Religious leaders of every stripe continue to take issue with Jesus for breaking the “tradition of the elders” (Matthew 15:2).
This was a large body of teaching apart from the Torah. Their traditions say that if you don’t wash your hands before you eat you have defiled yourself. You become ritually unclean.
But Jesus says the real problem isn’t unclean hands, but unclean hearts. Dirt and grime can be swallowed and still leave the body, but sin grows up from a defiled heart (Matthew 15:11).
Jesus, then, travels far north to Gentile territory (Matthew 15:21). There he meets a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were Israel’s constant enemy throughout the Old Testament.
And even though the traditions of the Jewish people would keep Jesus from interacting with this woman, Jesus is moved by her courageous faith and heals her demon-oppressed daughter (Matthew 15:28).
Jesus then repeats what he did in the wilderness among the Jews, here among the Gentiles by the sea. He heals the sick and they start worshipping Israel’s God (Matthew 15:31). He then miraculously feeds 4,000 men, as he did before for the 5,000.
The Jewish religious leaders do not have faith, like the Canaanite woman, to see what Jesus is doing (Matthew 16:1). So Jesus tells his disciples to beware of their “leven” (Matthew 16:6). He was warning them to not let the unbelief of the Pharisees and Sadducees spread to them, as leven spreads through dough.
Jesus reminds them that they picked up twelve baskets in the wilderness among the Jews, and seven among the Gentiles (Matthew 16:9).
The 12 baskets would have reminded the Jews of the 12 tribes, which was a sign that Jesus was bringing salvation to all of Israel (Matthew 14:10). Likewise, the 7 baskets would have been taken as a sign of heavenly favor (Matthew 15:37). Jesus was not just saving the Jews, with their laws and tradition. He was saving the whole world, even those who did not know the law of the traditions of the elders.
Why is this good news?
No matter where you come from, Jesus can provide healing and provision for you. He does not perform his miracles or bring his kingdom to a select type of people, but to all nations and all people.
And that includes those who are unclean. Whether you have broken the religious traditions you grew up around or the very commands of God found in the Bible, Jesus shows us here that there is forgiveness for anyone who comes to Him in faith (Romans 10:13).
Traditions and rule-following cannot save you. To think otherwise is to have the leven of the Pharisees and Sadducees within you. Only Jesus can save you. And when he does he will give you a clean heart that will bring about clean actions that heal the world around you (Hebrews 8:10).
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would give you eyes to see the God who saves unclean people from every nation and that you would see Jesus as the one who was cast out as unclean so that he could provide the bread of his body to anyone who would come to him in faith.