Hear and understand

November 9, 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I’m taking the good news from Matthew 15:10-20.

He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.” Then Peter said to him in reply, “Explain [this] parable to us.” He said to them, “Are you even still without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

The Pharisees believed that observing the food laws laid down in Leviticus and ritual washings pleased God. They wanted to please God, but their aim was off according to Jesus. Jesus overruled all these laws and told his listeners that it was the heart that mattered. It sounds so commonsensical to us now, but in that time it was revolutionary; it was blasphemous; it was a violation of what was held sacred.

Our love of God and love of one another is never about the external observances, although those may aid us in our devotion to our faith. Rather, it’s about what we desire and wish for in our relationship with God and each other. It’s about love, not law. Love is the far harder thing to do.

Barclay notes, “If religion consists in external regulations and observances it is two things. It is far too easy. It is very much easier to abstain from certain foods and to wash the hands in a certain way than it is to love the unlovely and the unlovable, and to help the needy at the cost of one’s own time and money and comfort and pleasure….(ii) It is Jesus’ teaching that the part of a man that matters is his heart….What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we actually do, but what we wish in our heart of hearts to do. ‘Man,’ as Aquinas had it, ‘sees the deed, but God sees the intention.'”

Only God knows what is in my heart. It’s a mixture of love and good intentions jostling with my sinful, selfish thoughts and desires. Jesus tells me that I’m judged by my words, those that come out of my mouth and those that form in my mind but which I keep to myself. There are those that defile me and those that recommend me to God. Life as a journey toward the kingdom of God is a process of purification of the heart. With Jesus’ help I think I’m making some progress as I understand more and more like Peter, little by little, what he is teaching me. “Hear and understand,” Jesus said to the crowd.




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