“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
-Jesus, being a bit harsh (Matthew 15:16-18)
As a pastor, there are moments when I read something in the Bible, and immediately I find myself eager to share it with someone else. I guess it's just my deeply righteous desire to proclaim the gospel with others. This one verse, in particular, has made its way to my mind quite a few times. And it's right in the middle of the Gospel of Matthew from the mouth of Jesus, so you know it's legit.
"Good morning, church! Welcome to our Sunday gathering. Our reading this morning comes from the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 15.
"Are you still so dull?!?"
The word of the Lord (thanks be to God). Amen.
Go in peace.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned.
But some passages are just easier to project on others than ourselves, aren't they?? I mean, that's religion 101 right there. Remind yourself of your spiritual superiority by holding others in your righteous judgment. We are profoundly good at that.
I find this little statement of Jesus to both wonderful and challenging. He's trying to teach his disciples, warning them of the danger of toxic religion that the Pharisees have embraced. They are so focused on correct action, that the heart character underneath it all has lost any value, corrupting them. They are debating which foods are allowed to be consumed on which days. And Jesus tells them that what flows out of their hearts matters a whole lot more than what goes into their stomachs. What we overlook today is how big of a paradigm shift this really is to the disciples, because they were steeped in a religion that relies on rule-following far more than heart posture (cough, cough).
And when the disciples are confused, Jesus gets annoyed with them. It's such a human moment. C'mon guys. Catch up. We're doing something new here. The heart is what matters.
It's wonderful because Jesus is trying to help them understand his new ethic that love is king over all. And it's challenging because even though I know that, I still struggle to trust and live it. I'm still pretty dull.
Eugene Peterson, never one to pull punches in his Bible paraphrase, The Message, translates Jesus this way:
Are you being willfully stupid?
And I think sometimes we are. Sometimes it's easier to act like we don't fully understand, rather than to trust that Jesus truly shut down all of our religious systems and replaced them with the simple command to walk with him and walk in the way of love. That requires massive internal work in the realm of the heart. So we often pick and pull enough one-liners from the Bible to re-form a new religion with all of the same debates as before (just new topics), rather than simply trusting Jesus and humbly doing our best to love God and all people well.
Are we willing to trust the teachings of Jesus when he says that the greatest commands are both about loving well, and nothing more?
That's a statement about what is within our hearts, and how our hearts motivate our actions. But make no mistake- it's truly about the heart. Because real love is willing the good of another. And that begins internally.
Every time that I label someone based on what I see on the outside rather than asking curious questions, I'm being willfully stupid.
Every time that I rationalize my own selfish or harmful behavior and ignore what needs corrected in my own heart, I'm being willfully stupid.
Every time I rely on religious activities to feel good about my status with God, but ignore the lack of love that is flowing out of my life, I am missing the clear point of Jesus.
It's about the heart, friends. If we do the daily work of heart renovation with Jesus, we won't be distracted by constantly obsessing about the rest. What comes out of our lives will flow naturally from that.
Sometimes we need that rebuke from Jesus- Do you still not get it? Don't try so hard to miss the point!
And if you're like me, and you can be more eager to read that passage to others than hear it for yourself, then maybe it's time to sit just a little longer with Jesus. 🙂
Lord, my heart is a complicated place. Come and shape it further today, so that everything that flows out reflects your kingdom.