Matthew 15. 10-28 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.
Reflection Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland writes, “Racism, anti-Semitism and violence rear their ugly head once again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia… and another example of the collective failure of our nation to expend the moral and political capital needed to stop our spiral into racial and violent madness.”
“Now more than ever, we need people of good will to speak out clearly and courageously against the disturbing tide of white supremacist rhetoric that wants to divide and prevent us from coming together.”
And there it is. An invitation to people of good will - hopefully that is us - to speak out because, words are powerful. Words are windows into our hearts. And those of us with hearts tempered by compassion must open our mouths and speak out. I believe Jesus might well have said, “What goes into our mouths does not make us holy, but what comes out of our mouths makes us holy.”
If you are, as I am, appalled by the degrading, debasing, dishonoring words you hear echoing across our nation please take seriously your covenant with God and remember the ageless wisdom that underlies the Holiness Code in Leviticus, “For I am the LORD your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves…” (Lev 11.44)
To consecrate ourselves, to make ourselves holy, we must dedicate ourselves to divine purpose. One way to do that is to consider and measure our words as they betray the state of our hearts. When our words (or texts or twitters) are drenched in enmity, antagonism and disgust they are like flaming swords inciting hostility and hatred. This will do nothing more than continue and exacerbate the tragic violence and hostility that besieged Charlottesville.
Returning to Bishop Sutton’s reflection, “Too often in our nation’s history people of goodwill have chosen to remain silent in the face of bigotry, refusing to risk having unpleasant conversations that might disturb colleagues, friends and the ones we love.” It is time for us to initiate those difficult conversations. Remember, even Jesus had his mind changed by the persistent Caananite woman who broke every social, political and religious boundary to plead for mercy for her daughter. Had the woman remained silent the demons would have continued to torment her daughter.
Imagine how Charlottesville might have looked if a group of us people of good will approached those protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee stature and respectfully asked, “Would you join us for a meal? Tell us about your concern? How does this stature affirm who you are? How would removing it harm you? Does your claim to white supremacy stem from your experience of seeing how minorities have historically been mistreated? If so, it is no wonder you feel vulnerable and want to protect yourselves. What can we do together to insure this will never happen to you or anyone else?” And there is every chance we would have to keep asking, and asking and asking, persistent as the Canaanite woman.
This is hard, in fact, we cannot accomplish it by sheer will. Like the Canaanite woman we must depend on our relationship with God. We must ask to be fed with the spiritual food of compassion to enable us to live in holiness of life.
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