Reading Time: 8 Minutes
The scene is one where the religious authorities have arrived from Jerusalem to confront Jesus and to put an end to the movement he has started. Matthew records a continuation of the interchange that began with the first verses of Matthew 15.
He wrote, “Then he 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’ (Matthew 15.11-12).
Jesus didn’t need to win over his disciples. They were already on his side. He had a slim chance of changing the minds of the Pharisees and scribes. However, he spoke to convince the majority of the crowd that were still making their minds up about him.
Jesus wanted the crowd of followers and would-be followers to know that the speech of the authorities came from a corrupt inside condition. When we speak harmful words, they come from an inside condition that is still in need of God’s grace and transformation.
When the disciples got Jesus alone they said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”
Jesus answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15.12-14).
If we are living according to our own best thinking, we are separated from the wisdom and direction of God. Our distance from God makes us blind, even if we profess to be religious. Those who follow us will have faulty leaders, as the Old Testament prophets frequently noted.
Peter wanted to know the meaning of the parable that Jesus had spoken and he said, “Explain this parable to us.”
Jesus 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” (Matthew 15.15-20).
If you are not familiar with the background behind Peter’s question, take a quick look at the first verses of chapter 15. The whole situation began when the scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands.
Jesus listed a number of ways we show how distant we are from God and his will. They ranged from slander to murder, but all originated in the heart of a person. Both evil and good behavior originate within the heart.
The Heart in Matthew
If we look at the ways that Jesus speaks about the heart in the Gospel of Matthew, we may gain a better understanding of what is needed for us to align our hearts with God and his purposes. There are 18 references to the heart in Matthew. Here are three for us to consider.
(1) Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5.8).
James was a brother of Jesus and he understood being “pure in heart” better than most. He wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4.8).
A double-minded person has their mind on the things of God part of the time. At other times, they follow their own self-focused desires. James says that they are “unstable in every way, and must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1.8).
How do so-called spiritual people become blind and lead others to follow them into the pit? Being double-minded will make us blind to God’s direction. On one hand, we may seek God in prayer and religious activities. On the other hand, we may continue with our own self-seeking, self-will, and self-sufficiency. This is a perfect picture of being double-minded and it will blind us to how God wants us to live.
James calls us to draw near to God, to cleanse our lives from sin, and to focus our hearts on complete dependence on God. As we do this, our heart will become more single focused in following God’s direction.
(2) Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6.21).
“Follow the money” is a slogan that has been used since the time of the Watergate Scandal to trace corruption in government and in business. “Follow the money” can also trace the state of our heart.
How we make our money and how we spend our money reflects the state of our heart. Take a look at your credit or debit card statement and you will know where your money goes. As you “follow the money” that you have spent, it will reflect the priorities of your life. Jesus says that our heart follows our treasures.
How Americans make money is another issue. Most of us, like me, work for someone else who makes the decisions on how their business makes money. I have watched two YouTube videos on sweatshops today. I don’t know what to do about the fact that most of my clothes and shoes are made in sweatshops, but I do need to do some praying about that whole issue. I hope you will join me in praying about this.
The average wage in one sweatshop is $1.25 a day. The lowest I have ever been paid was $1.25 an hour. How can someone live on that daily income? The Christian couple who made the documentary were only able to eat two meals of rice and peanuts a day on that wage. When the woman became ill, she had to choose between aspirin for a 104 degree fever and eating for the day.
Some of my readers have lived in an 8X10 cell. The room of the workers is 8X8 and everything they own is in that room. If they have a family, this is their home. There is no bed and they share a common toilet and a common well with other sweatshop slum dwellers. The toilet dumps into an open trench that runs in the street a few feet in front of the houses.
I don’t have an answer for sweatshops that produce our clothes, shoes, and hats. But I have added this aspect of “follow the money” to my daily prayer life.
Jesus makes it plain, as we “follow the money” in our lives, it will reveal the state of our heart.
(3) Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11.29).
We must let Jesus define humility for us. Paul wrote,
“He humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.8).
Humble people are obedient people. In contrast to people who sometimes follow God’s direction and sometimes follow their own self-centered desires, the humble in heart always follow God’s direction.
The greatest quality of humility is to always look to God for direction. Jesus was never self-reliant or self-seeking. He always acted in perfect alignment with the Father. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5.19). This was the nature of his obedience.
Let’s remind ourselves that we are studying Matthew’s Gospel to learn how to live like Jesus. Here is a personal inventory we can take to see if we are becoming more like our Lord and Savior.
— Is our humility reflected by a more consistent obedience to Jesus?
— As we “follow the money” in our lives, does it show a deeper commitment to God and his purposes?
— Is our heart becoming less double-minded and more single-minded in our life with God?
— Does the way we speak reflect a heart-relationship with Jesus that is filled with love for him and others?
Dear Jesus, thank you for your amazing love and grace. Please capture our hearts and help us imitate you. Please show us how to pray for the world’s inequalities with regard to money and the basics of life. Please change our hearts, so our speech reflects a loving friendship with you.