1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat." 3 He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?4 For God said, "Honor your father and your mother,' and, "Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, "Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,' then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' " 10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" 13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." 15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." 16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile." Matthew 15:1-20
When I entered my first parish fresh out of seminary, I was excited to be heading to a church where I would not have to worry about my theology for they were an Open and Affirming Congregation in the United Church of Christ who shared a building with Unitarians. I was excited that I would be able to preach the good news and not have to worry about my politics. So imagine my shock when I started receiving hate mail, hate emails, treatise, and telephone calls telling me that I was going to hell. Granted I was used to being told I was going to hell as a UCC'er growing up in the bible belt because I hadn't said the magic words making me a Christian. It didn't mater that my father was a pastor, I never missed church or Sunday school, had been baptized and could proof text with the best of you. But I wasn't a "Christian." But here in my first parish it was a whole new level of disagreement. Growing up I was just shunned. There in my first parish I was to be the voice of hope. I was to share the good news of Jesus with a hurting world. There in Casper, WY, the hometown of Matthew Shepherd, I was to lead a congregation that had been picketed by Fred Phelps and had had these quiet strong elderly woman called names that were unthinkable just because they voted to be a congregation that said we will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
So the first time I received a phone call at home telling me I was going to hell and threatening my life, I tried to argue back with them. As they told me that homosexuality was against biblical law, I shared my interpretation of scripture pointing to every time and outsider or sinner was welcomed. After a while, when up on the mountain hiking and I would get one of these calls I wanted it to stop. I would never enter their private life and threaten them. I wouldn't begin to think they were going to hell ( being UCC have many questions about the entire concept). But what are we to do?
In the scripture lesson today, Jesus is asked why don't your disciples follow the rules. Why don't they wash their hands before eating. Aren't they going to be religious. Aren't they going to show what it means to be a good Jew. Jesus responds back to them first by asking about a different law. You say follow the commandment such as honor your parents but then make an exception saying if you give the money to the temple you have done the greater good. Is that really what was intended in the law.
Jesus goes on to talk to first the crowd and then the disciples sharing with them that it is not what goes in a body that is the problem. They problem is what comes out of the mouth, what the heart speaks that we should be concerned about. And for Jesus what is at the heart of the law and the prophets. When asked for the greatest commandment he says, "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind. And the second of these is love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-38)." So when faced with a conflict, when threatened with hell; can we remember to think with the heart of God. For how we respond to our enemies says more about ourselves and our hearts, then any words they direct at us.