My dear bride has a hard and fast rule for my two girls: “Wash your hands!” You see, my wife is a trained elementary school educator and part of that training has to do with hygiene. Teaching children to wash their hands before they eat, after they play, and after their potty breaks is all part of having healthy children.
It’s a good thing.
And once again we see the parallel between the physical wisdom of disciplined behavior and the spiritual application of the very same wisdom. I wonder about the temptation to miss this connection between the physical and the spiritual dimensions of life. To be sure, it makes sense to me that a modern man convinced that all there is to reality is what he can see. Someone religiously wedded to the scientific method of human reality will certainly downplay or even dismiss any notion of a “spiritual life.”
But what I don’t get is how those who say they believe in Christ can miss this connection. How can a Christian who has as her heritage the theological depth and wisdom and worship of 20 centuries of consistent Christian testimony miss such a vital reality? I mean we are THE religion of the Incarnation, where God Himself married the physical to His eternal Divinity! Biggest hint in the universe as to the nature of what God intended for us to know! For we Christians, there is no division between the physical and the spiritual. Why do you think historic Christian worship has always been physical with candles and incense and icons and vestments and movements and Bread and Wine and on and on. We continue the work of the Incarnation by never falling back into that old, false, division of the physical and the spiritual.
Perhaps this truth is so easily missed because so many followers of Jesus today are simply unaware of the history of the faith they say they believe. What a tragedy! What a shame!
In today’s Gospel Lesson the Lord Jesus drives this point home when He explains a parable to His slow to learn disciples (I can relate to these men!).
Look at Matthew 15:12-21:
“At that time, the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ And he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.’ And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.”
While I doubt the Lord is really teaching His disciples that it’s OK not to wash their hands before eating, I do think the bigger picture here is quite clear.
You see, the Lord considered the Pharisees “blind guides” not because they taught a strict observance of the Laws of Moses and Torah, especially the dietary laws; but because these Pharisees had forgotten the “WHY” behind all the wisdom of the Law and the Prophets. They had forgotten that the PURPOSE of all this wisdom was to not just clean the skin, but to clean the heart! To transform the soul of humanity to lovers of God and not mere lovers of their own selves.
Today, do you catch yourself just going through the motions of prayer, fasting, and generosity in your life? It’s easy to fall into this trap of everyday living. The key to avoiding this is to keep before our eyes the reason for our disciplined life in Christ: to make us like Christ; to truly clean our “insides” as well as our “outsides.” Our timeless Christian faith marries the physical and the spiritual aspects of we humans to forever put an end to the hypocrisy of “following the rules” while remaining broken and self-centered in our hearts. Anything less is ultimately a betrayal of the miracle of God becoming flesh for us in our Lord Jesus. Let’s have clean hands AND hearts! Let’s be Orthodox on Purpose!