‘Washing hands or washing hearts?’

Mark 7:15, 21
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. … For it is from within, out of a persons heart, that evil thoughts come …

            Out of the heart evil thoughts come. What is the condition of your heart? Not so much the medical condition of the organ pumping your blood, but rather the true condition of your inner self, your core from which desires direct your actions. Is your heart sick and full of sorrows? Is it strong and sure? Is it a big heart embracing all those around you? Or is your heart hidden away from others? After feeding the 5000 Jesus brings this question to the fore, what is the condition of your heart? And what does that have to do with what we do?

            Jesus, of course, has a good and big heart, so big He loves all creation through His life, death and resurrection. He wants to share that with us, as He has taught over the last few weeks in John Chapter 6, the life from the Father shared with us (verse 57). A big heart to care for a rag-tag group of twelve and more disciples. But then come the Pharisees come, Jewish lay leaders who sought to make God’s Law doable even for a poor fisherman. Good people perhaps, people who care for others and teach them how to live, to wash their hands, to wash their dishes, to keep clean and to stay on God’s ‘good side’. So when they see some of Jesus’ disciples eating before washing their hands they go up to Jesus and ask, ‘what’s all this about?’

            Now we need to say a bit about washing, it was as we heard a tradition of the elders, the way things were done in Jewish households; like taking off your shoes before coming inside. However it wasn’t just simple hygiene, to them it had spiritual significance; it was to make sure that they stayed on the ‘good side’ of God, ceremonially clean we might say; so according to their elders when you came home from a place where Gentiles, or unclean people, were you had to wash off their uncleanness. They would wash their hands from finger to elbow, and also ceremonially wash, or baptise in the Greek, their pots and plates, utensils and even the couches they ate on. But Jesus’ disciples weren’t doing that, and He didn’t tell them off, instead He calls the Pharisees hypocrites or fakers. What’s up with that? Does this mean Jesus likes dirt and germs on His food? That you don’t have to wash your hands even in a pandemic?

            Well, not necessarily. The Pharisees have come from Jerusalem to find some dirt on Jesus, so they come up and tell Him off because His disciples, or students, aren’t following the way of life passed down from the elders; importantly that they think will make them right with God. They think it’s the washing of hands will keep them right with God. Jesus responds to their accusation with the words of Isaiah (29:13), ‘this people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they adore me, teaching as doctrine the commands of men.’ Simply put, their heart and lips do not agree, they lie about who they are and what they believe. Now this is important for us to hear, to look at our own lives, our words and reflect on our hearts. What do you treasure? What do you reflect on, what thoughts do you chew over? What are you drawn toward? Do you talk the walk and walk the talk, or do you live a lie?

            This is what James means when He writes, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22). Anyone who hears God’s Word, His commands and promise, yet doesn’t live accordingly are liars and the truth is not in them. Just as the Psalmist sang, only the righteous, the one who speaks truth from the heart, can dwell with the Lord God (Psalm 15). And as we heard from Deuteronomy (4:9), ‘be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen, which is God’s Almighty Works and Word through the Exodus and in the Law, or let them fade from your hearts as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.’ Here today God is saying, live according to His Word and His Work, His commands and His promise. And what is that?

            The first of God’s 10 commandments is, ‘I am the Lord your God, you will have no other gods before me.’ A simple rule where God Almighty, creator of all, has given Himself to us, and in turn we are to honour, respect, fear, love, trust Him, more than anything else, or over and above all other things. To live according to this commandment is to thank the markets, truckies, the farmers, and ultimately God for the food He provides; to ask for His protection and strength for all these people as well so He continues to provide for us through them. Jesus is saying live according to this law before you condemn others about washing their hands.

            But God doesn’t just tell us how life is and how to live it, He also in His power and great love serves us and promises to us great and wonderful things. In Holy Baptism, not just a ceremonial washing, but water and the Word, the Holy Spirit at work; God has promised you your failure to keep the commands is washed away, your sinful self is killed and you united with Jesus in death and resurrection you are raised to a new life in Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. A promise that He has renewed your corrupt and broken heart. And He gives this grace, this promise, again and again, in Holy Communion and in the Absolution, defeating again and again the power of sin, death and the devil in our lives.

            Hear that again, it is God who renews your heart. Is your heart sick with guilt and sin? Hear again the true promise of God, your sins are forgiven. Is your heart proud and sure of itself? Hear again God’s Command, You will respect, fear and trust Him more than anything else, and look at your life, your lips and your heart. Is your heart broken and burdened? Receive again the Good News, God has given you New Everlasting Life, promised in Baptism, in the Absolution, in Holy Communion, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit bringing you into the Life of Christ. Receive His healing, trust His promise, He is the one who renews your heart. And His Words are sure; so receive well His healing and let the good things flow from your new heart, from the peace, joy and love that comes with our freedom over sin, death and the devil in Jesus.

            So the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, now into the fulfilment of all God’s promises. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.