“There is a God force inside of you that gives you a will to live.”
Dick Gregory (Comedian of the Civil Rights Movement)
Forget the Hand-Sanitizer
August 20, 2017
Indianapolis First Friends
Matthew 15:10-20 (NRSV)
10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
The text for today is a parent’s nightmare. Actually, what Jesus is teaching may cause my Kindergarten-teacher-wife a bit of alarm or anyone who considers themselves a germ-o-phobe.
Let me explain...
Sue has hand sanitizer wherever we go. It is in our car, in her purse, she finds random dispensers on counters, outside bathrooms, at hospitals...she even collects ones with specific scents and in a variety of sizes for her purse, the driver door in our van, and throughout the home. The boys and I are always being asked to “hold out our hands” as though we are going to be handcuffed by the handwashing police only to be lathered with a squirt of cold and quickly evaporating solution.
During VBS, this year, I found myself channeling my wife’s persistence to utilize the hand sanitizer before our snack time each night. Not one kid could have a snack without first lining up and taking care of this ever important ritual.
Now, my boys and I often give Sue a hard time, especially when we are in a hurry, or just getting in the car from a shopping excursion, or I am trying to drive with Germ-X dripping all over the steering wheel. But I understand her desire to not let sickness get transferred - actually during flu season, it has probably saved our lives - literally!
So to have Jesus in the text this morning say, “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” is almost words of heresy in our household and to good parents everywhere!
Now, I know there are studies that show both good and bad aspects of washing our hands and using hand sanitizer all the time, but that is not really the point that Jesus is addressing this morning. Actually, this was more about defilement and law-keeping that kept those the Pharisees or Religious Leaders of Jesus’ day considered unfit to associate or fellowship with away from their contact.
Yes, you heard that correctly - washing hands and eating the proper food kept at distance the people the Pharisees did not want to associate with. This was what we call today - discrimination. And Jesus begins to break down the barriers...just listen to what he says…
“Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
In one of the commentaries I read this week it said that in Jesus’ day “defilement meant being unfit for fellowship with God and his people.”
True “evil” defiles a person - not the food they eat.
Boy...I think that had the disciples kinda freakin’ out. So much so, they thought it was time to pull Jesus aside and let him know that he was offending the religious leaders. I am sure they thought they were doing the right thing. Maybe it sounded like this.
Peter under his breath says, “Oh goodness, we better warn Jesus” because...well, I don’t want to be in trouble by association.” (an issue I believe Peter struggled with). Peter then leans over to James and says, “Jesus has to know that he needs to soften his message, right? or maybe we need to help “spin” his words to make them say more of what the Pharisees want to hear. At this rate he is gonna get crucified. We better tell him.”
So they proceed to interrupt his message and warn him, but Jesus continued explaining...
Now, Yes, the pharisees were probably just a bit taken aback by Jesus’ words. They would have known exactly what Jesus was implying by speaking of removing these unnecessary laws and prohibitions.
The food laws were actually in the Torah - the scriptures. So already this Jesus has committed theological suicide. He just told them that something in their Bible didn’t apply anymore - that’s a no-no. Thus the reason the disciples were so concerned.
But Jesus’ response is kind of multi-layered - and remember the crowd was still gathered around and most likely included the religious leaders, followers and naysayers, and also the disciples.
First Jesus, quickly dismissed the religious leaders and says their work is not God’s work - actually he goes even further and says that they are “blind leading the blind.” What you talking about Jesus? He just slammed the religious leaders at the core of their being. In one text it is translated that Jesus said, “Just forget them - or let them go.”
And he didn’t stop there, he implies that they should let them go and FORGIVE THEM, because really “they are just the blind leading the blind.”
I believe by this point Jesus has offended everyone in the room with his words.
No longer can Peter stay quiet and proceeds to ask, “Jesus you have some explainin’ to do.”
So Jesus addresses Peter by talking specifically about the mouth (something I believe Peter could again understand). Jesus says,
“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.””
One commentary says that Jesus appears to anticipate Freud's formulation of the id by about 1800 years in this one statement.
What Jesus was doing was actually summarizing the Ten Commandments in that list of words which can brew down deep in our hearts and come out and break our fellowship with God and our neighbor. Get it?...this is why later Jesus will summarize the Ten Commandments into Two - Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
All these other silly laws are simply keeping one from fellowship and acceptance of their neighbors. Jesus is saying...Eat what you want and if you don’t want to wash your hands - then so be it, but don’t use it to discriminate against your neighbor - know what is in your heart and share it through loving one another.
Now, let’s be honest. The Church has been notorious for creating hoops to jump through to be accepted. As I have been hearing your stories, many of you gave up on the those hoops. Many of you saw the way the church discriminated in history and said enough is enough.
Discrimination is not simply a “black and white” issue. In 22 years of ministry I have encountered, and sadly participated many times unaware, in all kinds of isolation in the church.
James Watkins put together a “Top Ten” list of discriminations in the church - here is what he found:
10 - Age
9 - Tastes (especially musical)
8 - Physical and/or Mental Challenges
7 - Levels of education
6 - Denominational affiliation and/or doctrinal beliefs
5 - Gender and Sexuality
4 - Married, Divorced, Single, or Celibate
3 - Politics and Ideology
2 - Economics as well as what we often first think about…
1 - Race and Nationality
If we are going to stand up to discrimination in our world - we must start by looking at ourselves and also our own meeting. This will take some work...so I will simply leave us with two queries to ponder this morning:
● Explore what ways you discriminate in our daily lives, families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods.
● In what ways do we at First Friends’ (spoken or unspoken) discriminate to keep ourselves comfortable as a meeting?