A Study in Jesus’ relationship with the Apostle Peter
Matthew 15:1-20 / Mark 7:1-23
Less than a month after Jesus told Peter one of the twelve is a devil Pharisees and scribes visited Jesus headquarters in Capernaum. I doubt they knew Jesus’ popularity had waned among the people when they left Jerusalem. Surely they learned about the “walk-out” when Jesus refused to be their king after they arrived. They might have been trying to help when they pointed out his lapse in teaching the traditions held sacred by the nation. “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread?”
Jesus cut to the heart of the matter just as quickly as he did with the delegation that wanted to make him their king. He asked why human commands were more important than God’s commands. They were hypocrites acting like they loved God while ignoring his desires.
Calling Israel’s clergy “hypocrites” had the potential to set them free from practices they had accepted that drove their hearts away from God. His rebuke also offered hope when he called them a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about people who honored God with their mouth but their hearts were far from him. Quoting from Isaiah set the perspective in Jesus’ intent.
The context of Isaiah’s prophecy reveals a promise that God will do a marvelous work. The wisdom of man taught to God’s people will be destroyed. The teachings that created a myriad of burdensome rules making the worship of God vain will be pulled up like weeds. The spiritually deaf who do not hear and understand the word of God will rejoice with those depressed by the burden of man-made religion. The blindness and deafness of their leaders that made them scornful tyrants watching for the least infringement of their law will be healed. The tyrants who erred will understand God’s doctrine granting them the opportunity to repent. (Isaiah 29:20-21)
When Jesus and the Apostles were alone, they told him what he already knew. The Pharisees were offended. The scripture Jesus referred to declared their freedom. Jesus’ reply suggests people who are easily offended are not planted by God and should be avoided. They are the blind leading the blind. But they are also the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. One day, they will fall in a ditch jarring the eyes of their understanding open to the truth. Those who reject the truth will be uprooted by God.
Peter who had watched the drama unfold made a reasonable request. Explain the parable. But Jesus had not spoken in parables. He had spoken plainly and already explained the tragedy when human traditions replace God’s commands. He was a little exasperated that Peter, who knew him intimately did not understand. What goes into our mouths does not defile us. What comes out of our heart does. Jesus was concerned about the evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, pride, and foolishness that plague humanity. Why waste time quarreling about the cleanliness of human hands before eating?
Peter struggled with the traditions of his nation long after Jesus returned to heaven. But he stayed when others walked away, and he wanted to understand. He did not give up on Jesus and Jesus will not give up on him.