Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28
Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.
Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present. The present is always the same: new pajamas. For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie. It feels like we have been doing these things forever.
Our churches also have traditions. Most churches do. In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions. It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point. One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition. For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important. Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible. Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word. A good, modern day example would be baptism. In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized. But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur. Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us. The same can be said of communion. I think this makes Jesus sad.
In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier. Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God. Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees. Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens… But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”. He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands. If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually. If good resides, then we are clean. To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.
Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”? For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration. That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath. Love triumphed. Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules. It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.
What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches? How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?