Friday, November 9, 2018

Matthew 15:17-20 -- On Mouths and Hearts

"Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Matthew 15:17-20

These verses are Jesus's answer to Peter when he asked to have Christ's statement in Matthew 15:11 explained ("Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.")

Interestingly, the scribes and Pharisees had challenged him about his disciples not following a tradition of washing their hands when they eat bread... something that is probably not a bad idea at all, but it wasn't an innocent question.  It was also about all of the other traditions that were built up around the gospel, questioning whether Christ and his group were truly doing what they should, and judging them as being "less holy."

We do similar things today.  We judge others by our own standards rather than by the gospel.  Instead of worrying about keeping the Sabbath day holy ourselves, for instance, we often want others to keep it our way... whatever that tradition is for us, or our families.  Maybe it is not changing out of church clothes, or what we listen to, or the activities we are allowed to engage in at home.  Often we go farther than that with that commandment and also with others.  I remember in college hearing people say "the spirit goes to bed at midnight" or having roommates trying to enforce rules about listening to only instrumental music or hymns in the apartment, no matter what day it was.

My intention is not to challenge personal rules that help people feel the spirit or stay close to the gospel at all.  I only illustrate some of the similar things we do to try to set the stage for these verses a little bit.  When Christ was asked the question about handwashing, he understood that it was a challenge and a "righteousness level" comparison, and so he didn't sit down and talk about the relative merits of the practice from a physical cleanliness perspective.  Instead, he made it clear that this wasn't a rule that should be enforced by other people for his disciples, and also explained that within the gospel what was important wasn't the dirt or germs that we might take in, but it is *who we are* and our words and actions that are the way that we will be judged.

This is an important lesson I think, because we slip so easily into thinking or acting like the gospel is for evaluating the people around us, rather than for changing ourselves.  Perhaps these are some things that we can consider today, placing less emphasis on tradition and what we take in, and focus more on the gospel and what we are putting out... changing *ourselves* rather than judging others.

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