“Out, damned spot! out, I say!” These are the famous words from Lady Macbeth while she sleep-walks and attempts to clean the blood of the murdered King Duncan off her hands by rubbing them together. There was no blood on her hands; instead her conscience was burdened by a guilty heart. In Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus addresses the problem of defiled hearts. But, just before this exchange with the Scribes and Pharisees, there is this curious healing story. In it, people come to Jesus and touch the fringe of his garment and are healed. In this story Jesus stands juxtaposed to the scribes and Pharisees. Here Jesus let’s anyone who seeks to be healed touch him, and from within Jesus come a purifying a power; a power to make the people whole again.
On the other hand, the Scribes and Pharisees attempt to keep the world out. Through elaborate purification habits (cleaning hands, cleaning vessels for eating and cooking), they attempted to keep the defilement of the world at bay. And, they want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t do the same thing. Jesus answers them by pointing out the defilement of their own hearts; how they break the commandment to honor their parents. Jesus wanted them to realize that ultimately it is not the world that makes us unclean. Jesus crudely points out the mechanics of eating - when you eat it goes in and then comes out again – but he says that the grosser thing is the mess of your hearts.
There is a temptation for us to try and seal out the world; to so separate ourselves, our families, and our communities from the corrupting influences of those out there. But the real problem is not outside of us, but inside of us. The good news is that Jesus, though he was perfectly pure and holy, came to a messy, broken, sinful, and unclean people and touched them and allowed himself to be touched by them. He identifies with our mess and he alone makes us clean.
How do you disengage from the world out of fear? What areas of sin in your own heart have you long ignored? Have you sought after Jesus, the one who can make you truly clean? - RG