Sunday, August 20, 2017 – Year A/I
Season After Pentecost, Proper 15
Matthew 15:10-20 (NRSV)
In this week’s scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains what defiles a person. In the verses preceding this text, the Pharisees and scribes confront Jesus about his disciples’ not honoring a tradition of the elders by failing to wash their hands before they eat and Jesus says, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Matt. 15:11. When the disciples warn Jesus that the Pharisees took offense at this response, he responds to that by saying “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” Matt. 15:14. Then Peter asks for an explanation of the parable and Jesus explains that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer, but what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles. “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person . . .” Matt. 15:19. He ends the explanation by saying to eat with unwashed hands does not defile. Matt. 15:20.
What did this mean to Jesus’ audience in the first century C.E.? He said that he came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, yet here he is, telling the disciples and those with ears to listen that what is more important than following this tradition of the elders is what comes from our hearts by way of our mouths. Perhaps he is reminding his followers that what makes the Kingdom of Heaven are words (and actions, by acting on the words) that convey the reciprocal love shared by God and his children on Earth, such as the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” which Jesus amends to include “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mk 12:31.
It still holds true today. When we obey this commandment we are, as Jesus tells the Scribe in this scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark, we are not far from the kingdom of God. Mk. 12:34.
What’s been coming out of the mouths of people these last few weeks and months is disturbing – hatred, bigotry, intolerance. And that’s from our elected president, supported by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right. Once silenced in our society, they have become emboldened by an elected leader who does not denounce their beliefs and actions and seems to espouse them.
It’s obvious that what they say and believe is the polar-opposite of what Jesus teaches and to say the least, triggers an emotional response, so it was heartening yesterday to see so many people in the streets of Boston proclaiming by their presence and actions that they do not espouse a message of hatred and exclusion, but march toward and into the Kingdom of God.
There will be more protests, more marches, more messages of hatred and love, and we need to make sure that the words and action of love as Jesus commands through God are bolder and louder. With any luck, the blind supremacists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right will have their eyes opened and see the reality that is true Christian love.