Archive for March, 2013

MATTHEW 15:1-20 – CATCH 22

Catch 22Image created by the author

Catch 22
Image created by the author

The door is open as I knock but the curtain is pulled across. I don’t know what to expect as I walk towards him but find him sitting beside his bed. He looks up with a welcoming smile and says “And who might you be?” As I sit with John he confides with me about his life as a soldier and a decorated officer. He is a respected man who saw the horrors of war. Now he wages a battle with cancer with brave dignity.

We laugh and talk together for some time with easy conversation, though his breathing is laboured. Then, when he knows that I am willing to listen he opens up to me concerning his dilemma. John (not his real name) received a visit from his family yesterday. They took the news of their father’s cancer with pragmatic stoicism, but it has been 3 years and he has lingered until the cancer has spread throughout his body. He is now in palliative care, breathing from only one of his lungs. On finding out that it is now difficult for him to eat, his sons tell their father that it is time for him to give up and accept that he will die. They have had enough. They don’t want to see him suffer, or is it that their inheritance is being eaten up by the cancer too? “Stop eating and fade away! It would be better for all of us. We have a life to live!” The registered nurse is asked to stop his meals but she refuses.

He wants to end the misery his family feels, but fights to hold onto every precious second of life. He cried a little when they left him with the extra weight of this problem and he is not a man who cries. Must he compete between family and eternity, life and love? Caught in a double bind, a false dilemma; forced to choose between two conflicting demands, he is left to question his very existence and becomes increasingly distressed. He is standing in no-mans-land and bullets fly at him from both directions. Is he ready to face God?

In Matthew 15:3, when the Pharisees challenge Jesus about His disciples not practising ceremonial hand washing, Jesus responds by challenging their selfishness and the False Dilemmas they create. He begins by saying, “Why do your rules and traditions contradict what God is asking of you?” What’s the use of a habit, ritual or tradition that actually cuts off my ability to love God and love others?

Jesus says, “For instance, God says, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honour their parents…” (Matthew 15:5 NLT).

It seems even God can be used as an excuse to devalue our parents. Does Jesus agree with the death sentence for not honouring father and mother? So easy for me to misfire my focus with cultural ethics on capital punishment. That’s not the main thrust of what He is trying to say to me. Jesus accepts the extreme gravity of this law without wanting to water it down because it provides stark contrast with giving value to my relationship with my parents? Dishonouring parents by pitting them in competition with God leaves both our lives in peril if it came down to the law. In an age when taking care of our parents is not always valued, Jesus says, “…you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition” (Matthew 15:6 NLT). Our own selfish standards and demands bear a death sentence in so many ways, but especially when we carry them into our relationships.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NLT) 

Tears flow down her cheeks and helplessness is written into her expression. My wife looks at me after a phonecall to her parents who live in an aged care facility and who are becoming more and more frail. Her love for God translates into the honour she shows to them. She values them, visits them, cares for them without using God or other selfish demands as an excuse to abandon them. God is not pitted in competition with my responsibilities concerning other relationships.

Matthew 26:39 (NLT) says that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus “…bowed with His face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.”” Jesus faced His own Catch 22, wanting to bring forgiveness and eternal life to us yet understanding that the only way to accomplish this would be to die upon the Cross for our sins. Easter celebrates His victory over such a dilemma. His love and obedience to God the Father led Him to the Cross, and His resurrection from the dead defeated the power of the Catch 22 caused by our sin.

“Lord, so often You deal with the catch 22’s, selfish habits, behaviours, and self-imposed dilemmas I have established in my life by exposing my false assumptions and beliefs. Forgive me. Correct me. Let nothing get in the way of what You desire for me. Rid me of the false demands I build around my life and leave me with the simplicity of loving Christ and loving others. Thankyou Lord for loving me unselfishly enough to die for my sins, and bringing forgiveness to my life. Help me honour You from my heart and in my actions, words and thoughts as I relate with others today.” 

Pastor Ross

If this article has resonated with you, would you please pass it forward to those whose lives you think may also be touched by Words of Life. Thanks and God bless you.

Matthew 15:1-20 – INFECTION CONTROL! 

Infection Control!

Infection Control!
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I would have been horrified too! I know how essential something as simple as good hygiene can be. An infectious outbreak could end the lives of the elderly and frail in the Aged Care Facility where I work if not for staff taking care to wash their hands and actively minimising the possibility of contamination.

So it’s not surprising that the infection auditors; the Pharisees and teachers of religious law come all the way from Jerusalem to see Jesus (Matthew 15:1-2 NLT). They immediately get upset with the disciples for not washing their hands before a meal? I’ve completed the mandatory training in infection control so I’m with the Pharisees. What! Do you want the feeding of the 4000 to end up being a healing meeting for Gastro Enteritis, Multi Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, Influenza, Whooping Cough, Chicken Pox, Shingles, Fever, Conjunctivitis, Polio, or even leprosy! INFECTIOUS OUTBREAK! Everyone is a possible carrier! That many people in quarantine will be a nightmare! The disciples SHOULD wash their hands!

The Pharisees and Teachers of religious law have had Jesus under surveillance since He arrived, but not personally? They have their own satellite tracking devises and close circuit TV in the form of their spies who watch the activity of Jesus and report back. At the slightest breach of protocol, they race from Jerusalem with sirens blaring to confront Jesus. They want to nail this guy before the infection of faith spreads.

So the Faith Prevention & Control Police (FPCP) arrive on the scene to investigate Jesus and His Work Health and Safety standards (WHS). They come with their sterile plastic gowns, gloves and masks covering their hearts to target Jesus as a threat to religious control, but Jesus confronts them with the infection of their own malice.

Perhaps I don’t want to align myself with the Pharisees afterall. Yes, it would have been a good idea for the disciples to wash their hands because of good hygiene, but the religious leaders themselves have blood on their hands and they pollute others with their vitriolic poison. They try to protect themselves from Jesus by wearing the surgical masks of their outward righteousness but their righteousness is as filthy rags in His presence.

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6).

Pharisees try to vaccinate themselves with religious laws and traditions, but they fail to realise that they are the carriers of a deadly, resistant virus that has been draining the life from people for years. Jesus has the only cure.

Proverbs 30:12 (NIV) says that there are “those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth;”

I’ve known some Pharisees. At times I’ve been one. Pharisees and religious leaders, like a bad case of the flu often turn up to infect others with their contaminating words, like airborn germs, that cause hearts to fail and faith to falter. With acerbic seeds they come to challenge Jesus but refuse to be challenged or healed themselves. They are ceremoniously clean on the outside, but Jesus exposes the rancorous, festering wounds of their hearts. Faith is an airborne virus itself. Good bacteria. God bacteria. I am not immune to His words and He continues to challenge me with His claims.

All this handwashing. What’s the big deal? Do they have some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder? Do they have a right to demand anything from Jesus? Do I? Or is it that Jesus is demanding something of me? What has the tradition of ceremonial hand washing really got to do with it anyway? Jesus doesn’t buy into my confrontation without pointing out the blaring inconsistencies in choosing to live according to a set of man-made mores.

Psalms 51:2,7 (ESV) cries out “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” 

Today I refuse to be infected by religion. I take off my antiseptic, sterile masks which I have tried to use against the outbreak of my sin and accept the words of healing grace as Jesus says “You are clean”. He took my sin and disease on the Cross. He conquered death by rising again from the dead. He offers me eternal life. He cleanses my life and gives me a new spirit and responsive heart to God.

Pastor Ross