Matthew 15: 10-28
10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Every now and then when I’m flipping through the channels on TV, I come across a show called Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and I can’t help but watch it for a few moments before I inevitably have to turn it off because of the crazy stuff this guy eats. The show is all about a guy who travels the world in search of the strangest foods you can imagine- bugs, lizards, rodents, eyeballs, scorpions, animal intestines, whatever humans could possibly consume, he has probably tried it. Let’s take a look at one of his food adventures,
Now how can we watch that and still believe Jesus words, that it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of it? I don’t know about you, but after seeing that, it’s hard to believe. It’s also hard to believe that in a country overrun with obesity, bad eating habits, processed food, and the fast food industry. What we eat is literally killing us. I read a statistic the other day saying that “Kids between the ages of 6 and 14 eat fast food 157,000,000 times every month. Ninety-six percent of kids in school could recognize an image of Ronald McDonald, the face of McDonalds. The only recognizable figure that ranked higher was Santa Claus. To top it off, Americans spend nearly $100 billion on fast food every year.” http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/nutrition/fastfood.html
So what, in fact, goes into our mouths and bodies today is a matter of health, diet, and over all well-being. I have a friend who is always trying some new diet, but then gives it up until the next new fad diet comes along. I have friends on the Paleo diet, Atkins, South Beach, the “cranberry cleanse”…there is always some new diet to try for good health…or harm, whatever the case may be! But Jesus’ words for us today really go far beyond our diet and what we eat. Rather than a food diet, Jesus presents us with a challenge to try a faith diet. It’s true that we eat a lot of things that are really bad for us, whether we are on a diet or not, but what really matters is not what goes in, but about what comes out of our mouths, and ultimately, our hearts. A faith diet consists of that which begins in the intentions of heart and makes its way out into the world.
This whole conversation about diet starts with Jesus’ challenge to a group of Pharisees and religious leaders about what and how we eat as people of God. The challenge stems from a larger debate on following the strict rules of diet and ritual purity in the Jewish law. The Pharisees have just criticized Jesus’ disciples because they observed them not following the ritual cleansing and washing of hands before eating food. Jesus, feeling that they are nit-picking and not seeing the bigger picture of what it means to love God with your heart, soul, and mind, offers them this challenge and critique. He then quotes from the prophet Isaiah, that a prophecy has come true: people will honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God. They worship God in vain, and teach human precepts as doctrines.
Jesus then turns to the crowd and gives them a new diet to try: “it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart comes evil intentions…but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” The new diet is the faith diet: A faith diet, like a food diet, is really a faith habit or food habit- a repeated practice that becomes ingrained in the way one lives. In the faith diet, we must pay attention to what comes from the heart, so that we may be of good intentions and people of God in the world. At the root of all this is what defines holiness. It is not what we take in, but what we give back to the world. True holiness begins with the heart. And God wants our hearts, not our petty words, not our church fights, not our evil intentions- but our hearts, ready to be given over to be shaped and molded by God so that we may be made holy. Holiness begins with the heart. Our hearts are in need of a new diet- the faith diet.
And we are all in need of a diet change. Bad habits are hard to break! We just need to stop and look around the world to see how much we are in need of a change in our faith dieting habits. It is true, as Jesus, says, that evil intentions often come from the heart and result in hurtful words or actions. And often times, harmful words and actions are a result of ignorance or misunderstanding the hearts and intentions of others. There have been two big news stories this week that call these thoughts to mind. One is the sudden death by suicide of Robin Williams. Within hours, social media blew up with this news and many were grieving the death of such a treasured actor who made so many of us laugh and cry and everything in between. I feel like my sister and I grew up with Robin Williams, watching his movies over and over again, especially Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin. He had a way that made you feel like you knew him as a person. In the wake of his death, people certainly responded in many ways, both positive and negative.
Instead of offering kind words of support to his family and fans, one news reporter called Robin Williams “such a coward” for ending his own life. Instead of trying to understand the depth of what Robin Williams might have been going through, instead of trying to understand the place so dark that he must have been in for him to end his own life, instead of offering a words that may have helped others battling severe depression, this reporter chose these hateful words. And another disheartening story was the evil intentions of people who threatened and harassed Robin William’s daughter on twitter, blaming her for his death, and even sending her photo-shopped images of her father’s dead body- so much so that she had to delete her account. When given the choice of choosing words and actions that are uplifting and encouraging or hurtful or threatening, why do some people choose evil over good? Death over life? Hate instead of love?
Jesus invites us, through a faith diet challenge, to examine our hearts and turn it around. To choose our words carefully. To allow God to change our hearts to bend toward the good. To allow God to push us to a new and better way- the way of holiness.
The second story that is on so many of our minds is the shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO. Michael was an unarmed 18 year old African American man who was gunned down by police, according to eyewitness accounts. While many are still unsure of what actually happened, the end result is that a young man died at the hands of law enforcement, and people are outraged by the circumstances of his death. Rioting has ensued, and the scene in Ferguson looks like something out of a war zone with armored suits, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Even peaceful protestors and reporters were arrested, sending the message that even with words and actions of peace, violence and force is the overarching theme that prevails. All of this has arisen out of misunderstanding, confusion, and refusing to see people as people- refusing to look into their hearts and refusing to acknowledge the intentions of our own hearts.
We are in need of a new diet- a faith diet, consisting of good intentions, looking inside our own hearts, practicing what we preach, showing the love of God to all, and seeing the image of God in the other, even if we are not sure of what their intentions might be. May we allow God to help shape the intentions of our own hearts and choose our words with care. A faith diet might even consist of the crumbs that fall from the table and go to the dogs, as we see when Jesus meets the Canaanite woman who begs him to heal her daughter. This is a fascinating turn of events. Jesus has just left the crowds with a challenge of what true holiness is and how they might look inside their hearts rather than adhering to dietary restrictions, and then he is faced with his own challenge of the heart. The Canaanite woman- a non-Jew- approaches him, and he does not answer her at all when she calls to him. But she keeps shouting. She keeps shouting to the point where the disciples want to send her away, and what does Jesus do? He thinks about sending her away as well, saying that he has only come for the Jewish people- the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and his words get even more harsh when he compares this woman to a dog who eats the children’s scraps. His message is quick and painful- he did not come into this world to heal her or her daughter- he only came for one group of people, and she did not fit the qualifications. Yet she persists and argues that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table. That yes, even she, a woman and a non-Jew, is worthy to receive even the scraps of love and healing that she recognizes as gifts from God through Jesus. It is then that Jesus perhaps has a change of heart of his own. Instead of Jesus instructing this woman about a healthy faith diet, she instructs him on what one might look like- one of persistence, trust, and the willingness to accept all into health, happiness, and healing. She teaches Jesus about who all is welcome at the table.
Perhaps, in the eyes of God, we are all dogs dependent upon free scraps from God’s table. The Canaanite woman reminds us of our faith diet. That sometimes only a scrap from the table of God is all that we need. She reminds us that of a diet that consists of reaching out beyond the walls of the church to those who are in need of even scraps from the table- scraps of kindness, hospitality, and understanding. We all deserve a seat at the table, God’s table. The question is: will we acknowledge these persons, listen to them, and welcome them? Will we take the time to hear their story? And really listen with our whole hearts?
The Canaanite woman reminds us that we all have a seat at the table and to find our voice so that healing and justice can be felt and experienced. She reminds us that we all are invited to the table. Last weekend, Corey and I were a part of a festival in Fort Wayne called the Lion and Lamb festival. This festival is a weekend full of music, conversation, speakers, and dialogue about many issues that face our society and world. This year, the theme of the weekend was “Come to the table, there is a place for you.” I was asked to be a part of two panels. One was about women in church leadership where I shared my stories and experiences of being a woman in pastoral ministry, along with two colleagues who shared the challenges that women still face in the church and society. The second panel I was on, organized by some colleagues and myself, centered around issues of division, unity, sexuality and the future of the United Methodist Church. Voices from different experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and opinions were invited simply to be a part of the conversation- not to try to fix anything, not to try to solve all of the church’s problems, but just to sit, listen, and talk about the issues that divide us in a safe space where all voices may be heard. All were simply invited to the table.
The conversation went well over all. People participated, listened with respect, and felt comfortable opening up with their struggles, their stories, their questions, and opinions. It was an emotional experience for all of us- just to be heard, whether we agreed with one another or not. I don’t know what the future of the church is, but I think that inviting all voices to the table to be a part of the conversation is a good start. And it all begins with the good intentions of the heart, choosing words that uplift, and making the decision to see the other as worthy to come to the table, and worthy of the invitation.
What is a word of hope for this week? Another week where our world seems to be falling apart in the midst of violence, war, disease, ignorance, terror and misunderstanding- what is a word of hope? The hope can be found when we remember that Jesus calls us all to the table so that we may go forth to face the broken world out there, to face our inner demons, to face our most honest intentions, good or bad, with confidence. Jesus’ challenge is that we take on a new diet- the faith diet, where we begin with our hearts being willing to be transformed and cleansed by God- where we begin by holding ourselves to a higher standard as people called to follow Jesus. It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles (even if that happens to be fried tarantula!), but what comes from the heart that counts. God wants our hearts. God wants to remind us, through the Canaanite woman, that we all are called to the table, even if for the scraps. May we allow God to enter in and transform our hearts, that we may seek holiness and hope in its many forms. That is my prayer for all of us, and for our world this week. Amen.