AS WE COMMENCE this chapter the opposition of the religious leaders again comes to light. The disciples, filled with labour-as verse 31 of the previous chapter has told us-were not observing certain traditional washings, and this roused the Pharisees, who were the great sticklers for the tradition of the elders. The Lord accepted the challenge on behalf of the disciples, and answered by a searching exposure of the whole Pharisaic position. They were hypocrites, and He told them so.
The essence of their hypocrisy lay in the profession of worship, consisting in outward ceremonials, when inwardly their hearts were utterly estranged. Nothing counts with God if the heart be not right.
Then, in carrying out their ceremonials they brushed aside the commandment of God in favour of their own tradition. The Lord not merely asserted this, but proved it by giving an instance of the way in which they set aside the fifth commandment by their rules concerning "Corban;" that is, things devoted to the service of God. Under cover of "Corban" many a Jew divested himself of all his rightful duties towards his poor old parents. And he did the thing with an air of sanctity, for did it not appear more pious to devote things to God rather than to one's parents?
The things that came under "Corban" were not things that God demanded; had it been so His demand must have prevailed. There were things that might be dedicated, if so desired; whereas the obligation to support parents was a distinct command. Pharisaic tradition permitted a man to use a permissive enactment in order to avoid complying with a distinct command. They might try to support their tradition with sophistry which appeared pious, but the Lord charged them with nullifying the Word of God. The written words of Exodus 20: 12 were to Jesus "the Word of God." There is no support here for that religious fastidiousness which declines to attach the designation "Word of God" to the written Scriptures.
We believe we should be right in saying that all human tradition in the things of God ultimately sets the Word of God at naught. The originators of the tradition probably have no such thought, but the master spirit of evil, lying behind the business, has just that intention.
Having unmasked the Pharisees as men whose hearts were far from God, and who dared to make of no effect the Word of God, the Lord called the people and publicly proclaimed the truth which cuts at the root of all religious pretension. Man is not defiled by physical contact with external things, but is himself the seat of what defiles. A hard saying this, and only they who have ears to hear will receive it.
The disciples had to ask Him privately concerning it, and in verses 18 to 23 we have the explanation. Man is corrupt in his nature. What comes from his very heart defiles him. Out of his heart proceed evil thoughts which develop into every kind of evil action. This is the most tremendous indictment of human nature ever uttered. No wonder the Pharisaic heart was far from God; but what a terrible thing that men with hearts like this should profess to draw near and worship Him.
These searching words of our Lord cut at the root of all human pride, and show the worthlessness of all human movements, whether religious or political, which deal merely with externals and leave the heart of man untouched.
His disciples as yet hardly understood these things, and experience will show us that professing Christians are very slow to accept and understand them today; but we shall not get very far except we do understand them. However, it is one thing to expose the heart of man: something more is needed-the heart of God must be expressed. This the Lord proceeded to do, as the rest of the chapter shows.
To the very borders of the land which harboured so much of hypocrisy He went, and there came in contact with a poor Gentile woman in desperate need. His fame had reached her ears and she would not be denied. Yet the Lord tested her by His little parable about the children's bread and the dogs. Her answer, "Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs," was happily free of hypocrisy. She said in effect, "Yes, Lord: it is true that I am no child of the kingdom but a poor Gentile dog without any claim; but I am confident that there is enough power with God and enough goodness in His heart, to feed a poor dog like me."
Now this was faith. Matthew indeed tells us that the Lord called it "great faith," and it delighted Him. It also brought her all that her heart desired. Her daughter was delivered. How great the contrast between the heart of God and the heart of man! The one full of benevolence and grace: the other full of every kind of evil. How happy for us when instead of harbouring hypocrisy we are marked by honesty and faith.
In verse 31 He again returns to the neighbourhood of the lake, there to meet a man who was deaf and dumb-a condition that was strikingly symbolic of the state in which the mass of the Jews were found. The poor Gentile woman had had ears to hear, and consequently found her tongue to utter words of faith, but they were deaf and had nothing to say.
In healing this man the Lord performed certain actions, which doubtless have symbolic meanings. He took him aside from the crowds, that He might deal with him in privacy. His fingers, symbolic of Divine action, touch his ears. That which came from His mouth touched the mouth of the dumb man. Thus the work was done, and the deaf and dumb both heard and spoke. If any ears are opened to hear the voice of the Lord, it is the fruit of Divine action which takes place in secret. And if any tongue can utter the praise of God or the Word of God, it is because that which comes from His mouth has been brought into contact with ours.
Nothing is said as to the faith of the man. What he felt he was unable to express, and others brought him to Jesus. He was met, however, in full and unstinted grace. Once more it was a case of the goodness of the heart of God being manifested by Jesus.
Evidently the people in some measure were conscious of this, and in their amazement they confessed, "He hath done all things well!" Coming where it does, this word is all the more striking. The early part of the chapter reveals man in his true character, and we find his heart to be a fountain whence proceeds nothing but evil-he has done all things ill! The perfect Servant reveals the goodness of the heart of God. He has done all things well.
With this verdict we too have abundant cause to agree.
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