Use one or both of these questions to introduce the lesson:
1. What are some of your favorite cleaning products? How do you use them? Why do you prefer your brand over competing brands?
2. Consider these common phrases: airing your dirty laundry, having clean hands in a situation, speaking with a foul mouth, getting in the mud during an argument. How do each of these phrases have literal and figurative meanings?
Read Matthew 15:1, 2.
1. List some symbolic ways people display their loyalty to a faith—for example, wearing distinctive clothing or jewelry, displaying bumper stickers on their cars, and so on. Choose one of those and place it into this paraphrase of verse 2: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t ________________!” How does the symbolism you identified compare to the symbolic washing of hands practiced in Jesus day?
2. A parallel passage in Mark 7 explains ceremonial practices of the Jews more fully. Examine Mark 7:1-5. Do you think the Pharisees were concerned about the physical hygiene of the disciples or about something else entirely? Explain.
3. Notice that it was not only the Pharisees who did not understand the difference between ceremonial defilement and real “dirtiness.” Read Matthew 15:12-20; Mark 7:14-23. Summarize Jesus’ explanation of true defilement to his followers.
Read Matthew 15:3-9.
4. Leviticus 20 contains a list of offenses that required the death penalty according to the law of Moses. Review the list. (Some of the offenses are shocking!) Why might that list’s inclusion of honoring parents surprise us today?
5. When some people come across a rule or law they don’t want to follow, they might look for a loophole. What loophole for refusing to financially support one’s parents did the leaders of Jesus’ day use? Give an example of a loophole people today might use to excuse disobedience of a clear law or rule.
6. We could describe ceremonial washing as a ritual of Judaism of that day. It is interesting that the word ritual comes from the same root as the word arithmetic, indicating that rituals are like mathematical formulas. What religious rituals/formulas do Christians sometimes perform today? What are some positive and negative consequences of religious formulas and rituals?
7. The Pharisees were using religious rituals to attempt to discredit the teaching of Jesus and his disciples. After this conversation, Jesus and his disciples encountered a Gentile woman, someone whom they would have considered ceremonially defiled (Matthew 15:21-30; Mark 7:24-28). What evidence do you see that the disciples still did not understand the point Jesus was making? How can we avoid making judgments about the external defilement of people that may keep them from the source of internal cleansing?