October 7, 2018
Bob Prince once wrote, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break God’s heart.” I wonder how our lives would be if we began each day with that quote as our prayer?
Matthew’s Gospel is organized around the major teachings of Jesus. Every time Jesus taught, he addressed the lifestyle (ethic) of a believer (Christian) and Jesus confronted the “accepted norm” of faithful living in his day that still challenges our 21st century understanding of how Christians are to live and think and act and love in the secular world. Our series of messages titled: He Said What?!! And each week we’ve been looking at the challenging teachings of Jesus regarding the Christian’s relational faith practice. The essence of Christian ethics is overcoming evil with good. We have already considered Jesus’ command to reconcile our anger, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, serve only one master (Christ) and to not judge. Today let’s consider Jesus’ command to “wash” our hearts.
By Matthew 15, the Pharisees have become quite frustrated with Jesus. His miraculous healings, feedings and teachings have brought great frustration to their “faith practice and leadership-as-usual lifestyles”. So, they confront Jesus with one of the most basic of questions, “Why don’t you and your disciples do the traditional things we do, like washing your hands before eating?” Can’t you see Jesus just rolling his eyes into his forehead in response? In recent days, Jesus had heard the heartbreaking news of John the Baptist’s execution; he has fed 5,000 men (and others) and then walked on water and the Pharisees confront him with washing their hands before eating? Are you kidding me – really, handwashing? Ever noticed that when you are frustrated with someone, it really doesn’t matter what the “it” is that brings about confrontation? Anger needs very little to spark a fire in us!
To their credit, the Pharisees were a “traditions-type” of people. Handwashing was not a law per-se, but it was a tradition handed down from generation to generation that was concreted in the Jewish lifestyle. What sort of traditions do/did you observe in your family that were handed down to you – and that you have passed along to the next generation after you?
There once was a young mother who was teaching her young daughter to help her cook the Christmas ham for the big family gathering. At some point the mother cut off the end of the ham before cooking. When asked why by her daughter, she replied, “I don’t know, that is the way my mom did it.” Later, she called her mother and asked why. She replied, “That was the way my mom did it, I don’t know why.” As luck would have it the great-Grandmother was still living and when asked about why she cut off the end of the ham before cooking, she replied, “because the ham was too long for my baking pan!” The pan was long gone, but the tradition lived on.
Jesus’ responds with an attack on the way Pharisees were misleading some Jewish families into failing to care for their parents because they were “setting aside” those funds which should have been used to support parents “for God”. Which really means for the support of the Temple leadership.
Those funds were declared “Korban” (dedicated to God). But in reality, it was withholding money and cheating one’s parents of financial support in their senior years. And Jesus calls them on it telling them that they are more worried about handwashing before a meal than the command to honor (care for) your parents. One was a tradition (handwashing), the other a true command (parental care). God does not care about eating with dirty hands, but God does care about worshipping God with dirty hearts!
Later Peter (always Peter), asks Jesus to explain. Jesus tells him/us that nothing we will ever eat will make us unclean. (Later in Acts 10, Peter will have a dream that eliminated the Jewish food prohibitions.) Jesus then tells Peter that it is what comes from a clean, or unclean heart that matters. Everything we do, think, believe, say, want, etc. comes from the heart.
In the early 1900’s a man went to church and placed a coin that he thought was a quarter in the collection plate. During the closing hymn, he noticed that he’d put a dollar coin in by mistake. After the service he went up to the deacon and told him his mistake and wanted to exchange the quarter for the dollar. The Deacon refused. The man said, “Well, at least I’ll get credit for a dollar in heaven.” To which the Deacon replied, “No you won’t, you’ll only get credit for the quarter!”
Of all the things that hurt God’s heart the most, hypocrisy ranks at the top. Hypocrisy is saying one thing and then doing the opposite. To wash our heart is to allow the cleansing blood of Jesus to change, transform and totally remake our inner motives for each and every decision we make. Having a washed heart helps us to see what God sees, feel what God feels and to respond to others like God responds. Washed hearts for Jesus, like the Bob Prince quote earlier, opens us to experience having our hearts broken by the same things that break God’s heart.
Our series of messages are designed for us all to reflect on our personal holiness. Are you more holy today, than yesterday; last week; last month; last year; last decade? How is your heart today? Has it been washed by Jesus and kept clean by the Holy Spirit? Or, are we still doing the same old things the same old ways we have always done things?
A $3 million gift for the renovations of a children’s zoo in Central Park was rescinded mid-way through the project because donor discovered that the plaque identifying his gift would be placed between two existing plaques of previous donors given decades earlier. And his plaque would be only 4”x4”, where the others were 6”x6” and those donors had only given $500,000 each! It wasn’t about the gift as much as it was about the recognition.
Isn’t this the sort of thing that comes from a heart that has not been washed by Jesus? Let’s wash our hearts as re return to the table of forgiveness and restoration and celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion – a holy and heart-washing invitation from the Lord!