CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Things that Defile
Last week we ran a piece erroneously attributed to the Rev. Sara Ardrey-Graves.
Below is her offering for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.
[Jesus 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.”]
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just 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.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
- Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
Have you noticed what’s been going into your mouth lately? Sometimes, my lunch is a lovely nutritious salad with locally grown vegetables and lean protein. And at other times, I’ll admit, it’s several spoonfuls of ice cream, eaten standing up next to the open freezer door. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably saw that I’m very excited about tomato sandwiches this August. While the fresh tomato is definitely virtuous, the outrageous amount of mayo I used, and the embarrassing number of sandwiches I consumed, is not quite so virtuous. I don’t think I’m alone in some recent changes to my diet, and I think we’re all eating differently in these trying times. Are you, like me, coping with the pandemic by eating your feelings?
It’s so incredibly tempting to make our food habits match our emotional habits. When we feel disconnected and irritable, we try to fill up our souls with anything within reach. For many of us, it’s the pint of ice cream in the freezer, the drive-through at Krispy Kreme, the frozen pizza, the boxed mac and cheese. There’s something so tempting about the instant gratification of carbohydrate junk food love. But usually it leaves us feeling ill fed and empty.
Junk food is not unlike junk talk. It fills us up momentarily but leaves us empty, or, as Jesus says, leaves us “defiled.” He says that it is not what we put into our mouths that defiles us, but what comes out. Are you watching what comes out of your mouth as much as what goes in? We sometimes fall into habits of mean, slanderous talk, usually matching our unhealthy emotional habits. There is a weird sort of instant gratification that comes from this kind of talk, especially if you feel have been wronged in some way. If you are saying unkind things about the people you know, even insinuating another person is an idiot or a cheat or a liar – it’s the moral equivalent of eating ice cream for dinner. It might feel great at the time, but it will leave you feeling ill fed and empty.
Jesus teaches that words have power, and we are called by God to use our words in prayerful, loving ways. Many spiritual practices are expressive in this way: we use our speech all the time to offer our prayers to God, to journal, to share stories in spiritual direction, to sing, to cry for justice. There is a time to speak up and tell the truth. But there is also a time to hold back and resist speaking, even when we feel wronged, even when it’s so tempting to be critical or scathing towards a situation or another person. The apophatic spiritual tradition can teach us a lot in this regard. This kind of spirituality is non-expressive; it engages with deep feeling without using words and resists naming an experience of God or the world too quickly. How can you learn to filter what comes out of your mouth, using this spiritual tradition? Perhaps you could take up silent contemplative prayer at the end of a long day. The next time you open your email and read something that angers you, try sitting in silence for 20 minutes, emptying your thoughts before drafting a reaction. Maybe the next time you want to rise up against an injustice in the world, you could pray for peace before jumping into action. These counter-intuitive postures teach us that God is God - and we are not - and allows us to steady ourselves when our hunger for callous speech rears its ugly head. May we, as Jesus teaches, practice resistance to the things that defile a person and, instead, open our hearts and mouths with words of kindness, acceptance and love.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus