Day 284: Matthew 15-17; Contrast of Faiths

There are a lot of things that happen in today’s reading; a great deal of different mini-stories that are seemingly disconnected.  Jesus is talking to different people, healing different people, and doing miracles for many.  Though they kind of seem like a disconnected bunch of micro-narratives, these are actually quite connected as a continuing contrast of those who think that they have faith, and those who actually do.

Our reading starts out with a question from the Pharisees regarding the breaking of tradition.  They were concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples were not doing the ritual washing before they eat.  This was one of the “laws” that we talked about when we discussed Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  They considered this as being something akin to faith, showing that they followed the rituals as a way of obedience.  Jesus’ response?  He calls them hypocrites and points them to the real Law that they are actually breaking.  More than that though, He again quotes Isaiah:

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 then contrasts this story, the faith of the “righteous,” religious leaders of the day with that of an outcast.  In that day it would have been completely inappropriate for a woman to approach a male teacher like Jesus.  Moreover, it would have been absolutely out of the question for a Gentile to approach a Jewish person in that day.  Yet despite Jesus seeming to ignore her (Matthew’s point being that Jesus was saying that He is the Messiah sent to Israel, not that He is heartless and cruel) she shows her faith in Jesus through her words and her persistence, knowing that she was unworthy but also that Jesus was the only one who could help her.  Jesus even points out her great faith and what happens?  Her son is healed.

A few verses later we see the narrative of Jesus feeding four thousand people.  Because of His compassion, Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowds.  I can only imagine the look on their faces when he said that.  Each of them could have worked their entire life and not made enough money to feed 4,000 men (plus women and children).  Jesus doesn’t chastise this question, neither does he tell them how it will happen, He just sends them to feed them with the few loaves and fish.  The disciples obey and what happens?  They feed the people and there are seven baskets of leftovers!  Now, there are a bunch of different themes here including the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Lord’s Supper, etc. We will talk about these, and the Transfiguration at another time.  However, I want to point out that the disciples listened to Jesus and obeyed even though the didn’t understand, and in that things happened!

So this brings together three narratives, all having to do (on some level) with faith.  As we proceed in our reading today we see (in some ways) the results of these interactions.  The Pharisees have connected their “faith” with the traditions, believing that what they do and how they follow the “law” is the same as belief.  Like we talked about, they even set up laws to protect the laws, just to make sure that they didn’t transgress any of them.  For them obedience to the law was an end in itself and the result of their “faith” was that they came back to Jesus asking for more signs.  Though it was clearly in front of them, the could not see it with their eyes, or hear it with their ears, because their heart was dull.  They wanted to see it their way and hear it their way… and it wound up with them being lost in their “faith.”

We also saw the example of the Gentile woman, whom we don’t hear from again, but we saw the contrast of her and the pharisees in that healing touched her because of her faith.

The final contrast comes in the story of Peter’s declaration of faith.  After the feeding of the Four Thousand, and the return and dismissal of the pharisees, Jesus asks His disciples who people say He is.  While it is a bit of a leap to say that the event of the feeding was the turning point of Peter’s faith, it is not so much of a leap to say that Peter’s accumulated experiences with Jesus had helped to bring him to the point of this declaration.  Though he may have not understood all that was going on at the time, Peter followed and listened, he was open and obedient to Jesus and his faith grew.  Now we see Peter declaring, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, at which point Jesus says that it is on him (and presumably a faith like his) that the church (the Greek word ἐκκλησία) will be built and the powers of hell will not be able to shake it.  This is the kind of faith that Matthew is setting up as the right faith for the Jews.  Their hope does not rest on the law, the land, or their traditions, but in the coming Messiah whom he is showing us in Jesus Christ.


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