I love planting flowers. My favorite is when I can plant a flower this year and it brings so much joy. Next spring, it begins to bloom and shoot up again, without anything on my part. The seeds have become a part of the soil and it continues to bring joy year after year. It is one of those simple pleasures in life. But flowers are not the only things that can take root. Some choking, hateful weeds also find their way. They can be some of the most difficult, gnarly things and their roots seem to go on forever. It is really challenging to get rid of them. They seem to multiply and take over when I am not looking. Staying ahead of them seems to be almost impossible. If I don’t constantly take action, they will take over and the plants won’t even be recognized among the weeds. It isn’t that the beautiful flowers aren’t there any longer, it is just you can barely recognize them among the deeply rooted weeds. It looks like a weed bed rather than a flower bed. It can become so frustrating how quickly they take root.
We have some weeds in our lives that take root in us too. We can have trouble blooming and showing our true beauty because the weeds have taken their place and overshadowing the good. That is what hear in Jesus’ words to his disciples and those willing to listen. May we have ears to hear and hearts to receive what he has for us today:
6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
8 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Jesus is being pushed on the law, but not the law of God, but rather the law of man. God’s law has been expanded to become a set of rules that worked for the advantage of the leaders rather than God. And they wanted to impose this law on Jesus. They wanted to catch him, to have something to accuse him of doing. They had no true intention of following God, but rather following the rules they had created for control purposes. And Jesus calls them out on it.
They are being hypocritical because their mouths say one thing but their hearts tell a different story. They pretend to follow God but really want is their own way. They decide what they like and go with it so they look good. But God will have none of it. So Jesus uses a parable, as he often does, to teach a lesson. He wants them to hear the message in a way that speaks in a different way rather than quoting rules or law. He approaches them from the heart. He wants to show them the right way. And sometimes that means calling them out for where they have gone wrong. Sometimes he calls us out too, if only we would listen.
For Jesus, they are upset about the wrong things. They are looking at how the disciples are eating that is defying the law. But for Jesus, he is more concerned with what comes out of the mouth than what goes in. He is not so much concerned about how they eat as to what they say. Actions mean something. Being fake is not okay with Jesus. Putting on some false front does not work out in God’s kingdom. He knows when it is fake and when it is real because he knows the heart. He understands when intentions are to look good rather than to be loving and kind. He gets it and he is trying to help them understand it as well.
So he tells them that the problem is what comes out of the mouth. We hear this echoed in the book of James as well. It is a problem with what is spoken, what happens as a result of the things in our heart. The problem is what has taken root in our hearts. We may have beautiful things captured in our heart, but the weeds may be taking over. The weeds of our lives may be so deeply embedded that our intentions are beginning to reflect the weeds. The beauty of our lives, the goodness God has given us, the love that has been poured into us may become hidden. How do we know? What is in our hearts reflects in the things we say and do.
Our of the heart comes some pretty foul, harsh, ugly things, Jesus says. He gives some examples: evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. That’s a pretty rough list. We may think there is no way we have any of that in our hearts. But we also have to remember how Jesus defines these things. We are in the Gospel of Matthew. This is the same Gospel that gives us the sermon on the mount, right? Matthew 5-7 gives us insight on how Jesus feels about these same things. For instance, he reminds us that where there is hatred for a brother or sister, we have already committed murder in our heart…when there is lust for another, there has been adultery in the heart…when there is greed, there has already been theft…when there is anger, there has already been bad outcomes. In other words, he may not speak directly of the actual actions of these things, but rather the intentions, the things that have taken root in us. So anger, greed, malice, jealousy, hatred – just to name a few. These come out of our mouths. They show up in our lives and they are ugly. The weeds begin to reflect in the ways we act and the things we say. Our lives become stained by these ugly, destructive weeds. They take root and cover up the goodness God has created.
We may not even realize it. We may not even see our own anger or greed or envy. We may not see our hatred or jealousy. We may not see how ugly things have gotten in our hearts. What do we do? We read the words given to us by God. We hear God speak to us in the moments we feel guilty. We begin to look at what we post or hear the things we say. We begin to take a long, difficult look at what is in our heart. It will show if we just look. And it is ugly.
It often doesn’t take a lot of investigation to realize where we are. It doesn’t take much to realize the weeds that have taken root. We know when we are being destroyed and overtaken. We know when we are not doing the things we should or we are doing what we should not. We know when anger has taken our hearts. We know when envy has taken its ugly place as a resident. We know. We can see it too, if we really look. God reveals it to us if we are simply willing to take a look. If we are really ready to hear, we are told. If we will quit denying, God reveals.
We are not defeated, though. The weeds do not have to take over. They may have deep roots, but this does not mean they can’t be uprooted. They may seem overwhelming, but God can help us to clean up and beautify. He can help us to reimagine the garden of our hearts. He can help us to start again. It isn’t easy. It is a regular struggle. Just like the flower bed, it takes regular attention. Think about it, if I clean up my flower bed today, how long do you think it would take before the weeds come back? If I don’t pay attention, it wouldn’t take too long. It is a constant process of cleaning up and getting back on track. It is a continual weeding and getting rid of the things which can defile. It is something we do daily. But when God is the master of our garden, good things will grow. Great things will happen. There is more beauty that we could ever imagine.
Will you join me in weeding out the ugliness of our hearts? Will you plant the goodness of God? We just might see God at work in our own lives if we do.