What kind of worship does God want? God’s word, not human tradition is the basis of authentic worship. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus and the disciples were not washing their hands before eating. The Pharisees had added a whole lot of traditions and additions to the law to protect it. They’d made them of equal value to the Torah (the law) saying that they were oral tradition from Moses.
Jesus doesn’t answer directly but with a counter question (Rabbis are like politicians in that respect!) By asking about violating the law with tradition, Jesus is challenging the validity of it. The issue was that Pharisees had a Korban tradition whereby someone could unbreakingly vow property and finance to the Temple, so they couldn’t use it to care for parents in their old age. Korban trumped the fifth commandment to honour parents. Both the Pharisees and Jesus believed in the grace of God! But the Pharisees added a passion for detailed precision in worship – whereas for Jesus worship is relationship to Abba “Dear Daddy”. Tradition creeps in easily even in our kind of church. I remember hearing of a caretaker asking what’s that weird singing you do at 10:25? (by which he meant singing in tongues – which had clearly become as regular as clockwork)
The second point Jesus makes is that inner purity is more more important than external ceremony. The Pharisees with their ceremonial washing where saying that what enters us defiles us -their traditions said that, but then so does Leviticus! God had given those commands to protect their health in the wilderness as much as ceremony ! Jesus was doing away with that. The Pharisees were about ceremony and making justice, mercy and the love of God secondary issues rather primary. Judaism was becoming a religion of works. Jesus says NO!
In the first half of Matt 15 Jesus and the disciples are thought to be defiled because they don’t wash in the prescribed way. In the second half they are thought to be defiled because they healed a Gentile woman. The story is getting ready for the Gospel to goto the nations – the Gentiles.
It’s the halfway house between 10:5 don’t go among the Gentiles and 28:19 goto all the nations.
Jesus’ earthly ministry was to Israel, but will he make an exception in the case of need? Yes. And then she shows up the Jews with her great faith. Matthew’s Jewish readers in the 70s would be seeing in this story why Gentile pups are lapping up the Gospel so much more than the Jewish “children”.
Next Jesus feeds the 4,000 – Gentiles again! Decapolis – ten Greek governed cities in the Transjordan area. Jesus makes the same blessing offered to Jews available to Gentiles.
Jewish food laws are anulled, Gentiles are healed, taught and fed with the same heavenly bread that Jews were. The Gospel is available to all – whatever race, or previous belief system. Sometime we find the greatest faith in the strangest places and the strangest people.