I have a terribly judgmental and harsh way about me. Those that know me well also know that if you start a critical conversation with me, then I will escalate the discussion. This is not something I’m proud of in the least. This is one of those things that haunts me in the mirror. I spend so much of my time thinking back over things I’ve said and the ways in which I’ve said them, wishing that I had had the will to keep my mouth shut…
So…recently, I was working with a friend and we were both feeling a bit humbled by the realities of our own brokenness. We were both acknowledging our sinful tendencies and if felt very good in those moments to confess to one another, and also show compassion for the fact that we both mess things up a lot (as all humans do). It’s during times like those that I am able to put things in check a little bit and begin to exercise some self control over the torrential flood of negativity that can come from my mouth. There were many moments during that time that I had something critical to say about someone else, and then I was able to catch it and remain quiet. At that point I realized something that has been perpetually and painfully obvious to all of mankind. I realized that I am always struggling to control what I say and what I do…but those things are not the real issue…
There was this time when Jesus’s disciples were eating without washing their hands. The Jewish culture had many customs about purity and cleanliness and these were held with deeply religious conviction. They found their origins within the commands of the Mosaic Law but they had been taken to a much more involved level. As His disciples were doing this, the religious fundamentalists of the day called Jesus out on this issue. Jesus responded with a truth that has resonated with me over the years – due to the absolute indictment it brings upon my life and conduct. He said that nothing that goes into someone makes them unclean or unholy because it goes in the mouth, through the digestive system and then out in waste. He went on to say that the things that really make us guilty and unclean are the things that come out of us, finding their origin in our heart.
We preach and teach this passage and its principles frequently in our various churches, but then we have a tendency to say that if we do or consume certain things, we make ourselves “unclean.” It is often said that if someone drinks an alcoholic beverage, then they are in sin (guess Jesus was too then…), but if we are critical of someone, then it’s just part of our human nature and “nobody’s perfect.”
The longer I live and the more life experience I have, the more I find that my mind and heart are more wicked than I’m even remotely aware. No matter how much I control my speech (which is more minimal than I would care to admit), I still find the insidious and sinister intent of hell lurking deeply within my heart and soul…
Nothing new…right? We’ve all been there and we all struggle with this. So what’s the point of me even writing this? I think it’s this: I’ve found that I spend my time and energy on correcting my actions and my words, becoming frustrated along the way with my failures…all the while, I don’t exert the effort into the most critical point of this mess. Jesus spoke clearly of the problem of the human heart on more than one occasion. In doing so, He made it clear that our problems have to do with what is inside of us and not the things we put in. The battle is not in our hands or our mouths… It is waged deeply within our hearts. Paul said that our minds should be in a process of constant transformation. This happens by following the psalmist’s words, “I will hide Your Word in my heart that I may not sin against You.”
I have learned that I can’t “be good.” This is nothing earth shattering. It’s nothing new. It is, however, something I’ve recently come to admit to myself in more honesty.
In the culture of ancient Israel, lepers (people with leprosy) had to walk a good distance away from everyone else. When they came within a certain proximity, they would have to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” They did this to prevent others from coming too close and contracting this extremely contagious disease. They were viewed by many as forsaken by God due their condition. If I were totally honest with and about myself, and took Jesus’s words seriously about what makes someone unclean…then I would walk around all the time saying, “Unclean!” – because of the depths of evil in my heart and mind.
Thank God that we have grace and mercy. I’m thankful that I’m not condemned. I’m just under construction…but I am responsible for making sure that the construction site is open for the Contractor to keep on going.
*image taken from: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ed/fb/68/edfb685752dc881d00378cae05c3624a.jpg