Today’s Reading: Matthew 15
What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’…the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ Matthew 15:11 & 18
I was sitting in Grade 8 Social Studies class listening to my teacher compare various world religions: among them, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. We were asked to compare and contrast key ideas and concepts and then debate them before the class. I don’t remember much of what was said, but what I do remember, what still haunts me to this day, is a fellow classmate standing before the class declaring me a hypocrite to all. My limited understanding of the word didn’t shelter me from the blow. The full weight of it fell on my shoulders and I struggled, in that moment, but also in the days and weeks to come, to reconcile her image of me with mine.
Looking back now I can see what I said didn’t always match what I did. My heart was in the right place. I never intentionally meant to leave kids out or make them feel unaccepted, but, as is often the case with teenage girls, maybe even teenagers altogether, my self-centered ego was far louder than the voice in my head prompting me to put others first. And because my heart was more centered on me than on Christ, my words and my actions, however unintentional, hurt those around me.
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34b
This was the message Jesus wanted His listeners, especially the Pharisees, to hear. You see, the Pharisees were the ones who interpreted the Law of God for the people. They determined what right-living looked like and disciplined those who fell short of their standards. But they had added so many of their own restrictions that their teaching had become rules taught by men, and ‘God’s Law’ had become a burden too hard for many to carry. So instead of right-living centering their hearts on God, it morphed into a means of looking good before man instead. A way, especially for the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day, to self-elevate, instead of glorify God. The heart had been taken right out. And Jesus recognized this immediately.
These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. Matthew 15:8-9
Jesus wanted to draw their hearts back into worship. He wanted their lives—their attitudes and behaviors—to reflect Him, to flow out of right relationship with Him. He wanted to show them that the heavy, burdensome religion they had come to know was not of Him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
And because many of the restrictions placed on the people dealt with purity, Jesus confronted the point head on and radically redefined it. They thought their righteousness before God depended entirely on how well they followed their laws – how right their living was. But Jesus showed them their thinking was wrong. It wasn’t that purity didn’t matter, it did. But outward purity, the thing they were so focused on, were just signs pointing to a deeper spiritual reality. You see, Jesus was concerned with their hearts and only what was reflected there could declare them clean.
As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Proverbs 27:19