Friday, January 26, 2007

Jesus didn't wash his hands before eating, and neither should you!

Matthew 15-16 contains seven fascinating stories, the first one being that Jesus and his friends get in trouble by their mommies (well, actually religious zealots and lawyers) for eating with dirty hands. And Jesus, being a brilliant middle schooler (okay, he's a witty thirtysomething) smarts back: yes, I do break your traditions...but you break the commands of God - I'm telling Dad!!!

In this particular show-down, Jesus (the light) reveals the (dark) deeds of the powerful, influential, wealthy religious leaders of Israel. God's law was that you honor your folks by providing financially for them when they become dependent. These religious leaders got around that by invoking another of God's laws: don't be gift-taker-backer. Once you give a gift, let it be given, don't issue a recall. So, if you give a gift to God, let it be given, no strings attached. Except that the wealthy leaders used this rule to shield their money from their needy folks. Thus God is being used as a "tax-shelter", which ends up being very unjust. I can see why God would get so upset, and why Jesus speaks so plainly and pointedly. I laugh everytime I read Peter's response to Jesus' jeremiad (a prophetic sermon that is full of passion and truth): "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"

The final part of this story is often glossed over: Jesus teaches that nothing that you ingest, inhale or intake can defile you. Think about that. Is that true?

Jesus instructs us that what defiles us is already within us. Hear is what can come out of a human heart all on its own: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Note: what makes these actions so vile is that each one of them results in somebody else getting damaged, ruined, bent, hurt, broken, abandoned, bruised, or even dead. And we know from King David's story, that when ever we do wrong by another human, we have first done wrong to God. Jesus is telling these Pharisees that even though they "thought" they were honoring God, they were dishonoring Him by dishonoring their folks. They were obssessed with appearing "right", but they let themselves be deceived, and Jesus - almost too easily - pointed out that their hearts were in the "wrong", and had been for a very long time.

What is the Way of Jesus? How can we walk it if our hearts can be so "wrong", even when we get too focused on appearing "right"?

Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, Jesus is God-very-close-to-you, Jesus is the co-creator of the universe: all that is most beautiful, powerful, good, joyous, true, free, fulfilling, strong, enduring, creative is found in Him. Jesus is inviting people to walk in such a way that all that was infused in Creation can be infused into you. God poured this into us, we have been deceived by the Deceiver, and thus enslaved, blinded, crippled, diseased, corrupted, bent, ruined, etc. And so God comes again (and again, and again) to be very close to us to free us from the enslavement of deception, the blind to truth and love can see, the crippled by hate and lonliness can leap, the diseased can celebrate, the corrupted have shalom, etc.

That is a lot to belive about a person and a promised way of life. And so few seem to have received it. Mostly because so few people are willing to admit the true condition of their soul/heart/mind - but the invitation appeals to even the most unlikely of people. See the story of the Canaanite woman who Jesus referenced to as a "dog."

Don't confuse the Good American Way of Life with the Way of Jesus. Good citizen ideals, home ownership preferences, educational and vocational goals, social manners and personal hygiene have very, very, very, very little to do with the way of Jesus. They are not necessarily bad, they just have their place. More on that later.