Telling It Like It Is

Why Jesus is My Hero #21

It takes a certain amount of guts to face up to the truth sometimes, and especially to say it to people’s faces when you know it’s not what they want to hear. When I look at the person of Jesus, it’s often his straight talking honesty that attracts me to him – and it’s certainly one of the things that made the authorities hate him more than anything else.

Take Mark chapter 7, for instance. Jesus is in a dispute with the Pharisees, who are feeling all smug and morally superior because they’ve spotted that Jesus’ disciples were eating without properly washing their hands, according to their customs – they were defiled! Like he so often did, Jesus completely turns their complaint on its head and uses it to show the Pharisees how it’s actually they who are defiled, and not just superficially in the way they meant it, but deep down on the inside, rotten to the core. Their strict adherence to all of these customs and traditions, though in the guise of seeking to honour God, was actually a sign of how far they were from God:

“‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“This people honours me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'”

(Mark 7:6-8)

By taking their human tradition (which is all the thing about hand washing ever was) and elevating it to the standard of a commandment of God, they were actually putting themselves in the place of God and showing just how little they knew of him. In fact, the situation was so bad that they would sometimes use their own traditions as an excuse for not obeying genuine commandments of God: take, for example, their tradition of “Corban” – the idea of dedicating their resources to God, even if that meant failing in their financial responsibilities towards their parents. It looks so very godly and holy on the outside (“I’m fulling devoted to God!”) and yet it simply wasn’t what God wanted from them (which was to get on and honour their parents).

No holds barred, Jesus then lets loose on the Pharisees with both barrels:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The food we eat and the things we touch can’t truly defile us – Jesus rather graphically explains how they ultimately pass straight through and, literally translated, into the latrine. Nice. We don’t need external influences to make us ungodly – it’s all right there in our hearts already. The filth that comes out shows that it’s our hearts themselves that are like latrines – all the gross, ugly stuff like our pride and our lying lips and our sexually impure thoughts, that’s what defiles us, and no quick wash of the hands before dinner is going to sort out a mess like that. We need a saviour.

Most people would prefer to suppress a truth like that. It’s far easier and nicer to pretend that we’re all lovely and fine and get on with washing our hands and pretending that that made us terribly godly and righteous before God. But Jesus is gutsy enough to tell the truth, even though it hardly makes him popular with the Pharisees.

A few verses later he does it again: he calls a seemingly fairly godly Syro-phoenician woman a dog – not a very pleasant derogatory term for a Gentile. But with the eyes of faith that woman agrees with Jesus and owns the label: she recognises that as a Gentile she is owed nothing by God – she’s not even worthy to gather up the crumbs from under God’s table. But she knows that it’s worth doing anything she can to get those little scraps of grace from off the floor, if Jesus is willing – and in so doing she discovers the wonders of God’s grace. We have no rights when it comes to expecting good things from God – what could we possibly offer him when our hearts are like latrines pumping out filth? Yet if we accept that fact – if we own up to being dogs, utterly on the outside and deserving nothing – then we are in the perfect place to find God’s grace.

Admitting the truth can be painful. Speaking the truth can make you unpopular. But it’s absolutely the only starting point if you want to discover the riches of relationship with God. That’s why Jesus is my hero.