Then [God said to Jacob], “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Just a few points from the reading in Genesis before we concentrate on Matthew…
- Jacob is old… and apprehensive about moving his entire family to Egypt. So before he leaves his homeland, he makes the whole caravan stop at Beersheeba in the southern tip of Canaan. God is kind to Jacob and reassures the old man that He will not leave him, and that Jacob will, at long last, see Joseph (Gen. 46:1-3).
- The narrator lists all of Jacob’s descendants that traveled to Egypt (Gen. 46:8-27). The Hebrew people will not go back to Canaan for 400 years. When they return, they will have increased in number from 70 to approximately 2 million (Exodus 12:37)!
- Pharaoh allows Jacob’s family to settle in Goshen, and they flourish there (Gen. 47:27). This is in contrast to the Egyptians who continue to suffer from the effects of the famine (Gen. 47:13).
Today’s reading in Matthew speaks to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and remains relevant for us, the people of the modern-day church.
If you observe how Jesus interacts with people throughout the gospels, you will find that he is deeply compassionate to those who ask for help. Is it easy for you to ask others for help? This has always been difficult for me. In 2010, my three children and I were in a horrific automobile accident. I was knocked unconscious on impact. When I regained consciousness, our van was surrounded by dozens of emergency personnel. Never have I been more helpless than in that moment. One child was screaming, another was in shock, and the third lay lifeless, slumped, unmoving in the back seat. I could do nothing to help. I remember grabbing through the window of the van for a police officer’s hand and begging him to pray for my children. And as my eyes turned to God for help, He assured me – somehow in my Spirit – that I could rest, that He would help me.
Jesus longs to help. But he can only help when we know we need help. In my situation, my helplessness was obvious to me because it was physical. Spiritual helplessness,on the other hand, is harder to see – because pride blinds us.
The religious rulers of Jesus’ day relied on their ability to keep the law to make them right before God. There was no humility, no brokenness, no room for failure, no need to ask for help. They didn’t understand how Jesus could associate with tax collectors and “sinners,” so they judged him and eventually came to hate him. In today’s passage, they were nitpicking and judging Jesus for not washing his hands before he ate. In other words, he was not observing the ceremonial washing tradition. Pettiness. It infuriates the savior.
Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites…
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:8-9).
Jesus’ quote from Isaiah points out two ways in which the Pharisees were hypocritical:
- Their actions were merely external and didn’t reflect what was truly in their hearts and
- They cared more about the traditions of men than the Law of God.
In our churches today, do our external actions match the brokenness in our hearts? In appropriate situations, do we choose to be transparent and authentic in regards to our needs and failures? Or do we choose to mask our heart-ache and act like we don’t need help?
Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees hit very close to home. Jesus’ words make me examine my heart and ask for help in rooting out the hypocrisy I find there. I am helpless to change my heart!
Jesus longs to help!