Today’s reading is Genesis 36-40, Psalm 8, and Matthew 15-16.
I am a proponent of hand washing. Perhaps this pandemic we are five months into has taught me that the most: wash hands. One would think that spending years working with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students would have convinced me of that, but strangely, no.
The years I spent with them actually taught me to embrace dirt. Sure, when they have used the toilet, sneezed, or picked their noses I definitely want them to wash their hands before resuming play, eating, or coming near me. But if they’ve been coloring, playing outside (not in mud), reading books, or building Legos, I don’t mind the normal dirt and germs that exist on them. Countless times I forgot to have them wash their hands, in part because it takes so long when working with more than one child. Have you ever tried to get a class of eight one-year-old toddlers to wash hands? By the time the last one is clean, the first is elbows deep in germs again! (This is especially true when the sinks are not their height and you have to help each one climb up and down a ladder.) Toddler teachers out there, I see you, I empathize with you. The struggle is real!
The Jews also valued hand washing. Matthew 15 does not reveal where the “tradition of the elders” of hand washing came from (Matthew 15:2), as it is not something given by God to the Israelites in the Law. The tradition of the elders were traditions and customs not written down but handed down from person to person, reaching the present time. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day particularly loved the tradition of the elders because it added more ways to be holy. Some traditions, such as washing hands before eating, is a valuable tradition we encourage today.
But Jesus throws it back at them. In some instances, the Jews valued the traditions of the elders over the written Law given by God. The example Jesus uses is of honoring father and mother.
In the Ten Commandments, God commands the Israelites to honor their father and mother (Exodus 20:12), and in later commandments to to put to death those who curse their father and mother (Deuteronomy 21:17). As time went on, the elders created a tradition which essentially nullified the honoring of parents and punishment put on those who curse their parents by saying whoever “declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God'” (Matthew 15:5).
We are allowed to devote land, livestock, utensils, and even people to God. Hannah does this with Samuel by taking him to Eli at Shiloh. But we are not to devote things to God if it is to spite others, particularly our parents. Like many eastern cultures today, Israel was a culture of family. Parents took care of children until they were too old at which point the children took over the care for their parents. Somewhere along the way of Israel’s history, the elders decided children could get out of this obligation by devoting their means, land and livestock, to God.
Jesus calls it as He sees it: the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites.
Quoting Isaiah He says:
These people honor me with their lipsIsaiah 29:13, quoted in Matthew 15:8-9
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.
Why do we wash hands before we eat? To kill the germs, dirt, and bacteria which can get into our bodies, particularly when we eat without utensils. But the Israelites did not know about germs and bacteria (they obviously knew about dirt, they could see it all around them). It was this dirt that they thought would defile them, not defile like germs and bacteria defiles us by making us sick, defile them by literally making them dirty.
In ancient Israel the concept of being unclean meant staying away from that which is unclean: dead bodies, dead animals, sick people, people with skin conditions, a woman on her period, mold on food or in a house, and more. To be clean was the most important thing for the Pharisees, it was their pride. Washing hands before eating made sure nothing they had come in contact with which was unclean entered their body by means of transmitting from hands to food to mouth to stomach.
But this does not concern Jesus.
Jesus is concerned with what comes out of our bodies. As we know, food becomes waste, which is unclean. Whatever we eat, however nutritious like a spinach salad or however fat, sugar, and caloric it is filled like a large peanut butter chocolate milkshake, it will all become poop.
But poop is not what concerns Jesus, either.
Jesus is concerned by what comes out of our mouths: our words. Our words come from our heart, from what we think and feel. It is our thoughts. Are we thinking and therefore saying words which uplift, which speak the truths of God, which encourage and exhort people to be better followers of Jesus? Or are we thinking and saying words of angst, disgust, division, and hate?
Portland has had 71 nights of protests since the death of George Floyd. These protests have been marked with riots and peace, the military and moms, dumpster fires and moving speeches. As someone living here, it is hard to know what is happening because there is not just one thing happening. The media, national news, and federal government are not helping by the stories and analysis they share. I support the protests. I am not a fan of the riots, destruction, and graffiti, but I believe Portlanders have a right to be out there and I believe they need to be heard. But I am concerned by the pandemic.
As Portland was beginning to open up, as other counties were getting ready to enter Phase 2, the protests began. I appreciate those who wear masks, who try to distance, but that is extremely hard when there are thousands of people. From what we can tell, the protests are not causing more COVID-19 cases in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties than other activities (such as summer parties, adults returning to work and children returning to childcare and camps). But what I do know is that one of these is worse than the other; one of these things make us unclean because it is what comes out of our mouths.
And I’m not speaking about the protests.
I’m also not speaking about COVID-19.
That which makes us unclean is what we are saying to each other. It is the ways people across the country are commenting on social media, bashing the protesters and bashing the police. It is the ways one side of those in my own social media feeds say things like, “F*ck Ted Wheeler” (mayor of Portland) and “k*ll the police,” and the ways the side are calling protesters, rioters, and supporters “ungrateful,” “unAmerican,” and telling them to just “leave America if you don’t like it.”
I love everyone in my social media feeds; it is why I am friends with them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram and Twitter. But I am saddened by these words and comments. I am saddened by the violence and destruction to my town.
But I am even more saddened by the hurt that my brothers and sisters are feeling. The ways they’ve been hurt, attacked, and harassed by the system. One of these friends is one of the nicest guys I know when it comes to working with children. I worked with him on-and-off for two years and never doubted that he was a safe person for a child to be with. But one of the reasons it was on-and-off was because he would have to quit now-and-again in order to not have his wages garnered. This friend could not buy enough food for himself or afford his rent. His car would break down or run out of gas. And all because of a trip to the ER from years prior which he had struggled to pay, his wagers were garnered, keeping him in a cycle of poverty.
This story is not unique. The system he is fighting against is the system that keeps him and thousands of others across the country impoverished.
But his story does not negate his words which him unclean.
Just like those in my news feed who are living the “American Dream” or attempting do so have seen their towns and cities double in population by immigrants, both legal and undocumented. Others in my news feeds have fathers and grand-fathers who fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Who see the flag and current administration as the symbol of what their fathers and grand-fathers fought for, what their mothers and grand-mothers gave up for them during their growing up years.
But these stories do not negate their words which make them unclean.
Please continue to wash your hands. Not because it is from the tradition of the elders but because it helps kills the spread of disease, like COVID-19.
But please think about what you are saying before you say it; whether it is being said in person or poster on the internet. We all have valid reasons for our feelings about current political, social, religious, and pandemic issues. But if you have stated a saving faith in Christ, those feelings and statements must be held in check against Him.
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”Matthew 15:16-20
Join me in finishing this year by reading through the Bible through a Psalm a Day. Find my reading plan here.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.