In the realm of “there’s nothing new under the sun,” middle-class America has become obsessed with what they put in the body of late. There was time when it was just about whether or not one could eat eggs and maintain basic health,
but now a days, there are open, ongoing, and often long-winded conversations about the merits of gluten, meat, lactose, soy, paleo, and Whole30 related dietary needs, just to name a few. We are, of course, not the first generation of human beings to worry about such things, though ours probably stems more from luxury than it did in bygone eras.
One such time when the conversation about what one ate raged loudly was in and around the time of Jesus and the rise of the Pharisaical sect of Jewish priests. Their main theological goal was to return Judaism to ritual purity as described in the Torah. As such, they placed a high value on the purity code that included avoiding certain foods, cooked in certain way, in certain pots, and, given their Roman occupied context, offered as sacrifice to certain gods. While today they are an easy punching bag, especially in interpreting Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees had good intentions at heart. In their promised land, occupied by a foreign, pagan, empire, the only way that the Jews could really maintain their identity was to live by the strict code that God had given them through the 10 Commandments and the Levitical law.
Whether it is to the privileged white dude ordering his non-fat, half-caf, organic, soy, three-pump, sugar free, locally-sourced vanilla, latte or the Pharisee who might be overly concerned with whether or not one’s mixing spoon was used in two different pots, Jesus offers a counter-point in Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Not as a matter of health or even as a point in the conversation about the ethics of food sourcing, but rather as part of the ongoing human question about what does or does not make someone clean in the eyes of God, Jesus offers this advice, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” In modern idiom, it might be, it’s not how fair trade your coffee is, but how you treat your barista.
Jesus is much more concerned with our relationships with other human beings than he is with how fussy we are about the rules. This isn’t to say that buying coffee from responsible growers isn’t a good thing, but that even there, it is about concentric circles of relationships. How we treat one another, whether it is face-to-face or three thousand miles apart, is what matters in the Kingdom, and how we treat each other comes forth from the heart rather than the other way ’round. So, the next time you feel like patting yourself on the back for that organic head of lettuce, stop and give thanks for the growers who have chosen to use earth friendly farming techniques, pray for the laborers who do the hard work of harvesting, the scientists who are making trucks more eco-friendly through the discover of DEF, and the grocer, who, one hopes, has paid a just sum for the product. And, as always, don’t forget to smile at your cashier, tip your waiter, and thank your barista. These are the things that come from the heart.