Several Pharisees from Jerusalem came to Jesus to question him. The Pharisees believed in protecting the Torah by building a wall of tradition and rules around it. This would prevent people from seeking loop holes on what they felt was important. One of the traditions of the Pharisaic Jews was to wash their hands before eating, as a symbol of being clean. Jesus was not into traditions, but into commandments and the Law of Moses.
He turned straight to the Ten Commandments, the most important of all the laws of Moses.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).
This meant that children needed to not only speak kindly and with respect to their parents, but to also take care of them in their later years. However, in the new Pharisaic tradition, if a person chose, he could offer sacrifice “a gift” once a year at the temple in place of caring for their parents. This enriched the temple priests and Sanhedrin (who obtained a portion of the gift, as well as sometimes receiving a contribution), but did nothing to strengthen the family.
Today society has the same attitude towards honoring parents, especially the aged. We expect the government to care for their needs. We put them away in nursing homes and only visit when it is convenient for us. We do not take the time to learn their stories or history.
Recently, I visited my own mother, who lives hundreds of miles away. It was an opportunity to ask her questions regarding her own childhood. She recalled growing up in the farmland of western North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her grandfather (who I knew when I was a child) left to find a better place to live, outside of the great Dustbowl. He soon found a place in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. He wrote my grandfather and told him to bring everything. My grandfather built a second seat on the truck, loaded up everything. My mother sat next to grandfather as they drove 500 miles on dirt roads to their new home. By the time they arrived at the Bitterroot Valley, my grandfather had 25 cents left in his pocket. My mother has a photo of the old homestead my grandfather and great-grandfather purchased and then expanded on in Montana. What a great story that I can now share with my own family!
How often we forget the wonders our ancestors went through, even a generation or two ago, because we are too busy with our own lives. Instead, we send a gift to assuage our conscience. But it is we who are losing out.
Canaanite woman begs for scraps
Jesus traveled to the border of the Jewish nation along the Meditterranean coast to the city of Tyre. Not far from Tyre was the town of Sidon, which was a Gentile town. In this setting, Jesus was accosted by a Canaanite woman to heal her child from demonic possession. The Canaanites long had been neighbors of the Israelites, but were often enemies. Centuries before Jesus, the Canaanites were major competitors of Israel and its God. Canaan’s major god, Baal, competed against Yahweh for primacy in the days of Elijah. The Canaanite Jezebel and her husband Ahab, king of Israel, introduced Baal worship to the kingdom. Family members would later bring Baal worship to Jerusalem’s temple. There was a very long period of distrust and feuding between the two gods and their nations.
As the Canaanite woman begged for help, Jesus chose not to do so. He told her he was sent only to the House of Israel. Not long before, he commanded his apostles to
“not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israe”' (Matthew 10:5-7).
Not until years after Jesus’ death would Peter receive the vision to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. But Jesus was not sent to the Gentiles, only to Israel. In clarifying this view, he explained to the woman that the dogs do not eat from the Master’s table. The term he used is closer to the idea of a lap dog than that of a wild dog, often used in the Middle East as a derogatory term towards other men. But the Gentiles were not Israel, and could not eat at the table. She took up the idea of lapdog and ran with it. The lapdogs still ate the scraps from the table. Because of her faith and determination, she succeeded in receiving the blessing she sought.
To this day, we do not know why God occasionally limits who shall receive gospel blessings. But it has happened often in Bible times. The Levites were the holders of the priesthood for most of Jewish history, but this meant others could not have the same benefits or blessings. Later, the gospel of Christ would be limited to Israel until after Jesus’ death. With the family of Cornelius accepted by the Lord, Peter could extend the gospel to all mankind, opening the door for Paul’s missionary efforts.
Again, we do not understand the full reason for this. However, God has promised that the “first shall be last, and the last first.” Those at the end of the line will be brought forward first. Their conversion will be a bigger event than that of Jews who had been raised with the expectation of a Messiah, and so their reward will be given them first in the heavens to come.
Thou Art the Christ
Alone with his disciples, it was time to question them and see what they had learned of most importance.
What do others think of Jesus? He is a prophet, John the Baptist, Elias, or Jeremiah back from the dead. They knew Jesus was special, because of the miracles he performed. Yet they placed their sites too low.
Peter was able to say, “
Thou art the Christ (Anointed One, Messiah), the Son of the living God.”
Jesus proclaimed that Peter did not learn this from anyone else, since they all thought Jesus was a dead prophet. Instead, Peter gained the witness through revelation from God.
This is how any of us gains faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many believe in the Bible, call themselves Christians and believe in Jesus. Yet to ask them, most cannot explain how they have such a belief. I’ve had many tell me because the Bible tells us. But for the logical thinker, we could ask why we believe the Bible and not in any other ancient book. Why don’t we believe in Buddhism, or in Zeus?
It is because God wishes to speak to each of us. And he does it through personal revelation. He wishes to reveal to us who Jesus Christ truly is. As the angel explained to the apostle John, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). If we have a testimony of Christ, it is because God has witnessed it to us. This occurs through the power of the Holy Ghost. He is a member of the Godhead, whose main purpose is to reveal God and Christ to mankind.
As Nephi discovered in talking with the Holy Spirit concerning his belief in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life,
“6 And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired” (1 Nephi 11:6).
Each of us must do as Peter and seek our own witness of the Christ. It is through that personal revelation that we not only logically learn about Jesus, but we have a spiritual rebirth. We are born anew in the witness we gain of Christ. Jesus miraculously fed thousands, but most walked away when the bread was gone. But Peter stayed. It was because of the spiritual witness he gained from Heavenly Father concerning Jesus the Christ. He knew that the Messiah came to not only feed us bread, but to feed us with the Bread of Life. Because of Jesus, death would soon have no sting. Jesus is the only one who can take us back into the presence of the Father. He is the Christ.
Jewish tradition of giving a gift instead of caring for parents: http://www.newadvent.org/bible/mat015.htm
The Canaanite woman: http://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-hermeneutics-matthew-1521-39