Hello and welcome to Friday’s podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening in this week. Next week I believe it is my colleague Dave Saxton recording the podcast so keep getting involved.
Today we are looking at Matthew 15. You might remember that on Wednesday I shared how this half of the book of Matthew focuses on how people are responding to the message Jesus laid out in the first half of this book. Well today we are seeing a big clash between Israel’s religious leaders and Jesus. They are talking about cleanliness but really it quickly becomes bigger than that.
Before I read from the Bible, let me share a story. We are talking about cleanliness in our house at the moment. Not because we have an issue, but because our son, Joshua, who is 10 months old, recently got a flu. He is doing fine, he recently started nursery, and so mixing in regularly with the other kids, he potentially picked up what they carried and got sick. Obviously, it was heartbreaking seeing him not well for the first time. There is very little we could do other than pray and give the magic that is Calpol. The feedback from our friends has largely been: kids get sick, it’s normal and he will be better for it. We are quickly learning that there seems to be a parental scale with two extremes when it comes to the cleanliness of a child that are helpful metaphors for how we might see this adventure for Jesus. One extreme looks to sterilise everything and keep the germs away, while the other embraces the dirt, the muckier the better because we learn to clean ourselves up and fight off infection. I’m not sure where you’d fight on the scale and if there is a not a right side or not. But with that idea in our mind, let’s pick up the story today and we will consider together a thought about what real devotion could look like.
That Which Defiles
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus challenges them back and asks “why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
He ultimately drops a bombshell calling them out as hypocrites! He quotes Isaiah (a prophet of the Old Testament) who said:
These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.
Israel’s religious leaders and Jesus go head to head on the idea of purity. The Pharisees have raised a complaint about Jesus’ friends approach to ceremonial washing before meals. Now, for the record, it is good to wash your hands before a meal, but these rituals alone are not the measure of a healthy life of a disciple. Yes, your skin might be disease free, but your hearts are far from it, as it said in the Bible passage.
It seems to me that the religious leaders lean more to the side of ‘sterilise everything and keep the germs away’ and they describe that life as radical devotion to God; whereas the person of Jesus is about a surprising new lifestyle and a different type of radical devotion. He went around touching people with skin diseases, a woman with chronic bleeding and even dead people. It was like his view on purity was wired the direct opposite way to the Pharisees’. They seem convinced that these things made you impure and so steps had to be taken to limit your interaction with brokenness. Whereas Jesus seems convinced that engaging with these things can heal and purify those things that are broken or corrupted.
What does that mean for us? How might this affect our life today? This person in Jesus is an answer to some of the world’s problems and we should not always withdraw from difficulty or brokenness for our own protection. So, is our evangelism edgy enough? If we are not out there getting our hands a little dirty then how will people hear about the good news of Jesus? Ultimately the person I am becoming is more important than my apparent cleanliness. Our worship, and I mean that in the broadest of senses, that which we devote our life to, should be God centred and not so me-centered.
Perhaps that could be a question to linger on to end this podcast: How can I centre my devotion, my life’s focus and worship, on God today and make it less about how clean my hands may appear?
Just for the record – we will still wash our son’s hands regularly!
God, help us to focus on you today. If there are parts of this adventure that we have made too much about ourselves then we are sorry God. Help us to fix our eyes on you today. Forgive our sins. Would we carry that forgiveness to a world that needs healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
READING: Matthew 15:1-20
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’
Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “Honour your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is “devoted to God,” they are not to “honour their father or mother” with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
‘“These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.”’
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’
Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’
He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’
Peter said, ‘Explain the parable to us.’
‘Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them. ‘Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.’