22: True Cleanliness (Mt 15:1-20)
We now move into
the late Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry. In this lesson, we read of another
confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees and the Lord’s subsequent teachings
to the multitudes and the disciples on the issue at hand—cleanliness.
“Not what goes into the mouth
defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (15:11).
Did You Know…?
the elders/hand washing (15:2): The “tradition of the elders,” the “tradition
of men” (Mark 7:8; Col 2:8), “your tradition” (Matt 15:3, 6; Mark 7:9, 13), and
the “traditions of the fathers” (Gal 1:14) refer to the great corpus of oral
teaching that commented on the law and interpreted it in detailed rules of
conduct, often recording the diverse opinions of competing rabbis. This
tradition in Jesus’ time was largely oral and orally transmitted; but the
Pharisees, though not the Sadducees, viewed it as having authority very nearly
equal to the canon. It was later codified under Rabbi Judah the Prince (c. A.D.
135-200) to form the Mishnah…One entire tractate, Yadaim, deals with “hands”, (i.e., y-ad-ayim),
specifying such details as how much water must be used for effective ceremonial
purification: e.g. “if a man poured water over the one hand with a single
rinsing, his hand is clean; but if over both hands with a single rinsing, R. Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a
quarter-log or more” (M Yadaim 2:1). 6/348
1. Where were the scribes and Pharisees from? What
does this tell you about what lay ahead of Jesus?
2a. How did the scribes and Pharisees transgress and nullify
God’s commandments? How did the example in 5–6 reflect their hypocrisy?
2b. Think of a
modern example of transgressing or nullifying God’s commandments for the sake
of religious tradition.
3. If the traditions of the elders were meant to
help people keep the commandments, then why did they become reasons to break
4. Are all traditions bad? Under what
circumstances do traditions become “commandments of men” and a hindrance in our
relationship with God?
5a. What kind of heart does Isaiah’s prophecy in 8-9 reveal? Why
would people teach the commandments of men?
5b. In what ways could such hypocrisy creep into our worship of
5c. What is the contrast in verse 8? What is the worship that
6. Why were the scribes and Pharisees offended?
What does this show?
7. Explain the analogy of verse 13.
8. How were the scribes and Pharisees “blind
9. How was Jesus’ teaching in 11 a response to the
challenge of the scribes and Pharisees?
10a. What kind of defilement was Jesus speaking about?
10b. What does this defilement have to do with traditions?
11. In view of
these teachings, what must we do to be clean?