant some of the trivial matters that we emphasize may be. Cleanse and purify our hearts as we obediently seek your will and way, we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

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Last updated January 2019