Sunday, May 25, 2008

Inner Purity

A particular passage of scripture speaks to me this morning. When one takes into account the John Hagee/John McCain controversy of the past week, I am reminded that the pure ideal of Christianity or, for that matter, any spiritual movement can easily be co-opted and corrupted by human hands.

We on the religious/spiritual left do not easily or eagerly articulate what we believe, which is why the Hagee flap does not resonate nearly as well with the American public as the Reverend Wright controversy. I sincerely hope we will take this opportunity to expose the double standard and articulate our faith, no matter what denomination or faction we hold dear to our hearts.

This general idea has found its way into many denominations. The buzz words vary from faith group to faith group, but the main idea is the same. God talk will always make certain people uncomfortable. Open displays of faith in these secular time are not easy to brave, but in my opinion, we simply do not have any other choice.


Some Pharisees and other Jewish leaders now arrived from Jerusalem to interview Jesus.

"Why do your disciples disobey the ancient Jewish traditions?" they demanded.

"For they ignore our ritual of ceremonial handwashing before they eat."

He replied, "And why do your traditions violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God's law is 'Honor your father and mother; anyone who reviles his parents must die'

But you say, 'Even if your parents are in need, you may give their support money to the church instead.' And so, by your man-made rule, you nullify the direct command of God to honor and care for your parents.

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy of you, 'These people say they honor me, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is worthless, for they teach their man-made laws instead of those from God.'"

Then Jesus called to the crowds and said, "Listen to what I say and try to understand: You aren't made unholy by eating non-kosher food! It is what you say and think that makes you unclean!"

Then the disciples came and told him, "You offended the Pharisees by that remark."

Jesus replied, "Every plant not planted by my Father shall be rooted up, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and both will fall into a ditch."

Then Peter asked Jesus to explain what he meant when he said that people are not defiled by non-kosher food.

"Don't you understand?" Jesus asked him. "Don't you see that anything you eat passes through the digestive tract and out again? But evil words come from an evil heart, and defile the man who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile; but there is no spiritual defilement from eating without first going through the ritual of ceremonial handwashing!"

By contrast, Mark has a much harsher, far more forceful version of this same tale.

One day some Jewish religious leaders arrived from Jerusalem to investigate him, and noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the usual Jewish rituals before eating.

(For the Jews, especially the Pharisees, will never eat until they have sprinkled their arms to the elbows, as required by their ancient traditions. So when they come home from the market they must always sprinkle themselves in this way before touching any food. This is but one of many examples of laws and regulations they have clung to for centuries, and still follow, such as their ceremony of cleansing for pots, pans, and dishes.)

So the religious leaders asked him, "Why don't your disciples follow our age-old customs? For they eat without first performing the washing ceremony."

Jesus replied, "You bunch of hypocrites! Isaiah the prophet described you very well when he said, 'These people speak very prettily about the Lord but they have no love for him at all. Their worship is a farce, for they claim that God commands the people to obey their petty rules.'

How right Isaiah was! For you ignore God's specific orders and substitute your own traditions. You are simply rejecting God's laws and trampling them under your feet for the sake of tradition.

For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: 'Honor your father and your mother.' And he said that anyone who speaks against his father or mother must die. But you say it is perfectly all right for a man to disregard his needy parents, telling them, 'Sorry, I can't help you! For I have given to God what I could give to you.'

And so you break the law of God in order to protect your man-made tradition. And this is only one example. There are many, many others."

Then Jesus called to the crowds to come and hear.

"All of you listen," he said, "and try to understand. Your souls aren't harmed by what you eat, but by what you think and say!"

Then he went into a house to get away from the crowds, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the statement he had just made.

"Don't you understand either?" he asked. "Can't you see that what you eat won't harm your soul? For food doesn't come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the digestive system." (By saying this he showed that every kind of food is kosher.)

And then he added, "It is the thoughtlife that pollutes. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts of lust, theft, murder, adultery, wanting what belongs to others, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride, and all other folly. All of these vile things come from within; they are what pollute you and make you unfit for God."

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