Job 36, 37; Matthew 15:1-20
Matthew 15:1,2 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”
“Get accustomed to drinking from a brown stained cup,” my sociology professor stated matter of factly to our class. He immediately had my full attention. A brown stained cup? My thoughts raced back to my mother with her new Melmac dishes. Unbreakable? Yes! Easily stained? Definitely. I recalled how she carefully scrubbed out the coffee stains in her cups before replacing them in the cupboard. And I remembered that how coffee or tea left too long even in glass cups left ugly stains. But not in our house. Mom always made sure of that!
The professor continued, “You will be serving people at various levels of need throughout your entire life. You must meet them where they are.”
From the sanitized view of the Pharisees, their humanly invented traditions trumped just about everything that Jesus taught. Thus were in perpetual conflict with Him. As I think about Him these many years hence, I see Jesus as a social worker of the first order. The “brown cup” analogy fits Him well. No human crisis was too high or t00 low for him not to meet the need. His ministry reached the heights of Nicodemus (who by the way was a Pharisee) to the depths of the forbidden lepers who came to him for hope and healing. Today’s reading makes a clear dichotomy between the inflexibility of the Pharisees and the inclusiveness of Jesus. He had a ministry that could only be accomplished in close range to those in need.
The word “Pharisee” (self righteous, hypocritical) is derived from their history. While we don’t contend with a literal sect of Pharisees today, we do contend with spirits in the modern day church that amount to a clash similar to the conflicts of Jesus’ day.
All of us have ‘sinned and come short of the Glory of God.’ None of us will ever live long enough to merit evaluating the awfulness of another’s sin without being aware of our own. Nearly sixty years ago, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I had offended the holiness of God. That awareness led me to a place of repentance where I confessed my sin. I pray that I will never forget that Sunday morning so long ago.
That leads me to a second confession. However incensed I may become when I observe Phariseeism in a brother or sister, I must realize that there is a Pharisee in me. And that is the Pharisee I fear most. I was born again as a young teenager in a strict holiness Methodist church. Guidelines for living were made very clear to me. What I wore, the image I projected, the places I allowed myself to go; all mattered to the success of my Christian life. Some of those values remain sewn into the fabric of my life. I am sure there have been times, in an effort to foist my values on those I influenced, that I have caused injury to people I really care about.
In a recent gathering of friends, we discussed among ourselves who the poor might be. Is poverty defined by the less fortunate, the financially challenged, the unemployed? We concluded that the poor lives among us and at some point in time includes each of us. And so we are told to visit them; to do more than say, “Be warmed. Be fed.” We are to join them at their table, willing to drink from their brown stained cups.
This challenge of Christ is to us, His body. If we were to be honest, we all enjoy believing that we are right. We know what needs to change about the church. Just ask us. Or even without permission, we often state our opinion. Unrighteous gossip and complaining which derives itself from caustic words and actions are capable of doing irreparable damage to the Body. How many people do you know who wish never to darken a church door again because of our Phariseeism?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do want to pose a few questions:
1. What about the Pharisee in you?
2. What might we do to improve the climate of the church?
3. In what areas do I need to become more like Jesus?
While serving the poor, don’t judge them by the condition of their cup.