13th Pentecost Sunday
September 3, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with unclean — that is, unwashed — hands. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.,) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?”
He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands.,
Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.”…
Summoning the crowd again, he told them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”…
…from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”
“Saved & Sanctified Inside-Out”
1) A Pharisaical Show of Righteousness Is Ultimately Useless
2) Christ Cleansing Hearts (Altering Attitude) Also Purifies Actions
Dear sinfully sick but saved souls,
Does our life revolve around looks or feelings? Will personal happiness depend upon how I look on the outside or does true happiness flow from how I feel on the inside? If I focus on myself, as our sinful nature loves to tell me I am all-important – if my first concern is what you think of me – souls often ask, ‘How do I look?’ On the other hand, if I focus on other people, as God instructs us to put other souls ahead of ourself – if I am sincerely concerned about your well-being – we jump right past looks to ask, ‘How are you feeling?’
Looks or feelings? Outside or inside? What is truly important? What is eternally important? Responding to Pharisees & teachers of the law who see some disciples eating food with unwashed hands; who directly ask, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to traditions of the elders instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?’ Jesus teaches us to be saved & to be sanctified from the inside-out. Theirs is not a health question, not any concern with germs from dirty hands entering a disciple’s mouth. Pharisees ask why Jesus lets his followers forget established rituals defining the righteous or ‘right’ way to eat meals. Today some may say I will not be blessed by food if I do not publicly pray before I eat. ‘May I pray silently?’ some ask. ‘Must I bow my head, fold my hands; pray out loud even at a restaurant?’ ‘Must I pray before I eat a little snack’ to be blessed by food? Self-righteous Pharisees still say, ‘Yes! Absolutely! If people cannot see you pray; do not hear you pray, you gain nothing.’ Forget feelings. Looks are all-important. The outside is everything.
Jesus’ answer jumps us to the opposite side. Looking inside rather than outside, our Lord applies Isaiah’s prophy, ‘You hypocrites. You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You worship me in vain; your teachings are merely human rules – you teach human commands as divine doctrines.’ Looking at the outside, putting on a show for people to see; acting like a Christian, self-righteous souls seek Jesus’ approval, but he turns the tables. Rather than condemn his disciples for not following every ritual, not observing every ‘rule’ religious leaders wrote inro their instructions for living a holy life – rules added to the Lord’s law – rules people could actually obey after they realize they cannot ever live a perfect life God’s ten commands demand – rather than condemn his disciples, Jesus condemns these ‘new rule’ makers, ‘Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human traditions.’
Summoning the crowd, Jesus identifies our true source of evil. ‘Listen to me, all of you; understand: Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… From within, out of people’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride & fooloishness.’ Essentially running through outward actions by which we disobey our Lord’s ten commandments, Jesus summarily emphasizes, ‘All these evil things come from within & defile a person.’ Let us ask: Are Jesus’ disciples sinners? Absolutely – but not because they eat bread without first ceremonially washing their hands! Looking at the outside, looking at our actions – no matter how holy we might appear to people — Jesus stresses the fact a Pharisaical show of self-righteousness is ultimately useless.
Where might pharisaical self-righteousness slip into our life today? Ask yourself: Do I come to worship fifty out of fifty-two Sundays every year? Do I go to Bible study in the gym while my children are in Sunday School? Do I attend our Lutheran elementary school? Do I read my Bible fifteen minutes or more at least five times a week? Do I say bedtime prayers with my child every night? While we never list these as formally as Pharisees & teachers of the law did in Jesus’ day, what do we assume defines a righteous life today? Do I wear a coat & tie, wear a nice dress when I come to worship? Do I say ‘hello’ to at least two strangers as well as greet my friends Sunday morning? Do I at least try to sing the hymns, or think through the words while others sing? Am I careful to smile rather than scowl at someone whose sins I may be aware of on the other side of the aisle? Whatever actions, whatever words I subconsciously assume identify a real Christian, Jesus would stress: What I do will never save my soul, no matter how highly people might praise my Christian life.
When we find ourselves feeling ‘righteous’ – a little pride to which we all seem susceptible – when we act as if people should be glad to associate with me because ‘I am a Christian teacher… a Lutheran pastor;’ when we put ourselves on a little higher level than the world around us because ‘I am a God-fearing, God-pleasing parent…I am a willing volunteer for whatever our church needs’ – when we start feeling righteous, we need to re-evaluate ourselves the way Jesus judges us today, looking inside, not only outside. As Pharisees & teachers of the law criticize a banquet Matthew throws for friends & for his Lord after he is called to be a disciple, asking, ‘Why do you eat with tax collectors & sinners?’ Jesus replies, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” A useful comparison! Jesus, our soul’s doctor, does not just observe outward actions; does not ask friends or family if we look like a Christian when he evaluates our health. Does an earthly doctor simply glance at me when I come for a yearly check-up; then quickly send me home saying I look healthy? Even if I may say, ‘I feel fine,’ doctors use scopes, scans, ultrasounds & other intricate tests to look inside, to search for tumors; to find physical troubles attacking from the inside so we might fight to preserve life before an illness is necessarily able to be seen by somebody simply looking at the outsde of my body.
Emphasizing eternal life, focusing on spiritual health, Jesus jumps past my outward appearance; Jesus does not just ask how I feel, for feelings are often unreliable. My conscience, scarred by repeated ‘pet’ sins, too easily; too often refuses to rightly apply our Lord’s unwavering expectations to my own life. For my benefit – just as earthly doctors will not tell me what I want to hear; do not say I am fine, if, in fact, some sickness inside threatens my life – just as doctors identify early stages of illness so we can counterattack with some medication or an operation, Jesus exposes our sinful heart; Jesus pinpoints our inherited sinful nature, as a lethal source of every evil attacking our eternal life so I can counter evil with Christ’s forgiveness before I face my sin’s eternal death.
As Jesus’ truth compels an honest self-examination, ask yourself: What am I like inside? What hides in my heart? Before you brush off this question by telling yourself what you want to hear, frame the question this way: What would people say if they could see your thoughts as clearly as you see my works & hear my words? ‘You hypocrite!’ Can we picture anyone calling us anything other than a hypocrite if they could see the spiritual MRI God sees as he looks at me? While faithful friends are able to evaluate our actions, to determine how well we are or are not imitating Jesus; while fellow believers can adequately grade our words as passing (we often echo Jesus’ loving truth) or failing (we too easily let our lips loose Satan’s unloving lies), only I myself am able to assess thoughts hidden in my heart.
Understand, when my evil ideas germinate — if sinful thoughts inside my heart & head blossom into adultery, murder, stealing, slander or other open sins – Christian friends can call me to repentance. But, before anyone else imagines I am sinning – while the world around us labels me a ‘good person,’ a ‘righteous soul’ – when my evil heart has not yet sprung into action, I am still full of evil, already sinning in my head, in my heart; already needing Jesus’ forgiveness. But who will call upon me to repent when I look good on the outside? Christ will. In fact, Jesus would lead us to repent as he lays out his truth for us today.
You see, the only remedy for evil residing in my heart is coming to Jesus’ cross begging, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’[LK 18] Asking forgiveness for sinful thoughts no one but God sees floating through my head; repenting of evil ideas which I never allow to see the light of day, be assured, ‘the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all unrighteousness… Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, for the sins of the whole world.’[1 JN 1/2] Confessing my sinful thoughts, coming to Christ’s cross asking God to pardon every evil hidden in my heart, be reassured, Jesus’ prayer as he is suffering our sin’s death, ‘Father, forgive them…’[LK 23] effectively covers my evil thoughts as well as my wicked words & sinful actions. Jesus’ forgiveness is free & full forever.
Will life as forgiven children of God revolve around looks or feelings? Cleansing us inside & out, forgiving our guilt, Christ replaces our wickedness with his righteousness. With the Holy Spirit supplanting our sinful nature’s evil ideas with our Lord’s loving leadership & instruction (when we listen to God’s Word guiding our life), Christians will be led to not live by human rules trying to make us look holy in other people’s eyes, but we will be led by the Spirit to humbly display Jesus’ forgiving, serving love in our life. To God be the glory!