Shiny on the Outside
Matthew 15:17-20 …Whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled. But what comes out… proceeds from the heart… For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.
I wish I had known of this passage as a child. In this story, the Pharisees pick a fight with Jesus about hand washing, of all things. It was tradition to wash before eating, a tradition that the disciples apparently did not observe. The Pharisees were offended and told Jesus as much. He did not waste the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of one who cleans on the outside only to be filthy on the inside.
As a child, I would have used this verse to point out to my mother that Jesus said I did not need to wash my hands (or shower probably). Now though, this passage makes me think of the vain efforts I go to as an adult to appear clean outwardly.
Every Sunday, I shower and get dressed up to go to church. I have often wondered what it would be like to just wear my workout clothes. How awkward would I feel, sitting in church in my sweaty t-shirt, surrounded by khakis and dress shirts? My heart may be filled with treachery and destruction but if I wear nice clothes, I can at least appear clean. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of this facade. He says it is not what the outside looks like. It is that which is in my heart that either acquits or condemns me.
Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. It is in the secret thoughts of my mind that evil starts. It may only be obvious to others when expressed in action, but make no mistake, the evil I do, starts in my heart. If I am filled with anger, resentment, jealousy, hate and bitterness, it does not matter how well I dress. Even if it is never expressed in deeds, my dark heart betrays that I am still a mess on the inside. Nice hair may fool those in church, but it does not fool God.
Here is the reality though. We all have some form of bitterness, pride, anger, lust or evil thoughts. We are just rarely honest about it. What if we dressed for church according to the evil thoughts we had the last week? What if we were honest on Sunday about our struggles on Saturday?
When I got out of treatment, I did not want to show my face in church. It was not that those people were mean. I was welcomed with hugs when I returned. It was that I was embarrassed and did not want others to see my destruction. So, I volunteered at the jail and at a local addiction housing unit, where I could meet with others who shared my shame. I went where there was no facade of perfection. Many of us have felt more comfortable in AA than in church due to a false front of cleanliness.
The truth is, we all struggle with something and if I can not see that, then I am blinded by pride. I may not wear sweat clothes to church next Sunday, but it would do me good to be more concerned with the condition of my heart than my hair. It would do others good for me to be honest about my own struggle.