I wonder if you are a person who thinks carefully before you speak or are you more like those of us who speak mostly straight from the heart? I don’t always think before I speak and it gets me into trouble sometimes… But usually what I speak is what I mean, it’s from my heart, it’s truth, sometimes I probably need to filter it a bit; there have been times when I have said something and looked at the person I am speaking too and their jaw has dropped! But that is another story.
This gospel passage doesn’t really make sense unless we put it into context, and the context is this; the Jewish leaders of the day: the Pharisees and scribes, lived by a set of rules, not only the 10 commandments but other rules that had been added; these rules had been passed down the generations orally; they had been spoken not written down. Rules about what you could and could not eat, what you could and could not do. etc. True believers were to live by these rules, which made life quite difficult. But if you didn’t obey the rules you were not considered as a faithful follower of the religion.
The Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus to complain and try to discredit his teaching, and his disciples. They said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” Now I like to wash my hands before I eat, but if I am out, it’s not always possible, I don’t worry about it and I don’t think God does either! Washing your hands before you eat was not in the written law.
These extra rules were said to have been given at the same time as the written law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. (shrug)
But of course we don’t know if that is true or not; it is possible that some of the rules and traditions that were handed down orally, were manmade, perhaps to put pressure on ordinary people and give power to the elders and religious leaders.
I think that goes on today in some places: think about the unspoken “rules” that some churches have….
In one of our churches until someone died, you couldn’t sit on the pew at the back of the church…
And it wasn’t too long ago that in some churches women were not allowed or were frowned upon if they wore earrings or trousers… what do you think are the unspoken rules in your church?
Let’s take a few moments to consider this, maybe talk to your neighbour….
Manmade rules, hurdles to jump, if you want to be like us…
I love it, that Jesus comes along, and says no! These are not important, it is what is in your heart that matters.
The Pharisees try to discredit the disciples by accusing them of eating without washing their hands, but Jesus turns it around and says,
it’s not what you put into your mouth that matters, because that comes out of the body and goes into the sewer. It is what comes out of your mouth that matters, because that comes from your heart.
Well, Jesus doesn’t answer the Pharisees question directly, instead he challenges them by asking them a question: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God, then that person need not honour the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.
Jesus goes on to call them hypocrites and quotes from Isaiah 29, which they would have been familiar with. Interestingly, when I looked up the quote in the nrsv translation, which we think maybe the most accurate, it says this;
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honour me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
I will again do amazing things with this people,
shocking and amazing.
A sobering thought. >>>
There are a few things here to take note of from this:
1] we need to be very careful when we accuse or judge someone else’s behaviour, most of us have many small and big prejudices lurking in our hearts and we need to make sure any accusations we make are not based on scripture or God’s law but on our own sinfulness.
2] we need to be very careful about what we say, I am speaking to myself here, because it usually reflects what is in the heart.
But perhaps more importantly, we should listen to ourselves, and if we hear ourselves saying something that we know isn’t right, judging someone, being disrespectful, or unkind, we need to do business with God: We need to ask him what is going on in my heart, Lord: let him show you, you might be surprised. Is there hurt or unforgiveness there, have I allowed my heart to become hard. Help me Lord and tell me what do I need to do about it?
Our passage begins with Jesus telling the crowd that it is not what goes into our mouths that defile us but that which comes out of our mouths, because what comes out of our mouths proceeds from our heart, and this is what defiles.
Then there is that list of evil intentions, which I think we could easily add to, perhaps being more specific, often things that seem innocuous are nevertheless harmful and hurtful. I have been struck recently by some of the unkind words we use, not necessarily on purpose, but we need to give more thought to how the words might make another person feel. I need to learn that lesson myself.
The passage then goes on to tell the story of the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter. As a Canaanite, she was descended from the original people of the land, who were dispossessed by the Israelites. She is the equivalent of the present-day Palestinian. Some Jews took a particularly grim view of Canaanites, because before they were dispossessed by the Israelites, they had done some terrible things, they deserved punishment, and so they forfeited their land.
So, it is quite understandable then that when the woman approaches Jesus shouting, the disciples urge Jesus to send her away and Jesus says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman is desperate, and so, bravely yet humbly she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 .. Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus responds to the woman’s faith, and in his response, we see that God, loves even the Canaanites. I want us to pause here for a moment, who do you think would be the equivalent to a Canaanite today? …. Who are the people who you think are outside God’s love? … A terrorist, considering the news over the last few months? Some would say refugees, maybe Nazi’s or white supremacists. People who are not like us… Surely God can’t love one of those.
Well I have news for you: God loves all people, he may treat some differently, because there are always consequences to our actions, but, nevertheless, God loves us all. He may not like what we do, the consequences might be painful and hard, but that doesn’t cancel out his love for all humankind, because God is love, he is the author of love, he created us in love, and out of that love, sent his son to die for the sins of the whole world.
As far as I can see, there is no get out clause; God loves each one of us and he calls us to love others the way he does. That doesn’t mean we condone or put up with wrongdoing, but it does mean, that we are to try to love, to choose to love, regardless of another person’s actions.
It is a tall order, a big ask. Something that I don’t believe we can do on our own. We are too weak, full of prejudice, some of us have tendencies to be spiteful, arrogant and can even tread on others to get what we want. But there is hope for all humankind because our God is a great big God, able to turn us around, he is the God of the impossible.
All we need do, is to be honest and truthful with him, approach him bravely yet humbly, ask for his help, forgiveness, healing, and as he cleans us up and helps us to clear out the darkness within, we need to ask him to fill us – our hearts and minds with his healing, life-giving love. So that we can love others no matter who they are, and what they have done. It is only with God’s help that we can fulfil his commandments.
The last ten months or so have been a challenge for me, I have had to reach into my reserves, which has caused me to think far more than I normally do. I have needed to lean on God more than I have ever done before, and I have had to take time to ponder, pray and just be still in his presence.
Although I wouldn’t want to go through it all again, in many ways it has been a gift to me, for it has made me realise in a deeper way, two things – God is with us in the highs and the lows, he is always there, in it with us, and if we lean into him we find rest for our souls and the strength to go on, despite what is happening to and around us.
Secondly, we need to really see people, we need to pause and pay attention to those around us, whether that be a friend, family member or someone in the street, because we all need to be heard, we need to be noticed and acknowledged. That is how, I believe, we can love people the way God loves us.
Before I finish with the words of a wonderful poem, I want to reiterate 2 things;
1] we can approach God honestly, telling him the truth of how we feel and what we have done, and, if we are honest and open and approach him humbly, he will have mercy on us, heal us, and fill us with his love.
And secondly, it doesn’t matter how we worship him, as long as we worship him with integrity and truth.
This is a poem by George Herbert, familiar, I expect, to some.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Pause for a few moments of quiet. Amen. So be it Lord.