Lesson 18: Matthew 15

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Introduction

While in Galilee, Jesus explained why His disciples did not follow the tradition of ritually purifying themselves before they ate. He then traveled to the Mediterranean coast, where He healed the daughter of a Gentile woman. Jesus then returned to Galilee, where He healed many and miraculously fed more than four thousand people.

Suggestions for Teaching

Matthew 15:1–20

The scribes and Pharisees ask why Jesus’s disciples do not wash their hands before they eat

Invite three students to read the following scenarios aloud. Ask the class to listen for what the scenarios have in common.

  1. 1.

    A young woman is encouraged by her friends to wear an inappropriate outfit to a school dance. The young woman knows that the outfit does not meet the Lord’s standards of modesty, even though it is generally accepted in her culture to wear outfits like it.

  2. 2.

    A young man belongs to a Latter-day Saint family that loves sporting events. When popular sporting events are shown on television, the family routinely sets aside family prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and Sunday Church meetings in order to watch the events.

  3. 3.

    A young couple is preparing for marriage. They live in a place where it is widely accepted to participate in premarital sexual relations. Some people have told this couple that they are old-fashioned and odd because they are waiting to be married before engaging in sexual intimacy.

  • What do these scenarios have in common? (Each scenario presents a conflict between obeying God’s commandments and acting according to traditions or customs.)

Explain that traditions or customs include the beliefs and practices of a culture, community, family, or group of friends.

Ask students to name one or more traditions or customs that could prevent them from obeying God’s commandments. Invite students to look for truths in Matthew 15 that can help them when they must choose between obeying God’s commandments and participating in traditions and customs.

Invite a student to read Matthew 15:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the tradition that the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus about.

  • What tradition were Jesus’s disciples not following?

Explain that the washing of hands mentioned by the scribes and Pharisees refers to a ceremonial washing for the sake of ritual purity and does not refer to washing for sanitation.

Invite a student to read Matthew 15:3 aloud, and ask the class to look for Jesus’s response to the scribes and Pharisees’ question.

  • What did the Savior say the scribes and Pharisees were doing by participating in their traditions?

Summarize Matthew 15:4–6 by explaining that Jesus identified an example of how the scribes and Pharisees transgressed a commandment of God by participating in their traditions. They taught that people “shall be free” (verse 6) of their obligation to take care of their aging parents by declaring that their money was reserved as a gift to God, or Corban (see Mark 7:10–12). However, Jesus taught that in doing so, they violated the commandment to honor one’s father and mother.

Invite a student to read Matthew 15:7–9 aloud, and ask the class to look for what the scribes and Pharisees had led people to do by using their traditions as an excuse to not obey God’s commandments.

  • What had the scribes and Pharisees led people to do?

  • What principle can we learn from these verses about what we must do if we desire to draw near to God? (Students may use different words but should identify a principle similar to the following: If we desire to draw near to God, we must place His commandments above any traditions and customs we may have.)

Invite students to reread aloud the scenarios from the beginning of the lesson. After each scenario is read, ask:

  • What could the individual or individuals in this scenario do to obey God’s commandments?

  • How would doing this help the individual or individuals draw nearer to God?

After you have discussed each scenario, ask the class:

  • When have you chosen to obey God’s commandments rather than participate in a commonly accepted tradition or custom? How did this help you draw nearer to Heavenly Father? (You may want to share an experience of your own as well.)

Invite students to consider the traditions and customs they named earlier. Encourage them to choose to obey God’s commandments rather than follow these traditions or customs so they can draw nearer to God.

Remind students that the scribes and Pharisees believed that eating with unwashed hands would defile a person, or make that person spiritually unclean. Invite a student to read Matthew 15:10–11 aloud, and ask the class to look for what the Savior taught truly defiles us.

  • What did the Savior say defiles us?

Point out that the Savior said, “That which cometh out of the mouth … defileth a man” (verse 11). After telling His disciples not to concern themselves with the Pharisees, who were offended by His words (see Matthew 15:12–16), He explained further about what truly defiles us.

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Matthew 15:17–20. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Savior meant when He said, “That which cometh out of the mouth … defileth a man” (verse 11).

  • What did the Savior mean when He said, “That which cometh out of the mouth … defileth a man”?

Point out that in the scriptures, the heart often represents our thoughts and desires. Write the following statement on the board: If we choose to entertain evil thoughts and desires, then …

  • How would you complete this principle based on the Savior’s teachings recorded in verses 19–20? (Use students’ words to complete the principle so it conveys the following truth: If we choose to entertain evil or inappropriate thoughts and desires, then those thoughts and desires will defile us.)

  • In what ways can we become defiled or spiritually unclean if we choose to entertain evil or inappropriate thoughts and desires?

  • In what way do the words that come out of our mouths, as well as our actions, reflect the thoughts and desires of our hearts?

You may want to testify of this principle and invite students to choose to maintain pure thoughts and desires.

Matthew 15:21–28

The Savior heals the daughter of a Gentile woman

Ask students to come to the board and list one or more of their righteous desires.

Invite students to look for principles in Matthew 15 that can help them understand what they need to do to receive their righteous desires.

Ask students to turn to Bible Map no. 11, “The Holy Land in New Testament Times.” Ask them to locate the cities of Tyre and Sidon on the map. Explain that as Jesus traveled from Galilee to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, He met a Canaanite woman. Like many other people in that region, this woman was a Gentile—meaning she was not a Jew. At that point in time, Jesus and His disciples proclaimed the gospel only to the Jews and not yet to the Gentiles (see Matthew 10:5–6). The doors would be opened later for the Gentiles to receive the message of salvation (see Acts 10).

Invite students to take turns reading aloud from Matthew 15:21–27 with a partner. Ask them to look for answers to the following questions (you may want to write these questions on the board):

  • What righteous desire did the Canaanite woman have?

  • What did the woman do and say that demonstrated her faith in Jesus Christ?

Ask students to report their answers.

  • How did the woman’s response to this analogy further demonstrate her faith in Jesus Christ?

Invite a student to read Matthew 15:28 aloud, and ask the class to follow along and look for what the Savior did for this woman.

  • What did the Savior do for this woman? Why?

  • What principle can we learn from this account about what can happen as we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ? (Students may use different words but should identify a principle similar to the following: As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, we can receive blessings according to our righteous desires.)

  • In addition to faithfully asking the Lord to bless us according to our righteous desires, what else can we do to exercise faith in Jesus Christ?

To help students further understand what they can do to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, ask a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“When we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must have trust in him. We must trust him enough that we are content to accept his will, knowing that he knows what is best for us. …

“… Faith, no matter how strong it is, cannot produce a result contrary to the will of him whose power it is. … We cannot have true faith in the Lord without also having complete trust in the Lord’s will and in the Lord’s timing” (“Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1994, 99, 100).

  • How can Elder Oaks’s explanation of what it means to exercise faith in Jesus Christ help us when the Lord does not immediately bless us according to our righteous desires?

Invite students to review the list of righteous desires on the board and to explain what they can do to exercise faith in Jesus Christ as they seek to obtain those desires.

  • When have you (or someone you know) received your righteous desires (according to the Lord’s will and timing) as you exercised faith in Jesus Christ?

Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals what they will do to exercise faith in Jesus Christ as they seek to receive their righteous desires from Him. Encourage students to act on what they wrote.

Matthew 15:29–39

Jesus feeds more than four thousand followers from seven loaves and a few fishes

Summarize Matthew 15:29–39 by explaining that Jesus returned to Galilee. While He was there, over four thousand people gathered to Him, bringing with them people who were suffering from various physical ailments and disabilities. The Savior healed them, and after the people spent three days with Him, He performed another miracle by feeding all of them with only seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes. (Note: The miracle of the feeding of the four thousand will be covered in greater detail in the lesson on Mark 8.)

You may want to conclude the lesson by sharing your testimony of the truths and principles students identified in Matthew 15.

Commentary and Background Information

Matthew 15:1–9. “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?”

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the following counsel to those seeking to break away from the traditions or customs preventing them from fully worshipping the Lord:

“Changing a profoundly embedded pattern of life can be very difficult. Former friends can ridicule, criticize, and even persecute. Persistent faith in the Savior and obedience will see you through such hardships to greater blessings. The scriptures illustrate how conviction and faith can overcome traditions in conflict with God’s plan, bringing blessings to individuals, and even generations of people. Abraham’s unwavering determination to be loyal to truth and to reject false tradition blessed him greatly. His loyalty will crown with rich rewards all of the obedient of the house of Israel. Another dramatic example of discarding long-established traditions is the change of warlike Lamanites into humble followers of Christ willing to die before violating covenants made as members of His kingdom” (“Removing Barriers to Happiness,” Ensign, May 1998, 86).

Matthew 15:21–28. “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”

The Lord’s analogy comparing Gentiles to pet dogs was meant to teach that the gospel was at that time being delivered only to the house of Israel. The Gentiles would receive the message of salvation later, according to God’s divine timetable (see Acts 10).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that Jesus’s healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman was a test of the woman’s faith and an instructive example for His disciples:

“The gospel (with all its healing powers and graces) was to be offered to the Jews before it went to the Gentiles. Jesus’ mortal ministry was with Israel, not with other nations. His healing of this or any Gentile person came by special dispensation because of great faith. Previously he had commanded the apostles to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and not to preach the message of salvation to the Gentiles. (Matt. 10:5–6.) Certainly the course he followed in this instance was instructive to his disciples, tested the faith of the Gentile woman, taught that persistence and importunity in prayer will bring reward, and showed that greater faith is sometimes found among heathens than in the chosen lineage of Israel” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:371).