Matthew 15:15-20

But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” Matthew 15:15-20

Most of us live our lives on auto-pilot. We’re not aware of that…because we are on auto-pilot. We do what we do because it is what we do. We think what we think because it is what we think. We react instead of act even as we fool ourselves into believing that our actions are thoughtful and reasonable when, in fact, they are just knee jerk auto-pilot reactions.

The key word in that last sentence is “believing.”

Few of us slow down long enough, few of us dig down deep enough, to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider what really are the core beliefs which drive us. Because that is how we work.

Our lives begin in our belief systems. Our feelings are generated by a simple equation – what we believe + what happens in our lives = how we feel and thus, how we act.

Ritual washing was an important part of the daily spirituality of a Jew. And a Muslim. And quite a few other religious traditions as well. It was tied to a belief system that says there are certain behaviors that God expects from us. These behaviors draw us closer to God. They identify us as people of faith. They are a visible sign of our devotion. To wash correctly is to please God. To please God means that good things will happen to us. To displease God means that bad things will happen to us. Thus we need to faithfully and diligently ritually wash.

That is the belief system that drives auto-pilot religious devotion. Beliefs about God. Beliefs about how God acts. Beliefs about what triggers God’s actions toward us. Beliefs which lead to feelings of fear, comfort, hope, and peace. You can well imagine how it drove the Pharisees crazy to see Jesus’ disciples display such a casual disregard toward their time-honored practices. To them it meant that the failure to wash their hands was like spitting in God’s face.

But it didn’t seem to bother Jesus. Why? Because he was driven by a different set of beliefs. For Jesus, God was ever-present and ever-loving. God was merciful and inclusive, not mercurial and tribal. God was vitally interested in relationships among and between people. God wanted people free to enjoy the fullness of life as God created life to be lived. Jesus clearly saw how religious practices could be twisted into a smokescreen that diverted us from God rather than a window to help us more clearly see God.

So Jesus redirects the Pharisees away from the superficial to the significant. He attacks them at the level of their belief system. He draws their focus from what they put in their mouths to what comes out of their hearts.

All of the destructive behaviors that Jesus lists here – evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander – are behaviors that begin out of faulty belief systems. If we believe that “I am the boss of me” then we set ourselves free to do pretty much whatever we want. If we believe that there is no God, there is no divine order to life, there are no ultimate consequences, we set ourselves free to do whatever we can get away with. If we believe that we are fundamentally flawed, broken, and hopeless, beliefs which carry great emotional pain, then we will behave in any manner that helps us feel better.

But, if we believe that God is good and God is loving, if we believe that God loves us and wants the best for us, and that God wants the best for others through us, we might experience a very different set of feelings. We might even behave in very different ways.

Religion and spirituality need not be smokescreens. But, unexamined, and either blindly followed or blindly rejected, they can be the darkest smokescreen of all. They blind us to the real beliefs that drive us, the real auto-pilot settings of our lives.

Jesus wants to cure our blindness and heal our hearts. We do well to remember that those who are truly blind are those who refuse to see.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you see into our hearts. You see us more clearly than we see ourselves. You see how we treat ourselves and others. How we look at the world around us. You see our blind spots and our misguided beliefs and our destructive attitudes and behaviors. Be our mirror. Open our eyes. Draw our hearts to you. Heal our blindness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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