Clean Cups, Clean Hearts

Jesus is pretty ambivalent about housekeeping.

In a few different episodes, he takes religious leaders to task about their emphasis on external/irrelevant purity in comparison with the more difficult (and necessary) task of personal, INTERIOR life change.

In one instance, he puts it in terms of washing dishes: don’t focus so much on the cleaning the outside of your cups (the part that everyone can see), when what is inside the cup is so filthy and corrupting.

In another instance, he contrasts the cultural/religious emphasis on avoiding certain foods (again, what everyone can see) with the thought that it’s not what goes INTO a person that corrupts them, but rather what comes OUT of hearts (and mouths) that breaks us down and hurts ourselves and others.

It seems to me that Jesus is clear on his priorities: internal, SPIRITUAL growth and transformation as opposed to mere external (and sometimes arbitrary and artificial) holiness.

But “bad religion” has a peculiar habit of falling back on the externalities whenever it fails at the harder interior work. Sometimes I feel like the church in North America, with its uncomfortable alliance with consumerism, nationalism, and comfortable affluence, has fallen prey to this peculiarity.

I think it haunts us as a people: our spiritual systems and theologies that demand little to no life change have failed to produce the internal, heart-level transformation that Jesus is looking for (and that secretly we all crave), and so we do what religion has always done: We look at external “markers” of holiness.

It’s not malicious, it’s just the way religion works.

Cups are easy, hearts are hard.

I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this, by the way. I know that I fall victim to it again and again. But somewhere along the way I got tired of washing dishes. Somewhere along the way I decided to let Jesus challenge the deep things in my heart: my pride, my selfishness, my self-centeredness, my narcissism, my arrogance.

I decided to give up control and let Jesus fight those battles.

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil hearts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:16-20)

 

 

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