Reality is a fragile thing. It is no wonder we spend so much time convincing ourselves otherwise.
We prefer thinking our world is predictable, stable and enduring. And so we develop routines, rituals and traditions that help to tell that story.
When I make coffee in the morning, I’m seeking more than a shot of caffeine. Beneath the physical action, I’m enacting a ritual that tells me, “This coffee and everything I need to make it is here this morning, just like it was yesterday morning and just like it will be tomorrow.”
What I seek with my morning coffee is a statement about my past, my present and my future.
When the Pharisees and the teachers of the law came to Jesus in Matthew 15, their accusation was that his disciples were not observing tradition.
They were not washing their hands before they ate.
The concern that was being voiced wasn’t really about sanitation, or the health hazards of eating with unwashed hands. It was more a matter of identity and righteousness.
They and Jesus had competing versions of reality and truth.
We all have our versions of reality that we live with every day. We have stories that we tell — stories that justify our apathy toward the poor, stories that justify our greed, stories that justify our hatred and bigotry.
Lies that they are, these stories masquerade as truth.
We mask our brokenness with the same language the Pharisees used — concern for religious purity and tradition.
However, Jesus will have none of it.
It’s not about whether or not you wash your hands. It’s not about what goes into your mouth.
It’s about the heart and the soul and the transformation of our lives.
We either invite or reject this transformation based on our encounter with the Christ of God, who confronts the stories that we tell to make sense of our world.
Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Therefore it is what comes out of the mouth, not what goes in, that makes us clean or unclean.
Do the words we use reflect life or death? Are our hearts filled with blessings or curses? Which story is the most important?
God speaks through the priesthood, saying, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18).
Again, I think of the stories we tell that justify our sins. It’s easier to love my neighbor who lives in Syria, whom I’ve never met, than to love the neighbor asking for help with rent, or the neighbor in my church whose views on sexuality differ from mine.
Our hope is not found in speaking a generic love void of the responsibility to challenge, change and be changed. Agreeing and disagreeing in love is not codespeak for simply talking about what we agree on and papering over the rest as if it were insignificant.
What does it mean, to proclaim with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our might that “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone”?
It begins with a willingness to embrace the end of ourselves and the beginning of a new thing — not for newness’ sake but to tell a stronger story with our hearts, and our souls, and our strength. It is the story of God, the One God, the God of Israel revealed through his Christ, who embraced the rugged way of the cross and told the scandalous story of God rather than his own pulp fiction.
“Keep these words,” Deuteronomy instructs us. These words, not our own.
Patrick Nafziger works alongside his wife, Christine, as co-pastor of Millersburg (Ohio) Mennonite Church.