I am not ready to leave the incident we read about yesterday, at least not yet. If you recall, a group of Pharisees had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to challenge Jesus on a matter of national interest: hand washing. That still makes me smilet. I just find it such an obviously dumb thing considering all the other things Jesus had already been doing. However, I do not want to rehash what was said yesterday but instead I want us to consider another matter that arises from this confrontation.
Jesus' entire message centers around one simple premise: the Kingdom of God is a matter of the heart. This put him in direct opposition with the Pharisees whose teaching all centered on ceremonies and actions. The Pharisees did not care about the condition of the heart as long as a person made the appearance of doing what was right according to their many rules. This is the reason Jesus turned to the crowd with this instruction:
“Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10-11)
This was an "in your face" moment from Jesus. It may have been said in the subtlety of teaching but it was not a subtle teaching. So much so that his disciples came to him later, very concerned:
“Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)
The disciples were concerned because the Pharisees were important and powerful men. They were the promoters and defenders of Jehovah worship. They were busy with the preservation of the culture of Israel through its religious observance and worship. Yet, there is an important point here to make: when you are wrong you are wrong. It does not matter who you are, how important, how knowledgeable, how famous; if you are teaching wrong then you are wrong. Hopefully all of us are open to correction in our understanding of correct doctrine especially those of us who are teachers of the Word. We should take warning from Jesus' response to his disciples:
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13-14)
The words that strike me the most in this is "leave them". I hear "don't be bother with them". What would cause Jesus to walk away from a person like that? A hardened heart; unteachable; stubbornness. There is nothing anyone can do with people who are convinced they are right and will not listen to the truth. Leave them. It is sad that there are so many blind guides, people who have a little bit of knowledge but who do not understand the truth. They build entire doctrines around unimportant matters, such as hand washing. Just like the Pharisees, they are more concerned about a persons behaviour than they are about their heart. Often the people who chose to follow such blind guides are themselves blind to the truth and refuse to hear anything else.
I have met too many Christians to count who were more concerned about my lack of a suit and the length of my hair than they were about what I was teaching. I would rather be corrected in my teaching than corrected in my appearance because my appearance is a matter of "hand washing". There are far to many "Pharisees" who want to dress people up and get them into church, as if that would save them. They chastise people for missing a Sunday instead of checking to make sure their heart is okay. They will correct them for their lack of tithing instead of understanding this is a symptom of a deeper problem. We have to be a people who see beyond appearances to speak to the heart condition, as Jesus did.
If you know anything of Jesus' talk with the Pharisees Nicodemus in John 3 you will recall that he came to Jesus with an opening statement to try to discover more about Jesus:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
However, Jesus brushed this surface statement aside and went to the heart:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Them seem to have nothing to do with each other because they don't. Nicodemus wanted to talk about signs and Jesus moved it to the heart. He did the same thing to the Samaritan woman at the well, which we find in John 4. Jesus had asked her for a drink and her response was about appearances:
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Jesus reply went to the heart:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus did not "leave" these two and many others like them because they were open and teachable. The woman so accepted what Jesus taught that she ran and brought out the whole village. They were teachable concerning the matters of the heart.
We can't afford to get this wrong. As we daily live to fulfill our mission we need to make sure we understand the message of that mission. We are not in the business of trying to conform people's actions to a set of rules or a law. We are simply vessels of a message that, with the power of God, will transforms the hearts of those who are lost. We can't get this backwards. It doesn't work from the outside in. The Kingdom is a matter of the heart, a heart transformed by the love, mercy and grace of the Father. It is with this transformation that it moves outward and also transforms our actions.
There are too many who are dying without Jesus for us to get caught up in arguments and debates with people who are unteachable. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in the beginning but after that he did not waste any more time on them. There are some people who you will just have to leave alone because they have hardened their heart to anything else. Continue to pray for them but realize the fields are ripe for the harvest and there are plenty more people who are willing to be saved. It is a sad notion because everyone is important to our Father, but when the "sea" is filled with people willing to be saved, we can't afford the time to waste on someone who is determined to drown. Just because you need to move on doesn't mean that God has given up. After some further experiences he will send another prophet to that person who may be more prepared in the future to listen. But for today, it's time to move on.