THE MATTER OF THE HEART
Gracious God, I turn to you today for the light and truth I need to follow you.
Read Matthew 15:1–20
That Which Defiles
15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart’.1
Hand-washing has recently become important for the whole world,2 but it seems a long journey (from Jerusalem to Galilee) for the Pharisees to take to question Jesus on his disciples’ adherence to the regulations! Jesus, knowing full well that the Law did not require such hand-washing, chose not to give a direct answer to the question posed (v 2). As so often, he responded with a question of his own. Challenging the power of tradition, he focused on a particular practice that some had of making an offering to the Temple that was commensurate with the cost of caring for one’s parents, thus absolving one of the responsibility to ‘Honor your father and your mother’.3 For us, it may not be ceremonial hand-washing or putting money in the offering plate instead of feeding destitute parents that is at stake – but take a moment to reflect on what immaterial rituals we do cling to.
John Stott reflects, ‘We need to listen again to the biblical criticism of religion. No book, not even by Marx and his followers, is more scathing of empty religion than the Bible.’4 Jesus dismisses the play-acting of the religious, focusing instead on the heart condition. He isn’t against tradition, as some may surmise. On the contrary, his criticism of the Pharisees is that their contemporary practice was undermining the original tradition. May God grant us wisdom to discern between healthy and hypocritical tradition.
Recently my mentor, after listening graciously to my account of the exhaustive ministry opportunities taken since we’d last met, simply asked, ‘How is your heart?’ The question caused me to sit up and hear the voice once again of God. May God give each of us the courage to allow his Spirit to examine our hearts.
‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’5
Dear Lord, may my outward profession always be a true reflection of my heart. Today I put on the belt of truth.
1 Ps 24:3,4 2 Written during the Covid-19 pandemic 3 Exod 20:12 4 John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, IVP, 1992, p228 5 Ps 139:23,24
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