The one in which Jesus tells us it’s not our outward actions that make us pure but what our hearts are like.
Having grown up in the church I find myself reading with a ‘Well that seems obvious’ perspective – especially the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. The words are so familiar (mostly!) that I find it easy to read without really taking on board how strange some of this must have sounded to 1st century ears. It’s one of the reasons I really enjoy reading Tom Wright, he puts all the context in for the reader and makes the passages come alive.
This passage being a case in point. 1st century Jews have lived under Mosaic law for generations, they know all about the purity laws and how to keep themselves ‘clean’. And certainly thoes in the elite classes of priests and teachers would have followed these to the letter, and yet here is Jesus telling them and us something that not only seems to do away with these laws but also reveals something that we know now to be completely true. As Tom points out, Jesus knew, way before pyschologists had worked it out, that what is in our hearts will come out in our speech. We betray our innermost thoughts and feelings through our words.
How fascinating that a fact that has spawned all manner of questioning techniques relied upon today by police, pyschiatrists and many other professions is something that not many people knew about in the 1st century, but it was Jesus who pointed it out. He might as well have said ‘You can run but you can’t hide’! Not only does God know and see our hearts but our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family will also ‘see’ it too, or rather hear it in our words.
It is hard work being with those who constantly complain, or interfere, or gossip, or who run themselves down, or are angry, or bitter or unforgiving either of themselves or of others.
We need to be people of joy, peace, encouragement, kindness, gentleness, and graciousness, and not just with our words but ALL THE WAY DOWN, like Pooh’s honey jar!