Lectio Divina: Matthew 15:1-2,10-14
1) Opening prayer
Father of everlasting goodness,
our origin and guide,
be close to us
and hear the prayers of all who praise You.
Forgive our sins and restore us to life.
Keep us safe in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 15:1-2,10-14
Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal." He summoned the crowd and said to them, "Hear and understand. It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one." Then his disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" He said in reply, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
• Today’s Gospel presents the discussion of Jesus with the Pharisees regarding what is pure and impure. The text speaks about the use and religious customs of that time, it speaks about the Pharisees who taught these uses and customs to the people and it also speaks about the instructions which Jesus gives regarding these uses and customs, many of which had already lost their significance. Here in the 15th chapter, Jesus helps the people and the disciples to better understand this very important theme concerning purity and the law of purity.
• Matthew 15:1-2: The Pharisees criticize the behavior of Jesus’ disciples. Some Pharisees and doctors of the Law came to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break away from the tradition of the elder? They eat without washing their hands!” They pretend to be interested in knowing the reason for the behavior of the disciples. In reality, they criticize Jesus because He allows His disciples to break the norms of purity. There are three points which merit our attention: (a) The scribes are from Jerusalem, the capital. They have come to observe what Jesus does. (b) The disciples do not wash their hands before eating! Living with Jesus gives them the courage to break the norms which tradition imposed upon people, but which no longer had any sense for life. (c) The washing of hands continues even now to be an important norm of hygiene, but had assumed for them a religious significance which served to control and discriminate against people.
• The Tradition of the Elders (Mt 15:3-9). “The Tradition of the Elders” transmitted the norms which had to be observed by the people in order to attain the purity which the law demanded. The observance of the law was something very serious. An impure or unclean person could not receive the blessing promised by God to Abraham. The norms of the law of purity taught how to recover purity in order to be able to appear once again before God and to feel at ease in His presence. One could not appear before God just in any way, because God is the Holy One and the law said, “Be holy because I am Holy!” (Lev 19: 2). The norms of purity were, in reality, a prison, an enslavement (cf. Mt 23: 4). For the poor, it was practically impossible to observe them: to touch a leper, to eat with a tax collector, to eat without washing one’s hands, and so many other activities. All these things rendered the person impure, and any contact with a person contaminated the others. This is why people lived in fear, always threatened by the many impure things which threatened their life. They were obliged to live, fearing everything and everyone. Insisting on the norms of purity, the Pharisees arrived at emptying the sense of the commandments of the Law of God. Jesus gives a concrete example. They said, “A person who consecrates his goods to the Temple can no longer use those goods to help the needy. Thus, in the name of tradition, they eliminated the significance of the fourth commandment which commands the honor of father and mother (Mt 15:3-6). These people seemed to be very observant, but they were only externally so. Inwardly , the heart was far away from God! Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, “These people honor me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me (Mt 15:7-9). The wisdom of the people no longer agreed with what was taught, and they were waiting for the Messiah to come to show them another way in which to attain purity. This hope is realized in Jesus. Through His word He purified lepers (Mk 1:40-44), cast out demons (Mk 1: 26, 39; 3:15,22, etc.), and conquered death which was the source of all impurity. Jesus touches the woman who was excluded, and she is cured (Mk 5:25-34). Without fear of being contaminated, Jesus ate with people who were considered impure (Mk 2:15-17).
• Matthew 15:10-11: Jesus opens a new way to get people close to God. He tells the crowds, “Listen and understand! What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean: it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean!” Jesus reverses things: What is impure does not come from outside toward inside, as the doctors of the law taught, but from inside toward outside. In this way, nobody needs to ask himself if this or that food or drink is pure or impure. Jesus places what is clean and unclean on another level, the level of ethical behavior. He opens a new path to reach God, and in this way, He realizes the deepest desire of the people: to be at peace with God. Now all of a sudden everything changes! Through faith in Jesus, it was possible to attain purity and to feel well before God, without the need to observe all those norms of the “Tradition of the Elders.” This was liberation! The Good News announced by Jesus liberates people from the defensive, from fear, and gives them back the will to live, the joy of being sons and daughters of God.
• Matthew 15:12-14: Jesus affirms again what He had already said. The disciples tell Jesus that His words have scandalized the Pharisees, because they were contrary to what the Pharisees taught the people. Because, if the people had seriously lived the new teaching of Jesus, the whole tradition of the elders would have to be abolished and the Pharisees and the doctors of the law would have lost their leadership and their source of income. Jesus’ response is clear and leaves no doubts: “Any plant My Heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled out by the roots. Leave them alone! They are blind leaders of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into the pit.” Jesus did not diminish the impact of His words and He reaffirmed what He had said before.
4) Personal questions
•Do you know any religious practice today which no longer makes any sense, but which continues to be taught? In your life are there some practices and customs which are considered sacred, and others which are not?
• By what criteria would you judge these practices? Are these criteria consistent with all of Jesus’ teaching, or just a limited passage (a single passage is easy to take out of context)?
• The Pharisees were practicing Jews, but their faith was separated from the life of the people. This is why Jesus criticizes them. And today, would Jesus criticize us? For what things?
5) Concluding Prayer
The angel of Yahweh encamps
around those who fear Him and rescues them.
Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in Him. (Ps 34:7-8)