Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 8-20-23 “Defiled Heart”

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Matthew 15:10-20

Dr. William Barclay in his commentary to the Gospel of Matthew, commenting on this scripture says that this “is one of the most important passages in the whole gospel story. It represents a head-on clash between Jesus and the leaders of orthodox Jewish religion.” According to Dr. Barclay, “the basic importance of this passage is not so much a clash between Jesus and the Pharisees in a personal way; it is something far more–it is the collision of two views of religion and two views of the demands of God.” Therefore, for Dr Barclay in this passage is embedded one of the supreme religious contests in history.  And there is not any possibility of a compromise, or even a working agreement, between these two views of religion. Inevitably one had to destroy the other.”

            But what is going on in this story? Well, Matthew says that “Some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem.” In Jesus’ time, one of the duties of these teachers of the law was to maintain and teach the Law. When they heard about Jesus, they came to see him and hear his preaching to check if it was in accordance with the law. While they were there, they saw Jesus’ disciples eating bread without washing their hands, they asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Mark, a Gospel written for the non-Jewish community explains it in Mark 7:3 and 4, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.”

            According to the teachers of the law, Jesus’ disciples broke, not the law, but traditions. Traditions for them was at the same level and had the same importance of the Law given by God to Moses. That was the reason of why we have what Dr. Barclay calls, “head-on clash between Jesus and the leaders of orthodox Jewish religion.” In this clash, Jesus, and the teachers of the law, addresses the concept of clean and unclean, law and tradition. It is important to clarify that this idea of cleanness and uncleanness has nothing to do with physical cleanness. It is entirely a ceremonial matter. For a person to be clean was for him or her to be in a state where they might participate in worship and be in the right way to approach God; for him or her to be unclean was to be in a state where such a worship and such an approach were impossible.

            The laws of cleanness and uncleanness are described in Leviticus 11. They laid down what a person might and might not eat. However, the elders and their traditions went too far with their interpretation and practices. Dr. Barclay gives an example in his commentary. “For instance, he says, if a mouse touched a vessel, that vessel was unclean and unless it was ritually washed and cleansed, everything put into it was unclean. The consequence was that anyone who touched that vessel, or who ate or drank from its contents became unclean; and in turn anyone who touched the person who had so become unclean, also became unclean.

            At this point -Matthew said- Jesus had the argument about the offering dedicated to God and accused them of breaking the law for the sake of tradition. Then, we come to the scripture we read this morning. “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Those who were present that day were presented with two views of the source of sin and uncleanness: One by the pharisees, this is the idea which sees sin something which comes from outside and to avoid it we must avoid contact with certain things, food, and people because they are unclean. And Jesus’ view, sin that defile humans, comes from the inside rather than from the outside, and this is particularly true even with unclean foods.

            The real source of uncleanness or sin, Jesus said, is the human heart. To harbor sin such as hatred and murder and wash hands with ritual washing, according to Jesus was hypocritical. The point that Jesus is making to the teachers of the law -and to us too- is that it is what a person is that brings defilement. Jesus is sharing a new view: true religion must deal with the true nature of men and women, not just the outer religious practices. Jesus ends his teaching saying that eating with unwashed hands does not make a person unclean, but what comes from the heart does. This radical departure from the traditions of the elders offended the teachers of the law even more.

            Even when we do not practice all the Jewish ceremonies, this scripture still relevant for us, because our mouth still speaks what is in our hearts.

            Our mouth still speaks what it is in our heart. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology explains that “Ancient people, understood the heart’s physical function differently than moderns. From their viewpoint the heart was the central organ that moved the rest of the body. The heart was for them a person’s center for both physical and emotional-intellectual and moral activities. That is why Proverb 4:23 advise us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (ESV) 1 Sam 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the lord looks at the heart.” If, from the heart flows the springs of life and if God looks at what it is in our hearts, we can conclude that it is important to be aware what we fill our hearts with.

            Paul, the pharisee who changed his viewpoint and embraced Jesus’s viewpoint, gives us some directions of what to fill our hearts with. Ephesians 5:18-20. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we fill our hearts with the spirit, we will be able to change our attitude and we will be able to speak to others with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit and we will make music from our heart to the Lord. If we fill our hearts with the Spirit, we will have an attitude of thanksgiving.

            Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” If we want to end division in our world, in our church, in our families, let us fill our hearts with God’s Peace. Peace in our hearts is the cure for all wars.

            Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If our words and thoughts flow from our hearts, let us fill our hearts with whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, and with anything excellent or praiseworthy.    

            Last Sunday, I spoke about Peter trying to be like Jesus, brothers, and sisters if our spiritual practices do not help us to be like Jesus are either the wrong practices or we are practicing them for the wrong reasons. Sisters and brothers, only those with pure heart will see God. A pure heart is filled with the spirit of God, filled with his peace and always do what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable what is excellent or praiseworthy.

            To end, listen to what James says about the true religion, the religion God wants us to practice. James 1:27 ESV, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

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