Food for Thought-Does the Cross Make My Butt Look Big? A Sermon on Matthew 16: 21-28

Does This Cross Make My Butt Look Big?

A Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

By Richard Bryant

Sometimes it seems (just from reading the Gospels) that we are more into evangelism, witnessing, and sharing the Good News than Jesus is.  I’m not kidding.  Just look at how last week’s gospel lesson ended.  (Now remember, even though it was only week ago these events only occurred seconds before what you just heard.)  “Then he (Jesus) sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone he was the messiah.” Now, I don’t know about you, but Jesus sounds like he needs to go back to discipleship school.  Jesus is not sounding very Christian.  He’s not coming across like he wants to “win” anyone over to himself.  Get with the program Jesus.  It’s all about the quarterly statistics we have to turn in to the conference office.

This is exactly the problem Peter sees.  Peter isn’t cool with Jesus not living up to the “winning” image of a Messiah who is capable of bringing back the dead and feeding thousands of people.  To put it mildly, it disturbs Peter that Jesus is being so negative and not riding the wave of his own popularity.  In addition, it’s not just that Jesus is keeping his Messiah-ness on the down low and under wraps, he saying that he’s going to die.  And it’s not that he’s simply referring to the end of his natural life.  Jesus is saying he’s going to be killed; he’s going to be killed, by the chief priests, elders, and scribes.  It’s going to be a gruesome and painful death.  It’s going to amount to serious suffering.  In conventional terms, the way we define the word, there is no way you could define it as winning.  In fact the world would collectively define it as loosing.  Then, on top of all of that, Jesus tells them that this suffering business doesn’t just include him.  No.  Not by a long shot.  It also includes his followers.  They will be subject to the same level of suffering. They too face this ill-defined punishment called “the cross”.

This is too much for Peter to bear.  The son of God isn’t supposed to talk this way  We’re winners.  Surely you’re just a little burnout, Jesus.  Maybe you just need some prayer.  Jesus please don’t be so negative.  Jesus, clearly you don’t get your own message.  Jesus, you’re supposed outgoing and positive, winning people to you and to our movement.  You’re never going to convince people to follow us with this level pessimism.  You can’t tell people this Jesus?  What will people think?  We can’t ask people to make this kind of commitment?  Death, suffering, following you, bearing a cross? Have you lost your mind?

These are the kinds of things Peter said and thought on that afternoon in Caesarea Philippi.

In case you’ve forgotten, let me tell you what Jesus said to Peter.

“Hey Satan, stand over there.”  You’re in my way, jerk.

That’s my translation.

Clearly, that’s not a sentiment or idea that Jesus is not too fond of.

So why does Jesus not want to let the cat out of the bag?

It’s what I call the “dancing with Richard theory”.

He didn’t want the idea of a savior to get ahead of the actual work of being savior.

Say I got to a club and I start dancing out on the dance floor.  I really show my moves to the hit songs of the day.  I demonstrate my ability to do things with my arms, legs, and hips to Beyonce, Jessie J, and the other first ladies of Pop.  People will be enthralled with my dancing abilities.  They will say, where, per chance did that fellow learn to move in such a rhythmic and seductive like fashion.  No one will be interested in my philosophical insights on Kierkegaard or Schleiermacher.

It’s the same thing with Jesus, if the word spreads that he is the Messiah and is just a miracle worker who makes tons of bread, do you think anyone is going to be interested in hearing the real heart of the message; the Good News about the coming kingdom of God, helping the poor, feeding the widows and orphans, and treating your neighbor as you treat yourself.  No, I say!  They are going to want Jesus to do it again.   That’s all he’ll be hearing.  Do it again, Jesus.  Do it again. Make more bread, Jesus.  Bring this person back to life Jesus.  I’m sick Jesus.  My foot hurts, Jesus.  And so on, and so on.

Now let me ask you a question.  Do you see why Jesus got upset?  Do you see why he became frustrated enough to compare his best friend to the prince of darkness?

Now let me ask you a second question.  We wouldn’t do that to Jesus, would we?  We wouldn’t bring him some long laundry list of concerns and lose sight of the bigger picture, the main message just so we could get our needs met?  We wouldn’t do that, would we?  Is there any degree of familiarity at all?  Isn’t this exactly how we treat our relationship with Jesus?  At times, don’t we regard him as some kind of divine vending machine?  Give us what we want, keep doing what we want, going the direction we want, saying what we want, regardless of your plan, Jesus?

The disciples were very insecure people, a lot like us, in some ways.  Never quite sure where they stood in and around Jesus and they were in physical proximity to Jesus.

We get so caught up in the style; i.e. trying to figure out what we need to do please Jesus (Jesus love you this He knows, he is pleased)-for Jesus, it’s about the substance of what he’s doing-not trying to us trying to prove how much we love him.  That’s why the message is more important than the miracles or even the titles for Jesus.  That’s what this passage is about.

For Jesus, the substance of the message and the embodiment of his message will ultimately define what makes a follower.  Let me say that again.  It is the substance of the message (the content) and the embodiment of his message when it comes in conflict with the power structures of this world that will define who becomes one of his followers.  I can’t stress enough how crucial that is.

The substance of the message is pretty clear by now.  Being God’s anointed means that you love the unloved.  That’s a given.  You make good on those promises you made in that first sermon, the one they ran you out of town for preaching, the one you did in your home synagogue of Nazareth.  You stood up and quoted from Isaiah.  You said you were here to bring a freeing, liberating news to the poor, to unbind those who were held in all forms of captivity, to restore sight to those living in the darkness caused by our world, and bring an overall sense of wholeness and restoration to everything which was broken and needed mending.  Chief among those things which need mending are human hearts.  The way to mend human hearts is through love.  That is the substance of the message.

How do you get love, show love, display love?  Now is where it gets hard.  He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Peter didn’t understand Jesus nor did the other disciples.  We rarely do.  We water down this expression.  We sanitize the cross.  To be blunt, we don’t want to go anywhere near following Jesus on the cross.  What does he mean?  Here’s what it means to me.  Here’s what I’ve come to understand.  Following Jesus means freely loving until it hurts.  It means forgiving Judas.  It means forgiving the people who crucify you.  It means loving until it hurts.  It means being willing and able to say Mr. Roman, please hit me again, I forgive you.  It means loving the thieves and criminals hanging next to you. It means extending compassion to those around as they watch you suffer.  That’s what it looked like for Jesus.

What does that look like in your life?  Brokenness and the need to love are still as relevant as ever.  It’s going to look different but there are going to be places and people where it hurts to love, especially freely and without reservation.

Being a Christian is not about being a religious, pious, or devout person; it’s about being a loving person.  Some of the most religious people I know, people who call themselves Christian, are also some of the most loveless, miserable human beings I’ve ever met.  In fact, I would rather have no religion than bad religion any day of the week. You can be religious and have no love in your heart.  Being a follower of Christ is all about living a life of sacrificial love. This is what Jesus is saying.

Why do you think Paul put such emphasis on 1 Corinthians 13?  Do you think he was just writing letters to churches and thought he’d write something that would be used at every wedding under the sun and loose all connection to Jesus’ message about the coming kingdom of God?  No.

The values created by love never fade, that’s what Paul says.  Jesus is saying that getting from here, to where those love values are permanent, is a difficult journey but a journey worth the effort.  Paul couldn’t make it any clearer-Everything that is not rooted in love will fail; that’s why the journey toward the kingdom like the one Jesus describes is so painful at times.  It’s not pretty as we bear the crosses called poverty, racism, sexism, and war (just to name a few).

So the question for today, for me, isn’t so much can you bear the cross?  It’s this.  Can you live the life of love?

 

Food for Thought-Richard’s 5 Evangelism Ideas

Richard’s 5 Evangelism Ideas

1. Emphasize we’re asking for one hour (or less) per week. That’s all. Put a basic church commitment into perspective for people. They give much more time to much less important stuff.
2. Lower expectations. It’s not going to be Mass at St. Peter’s or a mid-western mega-church. It’s going to be 100 or so if your neighbors singing, praying, talking, and listening. It will be like an interactive meeting where people aren’t afraid to laugh or cry. If people are afraid to laugh or cry, then I’m sorry, you might be doing something wrong.
3. If they haven’t been in a while, make sure they know church is nothing like it was when they were last there in 1979. If after attending, people do think it’s like it was in 1979, you might need to head back to the drawing board.
4. Try to make everything you do user friendly. You can do this without changing a bunch of names or eradicating concepts altogether. Use your head. Just give good explanations. Have decent signs. Answer questions clearly and concisely without going on for hours.
5. Invite people to church for the most regular and hum drum services. You want people to see you at your ordinary best.

Food for Thought-Matthew 16 and the Messianic Secret

5 Thoughts on Matthew 16:21-28 and the Messianic Secret

1. It’s not a secret if it’s an observable fact. Jesus tells his disciples to tell no one that he is not the Messiah; yet Jesus continues to do messiah like things. There is no messianic secret when the reality is an observable fact.
2. Sternly warning the disciples to tell no one that Jesus is the Messiah is like James Bond warning a call-girl not to tell her bad guy employer she just hooked up with James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jesus knows there are going to be some leaks. He needs there to be some leaks in order to test how many friends (or enemies) he may have in high places. In other words, as word trickles out to the bad guys, does he have in friends on the inside? As we’ll see, he does.
3. We need to become more comfortable with mystery. If Jesus has things he wants to hold back, that’s obviously Jesus’ business. Sure, we’d like to know. But we need to realize, there are some things about Jesus that we will never understand.
4. People like feeling like they are in the know. Especially when it comes to being the custodians and keepers of knowledge. People feel important when you give them a secret to keep. Jesus wants us to feel included and part of the team. Even if the secret is not really a secret, just an observable fact.
5. If Jesus tells you his secret and the plan relating to his secret. Just go with it. He’s probably put a great deal of thought into this plan. Our knee-jerk reactions don’t really help matters. Jesus is looking for forward thinking people who will be willing to accompany him through suffering and death. Not those who want to second guess everything and talk stuff to death. He’s interested in people who want to live until they die; not talk utter nonsense to the point of the death. There is a difference.

Food for Thought-Arnold Horshack in Caesarea Philippi-A Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

Arnold Horshack in Caesara Philippi

A Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

Richard Bryant

How would you answer the question, “Who are you?” It’s actually harder than you think. Jesus wanted to know, “who do people say I am?” In this country, we’ve got a whole subsection of the genealogy industry devoted to helping the famous and not so famous find out who they are and who others say they are. That is because we value identity. It matters to people where you come from, who your parents are, what house you were raise in, and especially in a place like this. I’m going to preach now. People put a value on having been born and raised on this island over those who have not been or came after they left their momma’s womb in some mainland hospital. This distinction exists. You could go to a tiny little island off the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada and hear the exact same discussions about how you’ll never be considered a local, probably word for word. This is because we’re not as unique as we think we are, and yet we’re all individual, wonderful human beings on a quest to find out who we are, in relation to each other and to God.

Many people, if asked, to define themselves, would go to their Facebook page. Like it or not, whether you have a computer of not, that’s how most people define themselves to the world, whether they are 9 or ninety. That’s where you’ll find their profile, their family albums which once sat in stacks under the coffee table (or on shelves in the closet) , their favorite books, movies, and songs. When you go and look at someone’s Facebook page, you realize it is more than a question of simple identity. It is a composite of many factors that creates of mosaic like picture of who this individual is.

If you were to go to my Facebook page, what would you see? Who am I? Who do people say that I am? I am many things. It would tell you that I am my family. You would see things about my friends and my experiences. You would see things about the church. You would see some poetry and crazy pictures. But does that tell the whole story? But none of that is all of me; it’s part of me. It reflects parts of portions of me. For instance, nowhere on my Facebook page do I say anything about my love of Jazz improvisation and taking pop hits (say those from the Dave Clark Five) and turning them into smooth jazz piano classics. No matter how hard you look, it’s just not there.
This is because out identities are not about stuff. Our identities, as people and Christians, are ultimately defined by what we believe. The best example of this in modern Christian time is the Amish. The Amish have nothing, in the most practical sense of modernity. They have only what they need. Yet they live, are known, and are defined by their beliefs. Their lack of a belief in a modern sense of identity defines them. They are what they believe. Identity is about belief.

So when Jesus asks the disciples (and the group), “Who do people say that I am,” he’s also asking, what do people think I believe? And in another way, he’s also asking, “What do people believe about me?”

In modern political parlance, you might call this a focus group. He wants to know what people really think. He wants to go beyond what they go get off of the Facebook pages, Twitters, on village yard gossip of the day. The common knowledge, the stuff that was unique from Ocracoke to Nova Scotia, to Mauritius, he didn’t want to know. He wanted to know, what were people saying that they weren’t posting on the internet and that they weren’t talking about in public. Tell me that stuff!

One of my favorite television shows from the 1970’s (and really of all time) is Welcome Back Kotter. You probably know the premise. Gabe Kaplan came back to Brooklyn to teach in old high school. One of his students, Arnold Horshack, had a very distinctive laugh as well as an insistent manner in which he answered questions. If you know it, do it with me. “oooh oooh, Mr. Kotter, Mr. Kotter” Horshack always wanted to be called upon.

I like to imagine the disciples as group of first century sweathogs with Peter, particularly in this passage, just nailing Arnold Horshack.

Jesus asks, who do they say I am? Peter goes into full Horshack mode, “ooooh Jesus, I Know, ooooh Jesus, I know.”

Jesus gets back, what may seem to our ears, three rather random answers. But on closer inspection, not really:

Some say you’re Elijah
Some say you’re Johnny B
Some say you’re Jeremiah

Those are the greatest prophets in Israelite history. If they had portraits and posters back then, people would have had commemorative plates with each of these guys on plates from the Franklin Mint.

Everybody knew who they were and respected their work.
It’s only natural if they heard that a new prophet had come back, they might first assume it was one of these big three, someone everyone was more familiar with from the very beginning.
It’s as if someone would say, “Who else would it be?” It’s because their world had not expanded to include the idea of Jesus yet.

But then Jesus turns the question back onto Peter. Who do you say I am? What, Peter, do you believe about me? And believe it or not, Horshack gets it right.

You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Do you see the genius of that statement? It’s not just a statement of identity. It’s a statement of belief. Peter believes Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Identity and belief are one.
The step between identifying Him and believing in Him is the action. That’s where we build a relationship with Jesus. You can call it salvation, friendship, companionship, whatever word you want to use. When you realize that the moment you utter those words, you are making a statement of belief, that’s when your journey can begin.

If you have the common sense to identify Jesus you have the common sense to believe in this rational, inquisitive, compassionate Jesus who is there exploring with his disciples what people believe and how people can believe together-he’s in search of unity here.

So who is Jesus for us today? Is he someone who unites us or divides us? The answer, as I hope we’ve started to explore this morning means much more than are you saved or not. For many people, it raises the question if America is saved. Is the world saved? Jesus is savior, moral arbiter, judge, shepherd, king, moral arbiter, and messiah; he has a complex layer of titles, many he never applied to himself. Is he those things so that we may better understand who we are?

What a journey of enforced complexity we have laid at the feet of this man from Galilee who never knew any of what we tried to attach to him, classify him as, or simply want him to be 2000 years after his humble birth and humiliating death.

Are we ready to identity what we believe and to start the path toward a  deeper relationship with something we may not fully grasp, we may not want to post about, but is as real as the building we are in and the person sitting next to you.

Food for Thought-Richard’s Daily Prayer

A new day,
A new week,
Pick me up,
Begin again,
Start anew,
Say “Later sin”,
Today is about,
Walking out,
Beyond the crowd,
Gonna be,
Walking like Jesus,
Praying Like Peter,
Trusting like Thomas,
Moving like Matthew,
Jumping like John,
Smiling like Andrew,
Praying like Philip,
Knowing like Nathaniel,
Feeling free like Jude,
Zealous like Simon the Zealot,
Listening with James the Elder,
Running with James the Younger,
Cause that’s way,
This this day,
Comes together,
When we pray,
Amen…

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-A Shakespearean Scene Meets Matthew 15:10-20

A little sonnet I was working on combining Matthew 15 themes with some other ideas.

They are not pleased with what I teach today,
Nor are they soothed with any word I say,
Tell me teacher, if that is what ye be,
What is it that defiles; food, wind, or sea?
They say the pots cleaned in the kitchen too,
Or what’s in the bottom of the priests’ loo?
The dirtiest muck runs not in the street,
Nor does it cross by your uncovered feet,
It walks and it climbs from your open mouth,
Where the words of your heart go north and south,
To harm and do evil in all direction,
Stabbing souls with verbal insurrection,
Love wounded by merely the smallest words,
Foul, foul words render me mute not absurd.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Jesus is Mean-A Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28

The lectionary reading this week is really divided in half. It’s one of those weeks where you’ve got a good half and a bad half. It’s the kind of reading/week where most preachers will naturally gravitate toward the good reading. That’s completely understandable. The good reading sets up a old fashioned knock down fight between the bad guy Pharisees and the good guy Jesus over how you say you live but what you actions reveal about what you believe. It’s a classic Jesus vs. Pharisee encounter. In fact, it’s one of the best. There’s so much to be learned and gleaned from these short verses.

Then there’s the second half of the reading; seven verses to be exact. It’s not pretty. In fact, if you’ve come from the victory party in the first ten verses and read these seven, you might walk away going, what just happened? Was that Jesus? It couldn’t be Jesus, could it? Let me ask you this, has Jesus ever made you wince? It may be when he says things that make you uncomfortable. I hope so. If he’s not done that before, you’re not listening close enough. If he’s not said something that’s felt like a verbal punch in the gut, then you’re not paying attention. That’s the way he operates and that’s one of the reasons I love him. He cuts against the grain of expectations and norms. If it doesn’t rub you the wrong way, just a little bit, when he says, “to love your enemy” or to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” then you’re not thinking about the full ramifications of such a statement. What would it mean if those words were lived out, in reality, without the thousands of caveats we impose upon them? See, feel that wince in the pit of your stomach, that’s listening to Jesus does. He makes you wince.

This morning, I want to talk about another time Jesus makes me wince. And it’s not pretty. Jesus is well out of his area. He’s out of his comfort zone, his region, his place of familiarity, place where he came from, anywhere he could point to and say “my grandmama’s people had a farm over here”. He’s in the region of Sidon and Tyre. That’s Canaanite country. Why he’s that far away from his “base” isn’t clear. Is it a break? A vacation? Is that the Ocracoke of the ancient world (it is on the coast)? We don’t know. Is it get out of dodge and duck the authorities while the heat dies down back in the Galilee? Maybe that too. Again, who knows.

Regardless, he’s there with his disciples.
Just then, (I love it when Matthew uses the language of a Gene Autry film) a Canaanite woman came up and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David: my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Now shouting makes most people uncomfortable, especially if it is unexpected and in a public space. Add on top of that, you’re in the 1st century, woman have no visible public role, are regarded well below second class citizens (if that at all), and here one comes shouting at a foreigner. Awwkward….

But before we move on, just look at what she said,
-have mercy on me…not a thing wrong with that
-Lord, Son of David…again, that’s who Jesus is, can’t find fault with that one,
-my daughter is tormented with demons…an accurate depiction of the facts of her daughter’s medical and spiritual condition
-the shouting…of course she’s shouting, she’s a mom exasperated by her daughter’s deteriorating health and will do anything to save her
I ask you, is there anything wrong with what this woman his done?
Nothing. Let me answer that one for you. Nada, zip, zero.

So what does Jesus do? He goes straight over to her house and heals the girl like he’s done time and time before, right?
Not exactly.
He ignored her. He ignored her flat out.
Here is where I wince. I wince Big. Huge. Like OOMPH in the gut.
Some preachers will tell you that Jesus must have had some sort of deep seated theological reason for doing this and wanted to test her faith.
No, he was having a bad day.
He got up on the wrong side of the palette that morning. He was being downright mean.
Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. This is human side being a bit of a jerk.

The disciples came to him and said, “let us send her away, this crazy woman keep shouting after us, we have got to get rid of her.” They cannot relax, eat their hot wings, or do whatever they are doing in peace as long as this woman is there screaming her head off.

Finally Jesus talks to her:

This is going to set things straight. He’s going to make up for ignoring her earlier. So what does he say:
It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
I’m sorry.
What did you say Jesus?
It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
Oh, so you’re saying you’re food is for the children of Israel is and helping this Canaanite women would be like giving good food away to a dog. So this woman is a dog. A female dog.
I’m wincing again. You have got to be kidding me.

It just went from bad to worse. He just didn’t say that. Someone stop him. This is not the Jesus I know and love calling my Canaanite sister the b-word.

What has this woman done to deserve this? Other than be born in a first century misogynistic culture, I’m screaming myself now, Jesus, what has happened to you, you know better!
Then something happens. My Canaanite sister, she ain’t afraid of nobody.
Whether it’s this man from Galilee who’s been rude to her or his 12 friends. Her little girl is dying.
She’s got a comeback for this grouchy man and his mean friends. She’s not going to go down without a fight. She’s like a Rosa Parks, a Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. She’s going to answer injustice with truth in action.

She says, “Lord, you may call me a dog but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall under the master’s table.”

Something about that reply snapped him back into place. It took this foreign woman of color to show him just how wrong he had been.

Just as Jesus can’t ignore the world, we can’t ignore the world. We can’t ignore Jesus. Two wrongs do not make a right. If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, and you got up, and you’re ignoring misery, human suffering, pain, and people who need to be brought close to Jesus; start listening, listening to their comebacks, be willing to be put in your place, and if that’s not working, go back to bed and get up again. And say snap me back, put me in my place, bring me back to where I need to be, close to Jesus, not where I’m ignoring, not where I’m mean, but where I see everyone and hear those who shout and whisper those Holy words:

Savior, savior, hear my humble cry;
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Food for Thought-Jesus You’re Acting Like a Douche-A Poem-Matthew 15:21-28

knanaitho-jesus-and-the-canaanite-woman-134

Jesus, You’re Acting Like a Douche-A Poem Matthew 15:21-28

It’s a painful thing to say,
that’s why I would rather it go away,
this exegetical bind of a Sunday,
forces me to exclaim with a whoosh,
Jesus, my man,
you’re acting like a douche,
she didn’t ask to be talked to that way,
don’t be a tool,
calling her a dog,
it is not cool,
respect her as a way of life,
even though all you see,
is a Canaanite.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-A Baptismal Poem

Living and learning and trying to see
Behind the church,
Who’s going to be,
Baptized while,
On their knees,
When the preacher says,
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Listen to my vivid poetic lyrics,
Jesus came to the Jordan,
Said to John,
Are you God’s game warden,
If so,
Send the white bird from on high,
Cause kingdom time is nigh,
Put me down in the water,
The world is starting to totter,
Let them hear really clear,
This is my son who gets ‘r done,
You got nothing to fear
Drop the sin like day old beer,
Move on into high gear,
Jump in with Jesus,
Life is more than it appears.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Everybody Poops A Sermon on Matthew 15:10-20

Everybody  Poops

A Sermon on Matthew 15:10-20

I’d like to give you a piece of my mind. How many times have I uttered those words? How many times have I actually acted upon them? If and when I have, a phone is usually involved. Someone from India is on the other end. When I’m giving someone a piece of my mind (or considering it), I’m basically making a statement of belief. I’m emphatically telling that person what I believe about them or a given situation that involves them. Such as my inability to return a product, good, or service or speak with someone who is currently not in Bangalore.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know what Jesus really thought and believed? I mean, really. How nice would it be if Jesus had made a clear cut statement of faith about the things he really believed? Wouldn’t that clear up a lot of things for a great many people? Wouldn’t that make being a Christian a heck of a lot simpler?

Here’s the thing. I think he did. I think he did just that. That’s what I think this scripture is all about. It may broadly fall into the definition of a parable or “ethical teaching moment”. But for my money, this may be the closest we get to Jesus making a confession of faith. As such, this makes this tiny section of Matthew 15 hyper important.

What does Jesus say?
He calls the crowd to do two things. He says,  “listen and understand”. You do get that those are two very different things, don’t you. Listening and understanding aren’t the same things. They are easily misunderstood or we use the words interchangeably. For one thing, it’s easy to listen. It’s simple to stand there, as they say in elementary school, “with your ears on”, and listen to what’s going on around you. Something is happen over here, people are talking over there, and someone may be speaking directly to your face. But ultimately, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on. You’re listening. However you do not understand what’s being said or what’s happening around you. Jesus says, listen and understand. He knows how our minds drift. He knows how hard it is to pay attention. He wants us to know that what he’s about to say next is so important we need to get “it” on a conscious and subconscious level. It needs to make not only sense, but common sense. Understanding equals common sense.

I said this was a statement of belief but Jesus is not going to parrot back something like the Apostle’ Creed. Jesus is going to tell us what he believes by talking about what’s inside a person (inner beliefs-the things they make part of their belief system, things people decide to include by choice in the belief starting lineup) and then how those interior beliefs get acted upon or lived out for the world to see in the big game called life.

Let me warn you, Jesus is going to put this rather bluntly. He says it’s not so much what you put into your body that defiles you but what comes out of the mouth. Let that sink in for a moment. Not so much what you put it, but how it comes out. Now what’s wrong with that? Sounds fine, doesn’t it? The disciples knew it would really tick off the Pharisees. It would be like me walking in to a group of UNC fans and saying, “as a Duke fan, if UNC were playing the Taliban, I’d cheer for the Taliban”. It wouldn’t go over that well. And these words didn’t go over that well with the Pharisees. Matthew says they, “took offence” at them. What was so offensive?

Here were entering the world of Jewish ritual and purity laws.
He’s talking about doing the dishes and eating. I don’t want to go off on too much of a sideline here stuff had to be clean. Everything and I do mean everything. Not just you but the stuff you touched and used, particularly the stuff you ate with.

Jesus was making a distinction between the heart, mind, and stomach. For the rabbis, you ate on clean plates (ritually washed), with clean hands (ritually washed), with clean utensils (ritually washed), with kosher food, and with a ritually cleaned body. If you were following all of the ritual laws of purification and cleanliness, everything coming out of you words and poop should be clean and sacred. This would have been their interpretation.

Jesus says no. No matter what you eat, it’s all going to come out as poop. To paraphrase the popular children’s book, “Everybody Poops”. The things that come out of our mouths, originate in a different place; they come from our hearts and minds. There is a distinction, he explains to the disciples, between the food we eat (and how we consume it) and how we absorb knowledge then send that same information back out into the world. No matter how nasty, smelly, or bad our poop is, the stuff that really defiles and messes up the world is the “crap” that comes out of our mouths. It is the hateful garbage we spew from our spaces that does the long term damage to society. Jesus says, it’s there, from our hearts and mouths you will find evil intentions like murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. Forgetting to wash your hands may be gross, talking about poop and 1st century sewers may be icky, but they don’t defile like all those other things.  Those things that destroy homes, families, and lives. 

The Pharisees, like so many of us, he tells us, have our lives and our priorities way out of whack.
So this, while not fancy, and maybe even a little gross, is what I think Jesus is telling us. He believes what makes us gross isn’t really that big of a deal. What does defile us are crystal, crisp words we utter from our hearts and minds when we think we often someone we’re not.