Posts Tagged ‘possessions’

We’re back in Matthew 23:25-26 today. Our title is “On washing dishes (#2). How to make our possessions clean and acceptable to God.” As we saw last week Matthew 23 is a really intense critique of the scribes and Pharisees. Our verses constitute the fifth of seven woes, or pronouncements of judgment against them. And this one has to do with washing dishes and their overemphasis on outward ritual purity.

25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Now, this passage can be read in two ways, because Jesus is making two points simultaneously. We have already seen the first, which is that –

The dishes represent the Pharisees

That is, in talking about the dishes, Jesus is making a point about the Pharisees and their spirituality. He is saying that the Pharisees have an excessive focus on the outside, in terms of being ritually pure. They have many rules beyond even what Moses taught about what defiles someone through contact and how to wash in water to be made pure. But inside their hearts are full of “greed and self-indulgence.” In other words, outward ritual purity doesn’t fix the problem of moral impurity in the heart. A focus on the outside does not reach into the heart.

By contrast, Jesus teaches us to begin first on the inside, which is where the real problem lies; the moral impurity in our hearts. And he teaches us this “(in order) that the outside may also become clean.” That is, if we begin within, with a new heart, then our words and deeds will also be clean and acceptable to God. For as the heart goes – the inside, so goes our behavior – the outside.

Today, we look at a second way to read these verses, where –

The dishes are simply dishes

Let’s look at this in four points. 1. Jesus says, “You clean the outside of the cup and the plate.” They clean the outside of the dishes so that they are meticulously ritually pure.

2. “But inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” The “they” here refers to the plate and the cup. So Jesus is saying that the inside or the contents of the cup and the plate are full of greed and self-indulgence. He’s saying, the Pharisees have more food than they need – they have an excess. And they are keeping it for themselves. Their dishes are full of greed and self-indulgence.

What’s the solution? 3. “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate.” Jesus is saying, do what is right with the contents of the dishes. As opposed to being greedy and self-indulgent and keeping all your food and drink for yourselves, share your food and drink with the needy.

Luke’s version confirms this reading, when it says at this point, “Give for alms those things that are within” – Luke 11:41. That is, give to the needy from what you have inside your cup and plate.

4. “(In order) that the outside also may be clean.” Here we see the completion of Jesus’ turning of the concern from one of ritual purity to one of moral purity. And he is saying that our dishes can be morally unclean or clean. If we keep the excess food and drink that is in our dishes, our dishes are morally impure before God. But if we share from what is in our cup and our plate, this will make the cup and the plate morally clean and acceptable to God. As Luke 11:41 says, “and behold everything is clean for you.”

This leads to a question –

Are your dishes clean and acceptable to God?

We can wash them so that they are sparkling clean, but are they clean before God? It all depends on what you do with them. If you have more than you need in terms of food and are you keeping it for yourself; that is, are you greedy and self-indulgent, or as Jesus says it, our dishes full of greed and self-indulgence, then they are defiled before God. But if we share with the needy, they are truly clean. This is an important question to ask given our context of abundance and prosperity.

Now, Jesus would not just apply this to dishes. He would certainly apply it to all that we can be greedy and self-indulgent about. So we can ask more broadly – Are your possessions clean and acceptable to God? Not just your dishes, but your closets, your house, your garage your storage shed – and whatever else you own.

If we are greedy and self-indulgent with what we own, keeping it all for ourselves, then what we own is impure before God. But if we share, for instance, what is in our closets – our clothes, then these possessions become clean and acceptable to God.

But first –

We need new hearts

And this is where the two readings of this passage come together. For us to share from the inside of our dishes, we must first cleanse our hearts of our greed and self-indulgence, we must cleanse the inside of us. We must repent and let God give us a new heart in this regard, and then we will be willing to joyfully share with others in need.

Once the heart is taken care of, the right outward actions, sharing with the needy will come forth. Then our hearts and our actions will be clean before God. And as we share from what is in our dishes, or whatever we own – they will be clean and acceptable to God. Where is your heart???

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