August 14, 2005 - Pentecost +13
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
• 10 Jesus then called the people near him and said to them, "Listen and understand: 11 what enters into the mouth does not make a person unclean, what defiles one is what comes out of his mouth."
12 After a while the disciples gathered around Jesus and said, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you said?" 13 Jesus answered, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be uprooted. 14 Pay no attention to them! They are blind leading the blind. When a blind person leads another, the two will fall into a pit."
15 Peter said to him, "Explain this sentence to us." 16 Jesus replied, "So even you, too, are dull? 17 Do you not see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach, and then out of the body? 18 But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and that is what makes a person unclean.
19 Indeed, it is from the heart that evil desires come murder, adultery, immorality, theft, lies, slander. 20 These are the things that make a person unclean; but eating without washing the hands does not make a person unclean."
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Now a Canaanite woman came from those borders and began to cry out, "Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So his disciples approached him and said, "Send her away: see how she is shouting after us."
24 Then Jesus said to her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel."
25 But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus and said, "Sir, help me!" 26 Jesus answered, "It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to the little dogs." 27 The woman replied, "It is true, sir, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table." 28 Then Jesus said, "Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish." And her daughter was healed at that moment.
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• 10. See commentary on Mark 7:14.
Using only human criteria, human societies are not able to distinguish good from evil.
For the Jewish people, the worship of God was everything and they felt very much concerned about exactly who and what things were worthy of being part of this worship. Thus they made a distinction between the clean and the unclean. Jesus shows that true purity is that of the heart.
It could be that the code for correct behavior in our society and its numerous goodwill institutions be just a modern way of distinguishing the pure and the impure. In the Church itself, in past centuries, there has been a tendency to attribute to sacred ministers a "purity" that reserved to them the handling of sacred things. It is one of the reasons why in the Middle Ages Communion was not given in the hand, as had been the custom for over ten centuries.
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1. John Wesley's sermon, On Zeal, notes an important priority in which we sometimes even need to give up good things, in addition to that which is evil. The suggestion is that if you have to give up one good for a higher good, go ahead. We need to not only know how to keep Sabbath, but also how to break Sabbath (note Jesus on this and other rules).
"If true zeal be always proportioned to the degree of goodness which is in its object, then should it rise higher and higher according to the scale mentioned above; according to the comparative value of the several parts of religion. For instance, all that truly fear God should be zealous for the Church ; both for the catholic or universal church, and for that part of it whereof they are members. This is not the appointment of men, but of God. He saw it was "not good for men to be alone," even in this sense, but that the whole body of his children should be "knit together, and strengthened, by that which every joint supplieth." At the same time they should be more zealous for the ordinances of God; for public and private prayer, for hearing and reading the word of God, and for fasting and the Lord's supper. But they should be more zealous for works of mercy, than even for works of piety. Yet ought they to be more zealous still for all holy tempers, lowliness, meekness, resignation: but most zealous of all, for that which is the sum and the perfection of religion, the love of God and man."
2. Jesus has set a high example by his preaching about what comes out of our mouths. And then proceeds to let the evil of past bitterness and divisions between people come out of his mouth, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Thank goodness for the anonymous Canaanite woman and her not letting anyone get away with an excuse not to care for her child (and, by extension, all children).
Even crumbs of goodness are available to go in the mouths of dogs. Will we not diligently be about the business of seeing goodness, food, go into the mouths of all as well as seeing evil, poverty, kept from the mouths of all?!
3. Today's code for correct behavior has to do with personal hygiene. It might be called the Toothpaste Purity Code. Woe to the one who breaks it.
What ought to be the code of the mouth is the placing of blessing into everyone's mouth, "taste and see how good GOD is." But like baby birds we fight over others getting a blessing in their mouth. We open ours wider and push and shove to get the next mouthful of blessing. Know there is enough.
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