COLUMN: The work of hearts and hands

“Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10-11

All those listening to these words would have been raised under Mosaic Law ­­— a collection of 613 laws that governed every aspect of life, from birth to death and everything in between. A person’s life and faith were measured by conformity with this myriad of rules, all judged by the Pharisees listening in on Jesus’ words.

Immediately after this passage the disciples warn Jesus he is offending the Pharisees. Jesus responds even more bluntly: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus offended the Pharisees. And, he offends this world. Most of us today don’t follow the old Mosaic Law. But, we do follow countless rules and norms that have everything to do with outward appearances, greed and fear. Jesus calls us to turn from those concerns, just as he told the disciples not to focus on the old laws, and to focus instead on grace and love.

What matters isn’t our outward appearances, or our conformity to society’s standards. What matters is what’s in our heart, and how well it squares with Christ’s command to love God and our neighbor. It’s the fruit of our heart that matters. If that fruit yields fear, hate, avarice and a dull spirit, then we have defiled ourselves, and our actions will follow suit. If our hearts bear courage of faith, love, selflessness and a fire for Christ, then our actions and our words likewise will follow.

We must guard our hearts, and measure our words. To that end, we might ask ourselves these questions: How can we build up those around us with our words? How can we use the intentions and deeper meanings of our hearts, transformed into word and action, to build up the Kingdom of God?

Our answers to those questions will be the measure of whether we carry defilement or blessing into the world today.

Loving and gracious God, help us today to not focus on the standards of this world, but on your eternal command to love you, and to love our neighbors as you love us, and let our words and deeds today amplify your love and grace into this world. Amen.

Neal is a News & Eagle staff writer and columnist and may be reached at jneal@enidnews.com

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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I am a retired Naval Officer and small business owner, outside of my work at the News & Eagle. My wife Tammy and I enjoy serving together at church and attending Gaslight and ESO. We have two daughters, three dogs and little free time.