Friday, December 18, 2020

Matthew 15 - Part 1

 Read Matthew 15

This chapter begins with the COVID-19 police coming to see Jesus.  The Pharisees and some Teachers of the Law had come from Jerusalem to the region of Galilee to see what Jesus was up to that was causing all of the stir in the land.

What did they see?  The disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before they ate.  It’s not that they did not wash them for 20 seconds with hot soapy water.  It wasn’t that they didn’t sing a verse of their favorite song while they washed their hands.  They ate without washing their hands.

I made a pit stop at Hutches in Clinton a couple weeks ago.  I walked past the sink area and picked out a urinal.  There is a male behavioral code for such selection if someone is there before you, but I was the only participant in that area and didn’t have to go through those calculations. As I began to do what I came for, the guy at the sink started counting down from 20. There was a privacy petition between where I was standing and the sinks so I couldn’t see him, but I was thinking that I would be really upset if there was a “Boom” at the end of this countdown.

There was no explosion.  The guy was just doing his due diligence for washing his hands and making sure everyone else knew that.  I was the only other person in the men’s room, so his countdown was surely for my benefit. If I would have had a stamp and a pad, I could have marked him COVID compliant.

I liked this hand-washing stuff better when the recommendation was to sing a song as you washed them.  We were in Oklahoma City near the beginning of the panicked pandemic and I was washing my hands in the retailer’s restroom and thought Stairway to Heaven would be a good song.  That sucker really ramps up towards the end.

I’m not allowed in Kohl’s anymore.

What has preceded has been for the purpose of analogy.  This is a bona fide rabbit trail.  Today the mantra is wash you hands and don’t touch your face.  When I was young, I was told to wash my face and hands. I think some of us old-timers were ahead of the game.

The disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.  That was surely 15 yards and loss of down.

By this point, the Pharisees had become a little bolder.  Now instead of just talking among themselves or questioning the disciples, they confronted Jesus directly.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

 Normally, Jesus didn’t play this game, but this was an exception.  He said, “Back at ya!  Why do you supersede the law from God with your traditions?  The law says to honor your father and your mother but you tell people that if they give to you what they would have used to take care of their parents, it’s all good.”

Here is the executive summary—hypocrites!  You a bunch of hypocrites and the prophet Isaiah told us about you long ago.

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.

Jesus then switched his target audience from the religious hypocrites to the crowd that had been gathered and wanted to hear what Jesus had to say.

Jesus said: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Now that’s some good news right there, especially with all of the Thanksgiving and Christmas special meals and snacks and cookies.  What you eat doesn’t defile you.  It can add 20 pounds to your end of the year figure, but it doesn’t defile you.

The disciples came to Jesus and said something that was just so 2020.  The Pharisees were offended by what you said.  They were offended.

Now, let’s be fair.  For most of their lives, the disciples were taught to listen to, honor, obey, and respect the Pharisees.  They were the smart guys who knew what God’s law said.  Now Jesus has called them snakes and hypocrites, and within this chapter, he will call them blind.

Jesus told his disciples to cut ties with these religious hypocrites.  If you follow them, you are the tail end of the blind leading the blind.  Leave them!  They don’t know the way and apparently, were not interested in knowing the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Back to this handwashing stuff and what we eat.  Peter asked Jesus to explain how what we eat or washing or not washing our hands before we eat impacts our relationship with God.

Visualize Jesus giving Peter “the look” before responding.  Jesus answered Peter saying, “Are you so dull?”  This was an insurance commercial parable.  It’s so easy to understand, even a fisherman can do it.  Apparently not!

Jesus delved into a brief physiology lesson and discussed the GI tract.  Food in.  Food digested.  Waste out.  We all know the process.

Paul would later remind us that our bodies are a temple for God.  The Holy Spirit dwells within them.  We should keep them pure and holy and set apart for service to the Lord.  Jesus did not contradict this.

Jesus said there is a basic human process by which material is metabolized and energy produced and waste expelled.  That really does not have much to do with having right relationship with God.

If you are careless in your intake, you could get a messed up GI tract, dysentery, or Montezuma’s revenge, but the condition of your heart determines whether what comes out of your mouth is good or evil.  What’s in your heart is a preexisting condition.

Good or evil is not a gastrointestinal byproduct.  Jesus is talking about the condition of our hearts, and Jesus noted that all of humankind has been tainted by sin.  Evil is what is likely to come out of our hearts. 

King David cried out to the Lord in psalm to create in him a clean heart.  David realized that even a man after God’s own heart had sin at work in his own heart.  Only God could create in him a clean heart.

Jesus is not telling us to stop all of this handwashing that is supposed to be one of our modern-day cure-alls.  He is telling us to clean ourselves from the inside and work outwards. 

What we eat is important.  What we do is important.  In fact, diet and exercise are as biblical as you can get.  Our sustenance is every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and our exercise plan is to put the words of Jesus into practice.  Diet and exercise will get us where washing your hands won’t. 

God’s word works from the inside out.  This discipleship stuff works from the inside out.  Our love works from the inside out.  Obedience to God works from the inside out.  Producing good fruit works from the inside out. Everything that we do to bring glory to God works from the inside out.

God sees the heart.

Perfunctory practices produce pedestrian platitudes but nothing that brings glory to God.  The Pharisees get a bigger dose of chastising in a few more chapters.  For now, understand that God is at work on us from the inside.

In my GI tract examples, I left out something important. Not only do we have intake and digestion and elimination, we have production.  What we consume produces energy that often produces matter.  When I was younger that matter showed up more in my biceps.  These days it’s likely to find my waistline.

You know the old saying, “You are what you eat?”  In many ways that’s true.  Everything gets broken down at a molecular level but it still becomes us in mass or energy.

So, our intake is important.  When we internalize his word, it becomes us.  We become more like the One who gave us his word.  What comes out of us is more like the One who set us apart for his purpose than the world that does not know him.

Keep washing your hands, not because of some tradition but because that’s what your mother taught you to do and you want to honor your father and mother.  It’s also the trend these days,

If you have to count, don’t do it out loud, at least if I’m in earshot. 

It’s not about washing our hands. Let’s frame our lesson in the context of Isaiah.

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.

Let us honor God with our lips and our hearts.  Let there be no dissonance or duplicity.

Let us worship him in spirit and in truth and abide in his teachings.  Let word and deed be harmonious.

Let us digest every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and let it become us.  Let us put the words of our Master into practice.  Nobody wants to hear diet and exercise at the end of the year, but diet and exercise are important.

People have been beating up 2020 on a regular basis, but what if 2020 was the year we decided to live from the inside out.  What if instead of trying to follow rules, especially when people are watching, we let God rule in our hearts?

What if 2020 was the year that God ruled completely in our hearts and in our lives and in our love for one another?  If that’s not where you are today, you don’t have much year left.


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