Clean hands or clean heart
One Sunday a man sat through a church service (clearly not one of ours!!!) and then on the way home he fussed about the sermon, he griped about the traffic, he complained about the cold and rain, and he made a big fuss about how late lunch was served. Then he bowed and prayed, giving God thanks for the food.
His son was watching him all the way through this post-church experience. Just as they were beginning to pass the food he said, “Daddy, did God hear you when we left the church and you started moaning about the sermon and about the traffic and about the weather?“
The father blushed and said, “Well, yes son, He heard me.“
“Well, Daddy, did God hear you when you just prayed for this food right now?“
And he says, “Well, yes, son, He … He … He heard me.”
“Well, Daddy, which one did God believe?“
That man’s problem was twofold – he’d not understood the principles of brotherly love, humility and blessing set out in 1 Peter 3:8-9; and he was a hypocrite! In Jesus’ time, Roman actors who wore a mask that showed a different facial expression were called “hypocritos”. Today a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be one thing when they are actually something else. Some people claim there are too many hypocrites in the church. There actually aren’t as many as they claim. It is just an excuse they use for not coming to church!
In today’s passage Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites on two accounts:
Firstly they fuss about the externals – ritually washing their cups before eating, when their hearts are filthy. Jesus tells them that their traditions have added a heavy burden and missed the fundamentals. It’s not what goes into our mouths that makes us unclean, it’s what is already in our hearts (elsewhere, we find that what is in our hearts is often fed by our eyes, not our mouths! e.g. Matthew 5:28).
Jesus nails some of things that can be defiling our hearts…
Evil Thoughts – This is the root of all that follows. When an evil heart conjures up evil intentions, the evil person will carry them out.
- Adulteries – Illicit sexual activity by married persons.
- Fornication – This word translates the Greek word “porneia“ and it refers to any illicit sexual activity. The origin of sexual sin is not in the body, it is the result of a defiled heart!
- Murders – The taking of another’s life. By the way, you are guilty of murder if you have hatred in your heart toward another person, 1 John 3:15.
- Thefts – Taking that which belongs to another for your own use. This covers a lot of territory, even the tithe, Mal. 3:8-9.
- Covetousness – An insatiable craving for that which belongs to another.
- Wickedness – This word means “malice“ and it refers to all the ways that evil thoughts manifest themselves in a person’s life. It is deliberate acts of meanness!
- Deceit – This word refers to cunning manoeuvres designed to ensnare someone for one’s personal advantage. It is the idea of someone trying to work undercover to bring someone else down. Sneaky, deceptive people fall into this category.
- Sensuality– This word refers to unrestrained, shameless behaviour. It is an attitude that says, “I will do as I please and I do not care what anyone thinks about it!“
- Envy – This is a Hebrew expression that speaks of envy and jealousy – looking at the blessings of another and desiring them for one’s self. It is envious when others prosper.
- Slander – injurious or defaming speech directed at either God or man. Gossip and cursing fall into this category.
- Pride – The boastful exalting of oneself. It’s the attitude that says, “Look at me, see what I have done. No one is as good or as great as I am.“ This is an overbearing attitude that is the opposite of humility.
- Foolishness – This word refers to those who are morally and spiritually desensitised. They cannot see their sins; neither can they sense the Lord working in and around them. With this kind of person, there is no spiritual illumination. There is no spiritual discernment. They do not know God and there is no desire to know Him.
Why not ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if any of these are still lurking – He is the great counsellor and will show you, so you can ask for cleansing and power to walk free.
Secondly they have added tradition to the commandment to honour mother and father, by the ‘rule of Corban’, allowing them to not look after their father and mother in old age. Honour is not just lip service, but attending to their needs. Corban was a practice of designating some of your finances to God, ring-fencing them for future giving. They could then not look after parents, because the money they had was ring-fenced for future giving, that likely never happened. Their tradition was put over the more important law of looking after your parents. Actually that’s pretty challenging! I remember an old pastor who brought his parents into his home to care for them, rather than putting them in a care home. That was a tough call at great personal cost to his wife and children.
So Jesus has had two confrontations with Jewish religious leaders who are hypocrites. Mark then deliberately puts the healing of a Gentile next – an awkward one at that! She’s a feisty, desperate woman. There’s a number of obstacles to a Gentile woman approaching a Jewish man in those times for help – the obstacle of faith, the obstacle of race and the obstacle of religion. Her daughter is demonised and the Jews just don’t care.
Let the children be fed first – is the key here. That word ‘first’ was exactly what this broken-hearted mother needed to hear! Jesus did not say, “You cannot have what you are looking for!“ He said, “I have come to the children of Israel. And they must be filled first.“ She took that to mean that ‘seconds‘ were available. Her first call to Jesus in both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are as the Jewish Messiah. She has no right of claim there, so she presses in. Jesus is her only hope. The Jews called Gentiles dogs, the word they used refers to a ‘mangy cur‘. It is used as a metaphor of people who are ‘unclean, filthy and dirty‘. Both Jesus and the lady use a different word – ‘little puppies‘. It refers not to mangy, dirty dogs; but to a little puppy that is a beloved pet in a house. It refers to an animal that is looked on as a part of the family. She wasn’t asking for everything, just a puppy’s portion.
He responds to her great faith (v29 and Matt. 15:28) and heals the daughter.
So today examine your heart and don’t forget you can boldly approach the Lord with no condemnation – Hebrews 4:16.