At the end of Matthew 14, we can discern a cycle that will end later in chapter 16 when Jesus and his disciples climb back aboard Peter’s barque. They will cross the lake, bound for the Decapolis area.
In this few verses there is a reference to a proverb or teaching. Its location or origin escapes my memory. I will paraphrase it for you: “The word of Our Lord, the God of Heaven and Earth: ‘If a son of man could know all the wisdom there is, he would do no more than touch the hem of my garment.” [I wish I could remember the location of those words of wisdom, perhaps a reader may recognize them and help me remember. Compare with Zechariah 8:23] Which reminds us about the faith of the woman with a flow of blood (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48) that touched the edge of Jesus’ garment knowing that she would be cured.
Matthew 14: 34-36 — When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
The crowd that recognized Jesus have the same kind of faith. They were given the same kind of wisdom. Jesus inspired a deep respect in them. To touch the edge of Christ’s cloak, a minimal contact with His divinity was all they needed. That is the pinnacle, the completeness of wisdom: to recognize in ourselves the sickness of sin, and to see in Jesus the perfect cure we need. Once a soul is saved and heaven bound the acquiring of all wisdom is only a matter of time.
Matthew 15: 1-2 — Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
The earlier crowd, the “salt of the earth” people were given the heavenly wisdom. Now Jesus finds a group of men who have the earthly kind of wisdom. They are concerned with outward purity. That very concern seems to be an obstacle to see their own sinfulness and their own need for a cure. Jesus calls their attention to the practice of corban (oblation). A man could dedicate his riches to the Temple by naming the religious authorities as the inheritors of part or all of his possessions. That allowed him to enjoy his riches in life, while keeping them in “reserve” for the Temple until death. So, even if his parents were in need, the one donating his riches to the Temple was not obliged to assist them. That uncharitable practice could be even limited specifically to “anything my father or mother could claim” thus nullifying God’s commandment to honor father and mother.
Matthew 15: 3-9 — Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
The previous crowd generously used their lips to share the good news of Jesus’ visit. They are in sharp contrast with the second, legalistic group of men. They worship God but they do not realize that they need God. Their following human rules, “traditions of men” is a vain form of piety. Their heart does not trust in God’s love. They seek refuge in the letter of the Law, completely forgetting its spirit.
Matthew 15: 10-13 —Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Here Jesus conceals and also reveals a great truth: his salvation concerns the heart of man, where all the sinful inclinations of mankind reside. He can cure any physical illness but the healing of the innermost motivations requires the intervention of the Father. The wheat will be preserved but the weeds and thistles have to be uprooted. Those who disagree with that treatment are blind. They neither see their own sin nor see the power that Jesus has to cleanse them and cure them. In their blindness, they reject Jesus and impede others to come near Him. The second crowd is the exact opposite of the first. The nobler crowd generously run to the countryside to let everyone know of Christ’s visit.
Matthew 15: 14-20 — Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Peter’s question is there to reveal that he is not prepared yet to understand. Christ is harsh with him, calling him “dull” but Peter is not like the Pharisees. The fisherman is not offended because he has learned to love his Master. He was the first to acknowledge his sin before Christ by saying: “Depart from me for I am a sinner.” (Luke 5:8) In the weeks that follow he will be called a resister, he will be compared to the devil! And yet Peter will persevere and follow Christ anywhere. He is not ready yet to understand that Jesus has arrived to save souls, not mere mortally wounded bodies defiled by sin.
Peter will struggle all his life with his concern for the temporal earthly things. But near the end of his life, he will understand his destiny and humbly offer his flesh and blood in a glorious martyrdom.
“Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” those are the things that kill the soul. Infirmities and wicked men can kill the body but those who have acquired the wisdom of Heaven will concentrate on the most important thing: the integrity of their souls.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
The hidden parable
You may ask where is that long promised teaching about the Church? Well, it is hiding in plain sight. Peter, the disciples, the Pharisees, the faithful people of Gennesaret, all of them have something in common: they are waiting for the restoration of Israel. They simply do not have the slightest idea of how the Messiah is going to do it! In fact, some of them are clinging to the wrong idea: that the Messiah is a great general like Caesar, or Alexander who will conquer the world physically. Little do they know that Jesus is about to transform them. He will turn them into a “light to the nations” once He transforms Israel into the Church, giving them the sacramental weapons to fight sin and defeat Hell. Peter the fisherman will have a pivotal role in that transformation.
The Church Militant is the destiny and mission of Israel and Peter and his successors will reign in place of Jesus until He comes in glory.
In those contrasting elements flesh/soul, Earth/Heaven, Peter/Jesus we start seeing the development of the divine plan. There is a heavenly mission centered in the hearts and souls of men but there is also an earthly concern, the fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The figures of the Triumphant Church in Heaven, and the Militant Church on Earth are beginning to take shape.