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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 15:10–20

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 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.” (NRSV)

Jesus’ anatomy lesson is only half right. For while we can say with a high degree of scientific certainty that things that go into the mouth do, in fact, enter the stomach and then (skipping a few steps) empty into the sewer, we cannot with anything approaching that same level of certainty posit the same link Jesus asserts between things that come out of the mouth and the organ known as the heart.

That’s because Jesus is obviously using “heart” metaphorically, not literally. Obviously. A lot of gospel reading requires a contextual awareness of terms and how they functioned in first-century Jewish idiom, but not this. This we get without any explanation, because, of course, we talk about the “heart” in exactly the same way: as the seat of one’s soul and the control center of one’s will and desire.

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that is what defiles.” It can be very sobering to take stock of the products of our mouths. Anger, sarcasm, cynicism, self-pity, aggression (both active and passive). The things my speech has defiled.

Of course, the opposite is also true: that the heart manufactures charity and compassion, encouragement and earnest inquiry, and that those things too come out of the same mouth. That, instead of defiling, is what blesses.

It is easier, Jesus seems to be saying, to take rigorous account of the inventory going into our mouths than it is to grapple seriously with what passes our lips on the way out.

God who knows our heart, turn our attention from external observance to internal integrity. Align our heart with yours, so that what moves you moves us and so that the speech coming from our hearts and out our mouths might strengthen, build up, and bless. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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