Toorak Uniting Church

Previous Page

Next Page

From the Heart

Matthew 15: 10 – 20
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 10
17 August 2014

 Heartfelt by Megan Aroon Duncanson
Heartfelt by Megan Aroon Duncanson

"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart…"

Introduction:
What is the most exotic thing you have ever eaten? I’m not sure I want an answer to that!! I have tried witchetty grubs and I can say that they are something I want to eat again. I do know that there are some foods in some countries that are regarded as delicacies that I am not interested in trying.

I watched an episode of Global Village on SBS recently and they stated what was the most prolific form of protein available to us in the world today. I wonder if you could guess what it is…. Insects! Yum - crumbed grasshopper in a rich mosquito sauce; sounds delicious.

While I am making light of the fact that religions have always had dietary requirements, it is difficult to know where these traditions come from and how they have woven their way into the fabric of religious observances. I know it is not a religious custom, but why is it that non-indigenous Australians don’t eat kangaroo and emu as a staple in their diet. Beef and chicken are always top of the list. Most of the agriculturalists that I hear say it would be better to run thousands of kangaroos than thousands of cattle. The land would survive much better. Where do the customs come from? Well from tradition, habit and custom.

Religious Defilement
In the parable read earlier, Jesus again takes the religious leaders head on. It may seem a little thing to us today, but the dietary laws of Jesus’ day were deeply entwined in the expression of one’s religion of his day; in particular because it defined you as either clean or unclean; defiled or undefiled.

If you want to find the list of unclean animals that are not to be eaten then have a look at Leviticus Chapter 11. * [I have appended this chapter as an illustration of what cannot be eaten.]

But before we spend too much time on analysing the pros and cons on this list of animal food groups (e.g. pork does keep well in a hot climate with our refrigeration), my approach is that it has little to do with food hygiene and preparation. Did we notice that early in the story it is referred to as a parable? Jesus is taking a commonplace experience of the people and using it as a way to teach a new truth - another way of being in the world.

What comes out of the mouth defiles not what goes in.
I can’t help but go back to the distinction I made last week and that is that religion and its codified practices are not what saves us, or gives us the meaning we seek. The core of faith and hope and joy and meaning, while supported and even cradled in religious practices, must be nurtured and nourished in the centre of our being. In what has often been called the heart:

Then 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 offence when they heard what you said?…"

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."

In some way this is the great paradox of life. We all need the "external" container of life. What I mean is we need the structure of the church, or say the school, or even the corporation that we work in, or the family. But it always begs the question; does the form and shape of the "container" fulfil our need for meaning? Does it nurture and nourish our hearts? Can a school give us wisdom? Will our job feed our soul? Is the family the repository of all we need to be satisfied and truly human? The answer must be no. These are important vehicles and as I have said containers, but the heart needs something deeper and more sustaining.

I read David Whyte’s poem Self Portrait recently and he brushes past these issues because he confronts our religion and challenges us to look deeper at the heart of who we are:

It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.

If you know despair or can see it in others.

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand. I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the centre of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even the gods speak of God.

It is what comes forth from a person that really counts. It is how our inner being has been nourished and nurtured; challenged and changed that really counts. "I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat," says the poet David Whyte.

I think that is what Jesus was getting at. The disciple worries that the religious authorities would take offence. And so they should. The authorities had complete power over them. They had the power to tell them what they could eat and drink. Whom they could associate with and what they could say. Of course they were fearful of them. But also they needed to belong and these rules and regulations gave them some security in a very insecure world.

I want to finish with the following words: I really think we need a form, a container, in which our "faith" is held. But I also believe that the shape of the receptacle is changeable. And that everything depends on the heart that beats within it: that life-giving form that sustains and nourishes what we call our "religion".

* Leviticus 11 – Clean and Unclean Food

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.

"‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

"‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.

"‘These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

"‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean by you. There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other flying insects that have four legs you are to regard as unclean.

"‘You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. Whoever picks up one of their carcasses must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening.

"‘Every animal that does not have a divided hoof or that does not chew the cud is unclean for you; whoever touches the carcass of any of them will be unclean. Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up their carcasses must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. These animals are unclean for you.

"‘Of the animals that move along the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon. Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you. Whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean till evening. When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean. If one of them falls into a clay pot, everything in it will be unclean, and you must break the pot. Any food you are allowed to eat that has come into contact with water from any such pot is unclean, and any liquid that is drunk from such a pot is unclean. Anything that one of their carcasses falls on becomes unclean; an oven or cooking pot must be broken up. They are unclean, and you are to regard them as unclean. A spring, however, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean, but anyone who touches one of these carcasses is unclean. If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you.

"‘If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass will be unclean till evening.Anyone who eats some of its carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening.

"‘Every creature that moves along the ground is to be regarded as unclean; it is not to be eaten. You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

"‘These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’".



© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014


Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.