A Pious Potty Parable

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Matthew 15:15-20

And Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” And He said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

That is a G-rated translation if I ever saw one. But first things first. After Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes over their traditions and lawlessness, we read that Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Clearly this is not to be taken literally and Peter proclaims it a Parable in today’s text.

“And Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.'” The disciples, unlike the average reader of the Bible, had become accustomed to Jesus not speaking literally but metaphorically. We have already discussed this, the Psalms proclaim that the Messiah would speak in parables. Let me ask a question, did you regard these words of Jesus of which we read lat time as a parable? Context is king and the parable of which Jesus spoke regarding the Pharisees being blind men leading blind men into a pit is confirmed by the context; “And Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’”

I would think it obvious that Jesus was speaking metaphorically but I wouldn’t consider it a parable if Matthew had not recorded what Peter had said. Even though in recent context Jesus spoke in a plethora of parables, we need the context of what Peter said for us to realize this is another parable. It is precisely the reason for the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions. And as a reminder, this is all free–I don’t get paid to write the word, Context.

Speaking of context, let’s look at the content. After Peter asks for an explanation, Jesus is willing to give a detailed answer. I hope you don’t mind if I translate it with a little more detail, possibly bumping it up to a PG rating. Although I would still consider it a G Rating because after all, everybody poops. “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is pooped into the latrine? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Do you ever eat without washing your hands? Do you frequent your favorite fast-food factory, managing a meager meal from the dollar menu? Pulling out a few folded bills from your pocket and handing them to the clerk, you then proceed to put your dirty hands on the bite-sized burger and enjoy the tens, or hundreds or thousands of people’s hands that have also touched those bills. Perhaps you are like I once was and run to the bathroom to wash your ​hands before you eat. I no longer have any need for that–having children cured me. If I were to only eat perfectly clean things, I would never eat at all.

Doctors and the CDC tell us to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing food and before we eat. We are told to wet our hands, apply and lather soap, then rinse thoroughly. But Jesus says, “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” I am playing loose with the context for dramatic effect because there are those who would not wash their hands because Jesus said, to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. And that is his conclusion, after all, but it misses the mark.

The Pharisees and scribes were upset that the disciples didn’t follow tradition. The washing of hands had less to do with personal hygiene than with ceremonial tradition. Nevertheless, Jesus is clear, it’s not what goes in that defiles but what comes out. Jesus is actually being very scientific here–anything that we eat, that isn’t poison or something, is either used by our bodies or eliminated (pooped into the toilet). But he is also using general terms. For instance, if you touch fecal matter, probably you should wash up, twice. Jesus was not abolishing the washing of hands but the ceremonial tradition of washing one’s hands, to show that it is actually what comes out of the mouth that is in the heart of man.

James states something similar; “and the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” Context is King and Jesus is using the tradition of washing one’s hands to show that people, particularly the Pharisees, prove their impropriety by what proceeds out of their mouths. Here again, don’t take this too literally.

It is not that we vomit murders, nor that we belch burglaries but that our mouths give away our innermost thoughts. In this particular passage, Jesus is referring specifically to the Pharisees and scribes that questioned Jesus concerning the disciples lack of hand washing. Yet in turn, they reveiled their hearts and thoughts through the question itself.

I am never opposed to giving Jesus the last words, especially after we have considered the context. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

 

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