Sunday, August 16, 2020
It is what comes from the heart defiles
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
It is not what goes in the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles. Speech and actions that hurt, wound, insult, and create division especially in our world today defiles all of us. What comes out of people’s mouths or out of their social media feeds is what defiles. I could almost stop right there today.
I have the choice today whether or not to include the first half of the gospel where Jesus teaches this message. I could go with just the story of the Canaanite woman, but I think Jesus’ message in this first portion is vital to us in our toxic political world right now. Toxic on both sides of the aisle. What we are seeing in the arguments about the pandemic are symptoms I believe of a greater societal illness than COIVID-19.
As usual the setting is important. In first 10 verses of the chapter Jesus is arguing with Pharisees about ritual purity including their criticism of his followers for not washing their hand before eating. Now they didn’t know anything about bacteria or washing to kill germs, this was a ritual. The Jewish world of Jesus’ times was filled with purity rituals and kosher laws. Many of them were developed during the Babylonian Captivity as a way to keep them and their culture from being assimilated into the Babylonian society. That was how the Babylonians handled conquered people, they made them into Babylonians. Took their civil and religious leaders to Babylon and like the Borg in Star Trek assimilated them into their society destroying their previous traditions. The books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus come from that time period and those books are filled with 615 commandments about how to live. All designed to keep their society together while in captivity.
Jesus however is saying that rituals do not make you holy. Jesus turns this whole world on its head and says, how we treat the other, how we live with each other is what is important. That is what comes from the heart and the heart in that world was the seat of all emotion and actions. Those evil intentions murder adultery fornication theft false witness and slander that he mentions are commandments 4-10. What defiles is how we treat each other and that is the focus of the last 7 commandments! This is in line with our own definition of sin, which includes breaking relationships with God, creation and each other. Our definition of sin is not a list of actions but concern over the results of those actions.
Yet then we have the story of the Canaanite woman and we see Jesus acting in a way that seems almost shocking when he calls her a dog! So what is going on here? There are two schools of thought about this passage and it is one that is hotly debated. Did the Canaanite woman catch him up short, make him get frustrated while he was maybe having a bad day or did Jesus know exactly what he was doing. How you answer this tells you a great deal about your image of Jesus. It is also a great example of how people can disagree without hating each other.
One school says that Jesus is perfect and could not make a mistake or actually mean it when he called the woman a dog. That was quite an insult in case you are not aware. So, was he testing the woman and the disciples? Did he want to test how deep her faith was? Did he want to show the disciples that a Canaanite could have a deep faith and was not a dog, but a beloved child of God?
Or if being fully human mean that Jesus might just have meant what he said and this outsider this other person taught him a lesson. Was he truly astonished that this woman was right and had pointed out that his call was to all the world? That is a message of Matthew’s gospel for the gospel ends with Jesus sending his disciples out to proclaim the gospel to all the world.
Here is an example of how there can be two completely different interpretations of the story and both are equally valid. I can tell you Tuesday morning we had both opinions in the room and that is great! That is the way it should be. We were able to see and understand Jesus in two different ways and still be civil with each other. There is no wrong answer to this question, just two right answers.
Now stay with me, if we can disagree and stay together about something as important as whether or not Jesus had to be sinless can’t we get along better on some less important questions. Can we not allow for differences of opinion without getting nasty and mean?
You see no matter how you read the story of Jesus and the Canaanite Woman, we have here an important lesson about how we treat the other, the one who isn’t ritually pure or is just different. Someone who doesn’t follow our traditions but is still our neighbor.
If we have a large definition of neighbor that changes how we treat people. That changes what comes out of our mouth and what is in our hearts. That is what Jesus is really trying to get at today.
I want to close with something that Richard Rohr wrote this week that I believe is very appropriate.
The call to love beyond our own flesh and blood is ancient. It echoes down to us on the lips of indigenous leaders, spiritual teachers, and social reformers through the centuries. [The founder of Sikhism] Guru Nanak called us to see no stranger, Buddha to practice unending compassion, Abraham to open our tent to all, Jesus to love our neighbors, Muhammad to take in the orphan, [Hindu mystic saint] Mirabai to love without limit. They all expanded the circle of who counts as one of us, and therefore who is worthy of our care and concern. These teachings were rooted in the linguistic, cultural, and spiritual contexts of their time, but they spoke of a common vision of our interconnectedness and interdependence. . . .
What has been an ancient spiritual truth is now increasingly verified by science: We are all indivisibly part of one another. We share a common ancestry with everyone and everything alive on earth. The air we breathe contains atoms that have passed through the lungs of ancestors long dead. Our bodies are composed of the same elements created deep inside the furnaces of long-dead stars. We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say—as a moral declaration and a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact: You are a part of me I do not yet know.1
You are a part of me I do not yet know. What an incredible way to look at the world. If you can begin to practice this spiritual world view, the world, at least your world, will get better. And if your world gets better then other’s worlds will too. You are the one who controls your world and how you live. It is your choice to live in peace and harmony with others, or to treat them like a dog. We know what Jesus teaches us.