Ninth Sunday After Pentecost A
(Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Matthew 15:10-28)
August 14, 2011
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
I remember too well the story of Joseph the son of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. I was a passionate listener attending a summer vacation Bible school offered by a local Baptist church during my school age year. The teacher told us, Joseph was left in a pit by his brothers because he was their father’s favorite and they were indignant, they hated him so much. They told their father he was killed by a beast and presented to him his favorite clothing his father made him as a proof that he is dead. Little did they know that he was found and sold to an Egyptian slave owner and was sent to prison due to an accusation brought against him. But the Pharaoh of the land favored him because of his wisdom in interpreting dreams. He eventually became the governor of Egypt and has brought Egypt the abundance of food during the time of famine.
The first reading this morning tells us that Joseph’s brothers found him and that Joseph revealed himself to them saying, “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. Go tell your household, come so you will not live in poverty. And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. Go tell my father and bring him here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin and wept and Benjamin wept with him. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Imagine yourself being despised; hated, and sold by your own brothers and after many years you reunited with them. Would you have the same heart like that of Jacob who, despite of what they did to him, his mouth speaks of good heart? Or would you call them and do the same things as retribution to what they had done to you?
I love the ending of the story where Joseph’s father was reunited with him and they lived together in Unity. The songs of Psalm 133 supported this story when it said, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live together in unity.”
You may remember well when you were growing up, you and your brother or sister used to fight all the time and that your parents longed for the day when you would live together in unity.
While the story in Genesis presented to us the beauty of what comes out of the mouth and heart of Joseph, the Gospel today presents to us the other side of what might come out of our mouth as dictated by the heart.
I have chosen to include verses 10-20 of the Gospel of Matthew 15, although it is optional, for reason that I wanted to connect the Old Testament reading with that of the Gospel in matters of pure intentions of the heart.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus let out some of the harshest criticisms to the guardians of the laws and traditions. One of the uniqueness of the Bible is that it records the raw things about humanity and society, about divine love and anger, pleasant things and unpleasant things, heavenly hope and human depravity.
The confrontation of Jesus and the disciples regarding Pharisaic teachings in our gospel story points to some important things about us, about the best of our traditions, about our need for healing and salvation, about the heart of religion. It is very compelling however that instead of helping; some traditions became burdens that very few people can keep!
One example of such burdensome tradition is what provoked Jesus, “the ceremonial washing of hands before eating.” Good Jews before they would eat would observe a ritual of pouring water over their hands with the fingers pointed upward. The water used for this ritual is not just any kind of water, but something blessed and kept in special jars and guarded to be free from any impurities! The Jews washed their hands and then poured water again over their hands from the wrist; this time holding their fingers downward. This ceremony had nothing to do with hygiene (washing off germs) but was a symbol of removing uncleanness. The ceremony was originally performed only by the priest for the community, but was required of everyone.
This ritual has a similarity to what we do before we eat after burial of the dead in the Philipines. We wash our hands with warm water on a basin that has guava leaves on it used for antiseptic. This ritual is not more about hygiene but rather to drive away bad spirits and be cleansed with any disease and sickness.
Such act is also true during Eucharist when the priest would wash his hands before the Eucharist proper. This is not just done with an ordinary water but a blessed water while the priest do a cleansing prayer saying, “wash my hands and I shall be cleaned with any impurities in heart.” It is not more about my hygiene but rather any impurities of my heart before I can receive the body and blood of the Lord of my salvation.
Looking at those rituals, one would say, “So? What’s the big deal about washing hands before eating?”
Just two weeks ago, I had a meeting with Peninsula Clergy Network of which I am now a board member, Rabbi Jay Miller has invited the director of the San Mateo county health and wellness department who presented to us a widespread bacteria found on chicken meats called Campylobacter.
Campylobacter organisms are spiral-shaped bacteria that can cause disease in humans and animals. It grows best at the body temperature of a bird, and seems to be well adapted to birds, which carry it without becoming ill. These bacteria are fragile. Freezing reduces the number of Campylobacter bacteria on raw meat.
Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. Active surveillance through Food Net indicates that about 13 cases are diagnosed each year for each 100,000 persons in the population. Many more cases go undiagnosed or unreported, and campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect over 2.4 million persons every year, or 0.8% of the population.
What can be done to prevent Campylobacter infection?
Some simple food handling practices can help prevent Campylobacter infections.
- Cook all poultry products thoroughly. Make sure that the meat is cooked throughout (no longer pink) you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking.
- Wash hands with soap before preparing food and after handling raw foods of animal origin and before touching anything else.
I know, you will say, “I have been eating breakfast at Ihop every single day with sunny side up and I have never had any of those symptoms. The health department is simply saying; proper handling of foods will prevent any of those diseases. I have offered Holy Child and St. Martin to be the pilot center for health awareness on this disease in San Mateo County and I need your support to invite others when they come.
Now, let us go back to what Jesus meant. Jesus cut through the dead tradition and pointed to the core commandment of God. Jesus was not against the traditions of washing hands but pointed to those guardians of the Laws such as the Pharisees, that there is more important than what comes in to the mouth of man for whatever we eat goes out to the toilet. But it is what comes out of the mouth of a person that defiles or makes a person unclean, for evil things come from within. This diagnosis from the greatest psychologist had withstood for all time. The heart had symbolized the seat of the best and worst of human beings. Human beings on their own have tendencies to go astray. We need God to help us nurture holy things rather than evil things in our hearts. It is what comes out of our mouth that makes us sin says the Lord. Our ears hear, our minds digest; our hearts feel but let us guard the mouth lest we come short to the glory of God. Let us not be quick in our judgments, let us rather listen. Let us not be part of a problem but rather be part of the solution.
Let us strive for cleanliness in heart, body and soul. The truth of our humanity, being messed up at the heart center, is no longer dismal or hopeless, but is victorious and confident in the reality of what God has done for us in Christ.
How many times have you ever felt being driven away or pushed to the wall by the very people you are expecting to grow with in your faith journey with God? Just like that Canaanite woman in the Gospel who was told to go away because she is a gentile and troublesome.
Let us love one another, where love is, God is there. This is the heart of our celebration. So sing your little lips with the song, “Please be careful little lips what you say (2x) for the Father up above is looking down at us, so be careful little lips what you say. Please be careful little heart what you feel….
Give the best to God, to each other and to yourself. Life is so short, don’t spend it trying to destroy one another, it does not merit you at all. Give smile to all that you meet, will you? Give the heart what is due to the heart, the gift of a wonderful and pleasant feeling. Let that feeling flow to the person next to you, from here and when you go back to your homes and works and everywhere. Kindly tell the person next to you how wonderful it is when God’s people live in unity and peace.
Please be careful with your little hearts, you are a child of God. You are meant to be blessed and to bless others. Smile, an everlasting smile, smile is what you need to give. Amen.