“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Matthew 23: 25 – 26
While I have never actually preached on these verses, the seven ‘woe to’ articles of Matthew 23 were embedded in the foundation of my ministry. Jesus was specifically cautioning religious leaders. For years I was terrified of the discipline that might result should I transgress one of these very serious teachings.
In today’s reading Jesus is referring to an ancient debate over the nature of cleanliness. If a sacred object, i.e. cup or plate, was touched on the outside with an impurity, did it make the inside impure as well? In the midst of a pandemic we have become very aware and cautious about what can and cannot be touched and how many times a day we need to wash our hands to keep safe.
In Jesus’ story his approach to purity was not an issue of contamination from the outside seeping in, but rather a cleaning of the outside by way of the goodness from within seeping out. Obviously, this isn’t good science for a pandemic unless the goodness from within is our dedication to the practise of tried-and-true public health measures.
In my experience the most helpful disinfectant of the inside (the heart) is Micah’s verse 6: 8 “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” On that journey there will be stumbles and difficult choices. Yet, because of love there is the ever present and wonderful hand of God’s forgiveness. And that has led me to understand that, in Christ’s family, fear is not our motivation. Rather, as we aspire to goodness we learn to live the love that is God’s basis for the law.
Prayer: God, fill our hearts with your love that we might be clean in our thoughts and in our actions. May what we say and do be a source of goodness for our world. We pray for healing: of broken bodies, confused minds and flagging spirits.
Action: Say something positive to someone. And diligently practice the blessed art of smiling with your eyes, above that awkward mask.