Jesus, on occasion, was intentionally offensive. Don’t believe me?
The first offense of Jesus I want to explore comes in Matthew 15:1-20. Jesus and the disciples are near the Sea of Galilee in the city of Gennesaret. The Pharisees come all the way from Jerusalem to see Jesus. Why the long journey to talk to Jesus? What urgent business do they have that must be dealt with now? They want to confront Jesus about his disciples’ neglect of Jewish tradition. They are appalled that Jesus would allow such a breach in religious etiquette. “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” Jesus has been healing the sick, driving out demons, and has fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, and they come all this way to discuss the neglected tradition! Jesus knows their hearts and immediately gets to the core of the matter. He gives them a question in return. He asks them why their traditions violate the direct commandments of God. The Pharisees had created a “loophole” in the law that got them out of honoring and financially providing for their parents under the guise of giving to God. Jesus was not fooled and could see right through their hypocrisy. He tells them so by quoting from the prophet Isaiah (29:13), “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” The crowd is still watching and listening, so Jesus calls to them and says, “Listen, and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” It’s a great teaching moment, and Jesus makes His point.
The disciples come to Jesus. They need to inform Jesus that He has just stepped on some big toes. “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” ~ Uh, Jesus, we’re just trying to help you out…
Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing. “Ignore them… they are blind guides.” The point of the law is to point us to God. Man’s traditions had come before the heart or spirit of the law. Jesus came to cut through the traditions of man and reacquaint the people with God’s heart for them.
Then Peter, always to be counted on to ask the questions that everyone else is just thinking, asks, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.” (He really should have written this down ~ God had to remind him of a vision….see Acts 10.) His answer kind of catches me off guard. He says, “Don’t you understand yet?” Uh, no. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you….. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” …Okay, now I get it! Thanks, Lord.
The Pharisees must have been really miffed. To come all this way, just be leave offended.
So what do I glean from this lesson? Being on this side of the resurrection, I don’t follow any rituals of hand washing or food restrictions. But it is easy to get caught up in the outward trappings of religion. Am I miffed if we don’t sing the right number of choruses on Sunday morning? What about hymns? Heaven forbid that someone should sit in MY place in church (third row, far right) or if that homeless man wanders into the service in front of the visitors. How do I react when someone new to the church does something (anything) other than what we’ve done for (insert number) years? Am I offended and self-righteous? Or do I look at the heart of the matter – my heart?
When the prophet Samuel anointed young David to be the next king of Israel, Samuel looked at Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son. He said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”
There are so many times when I think I know what is right in a religious sense. But God’s perspective is always better than mine. My prayer is that when I find myself offended, that I will stop and look inside. What is God’s heart on this matter? Has my sense of tradition been challenged or is it one of God’s commands?
Let me end with this: