Clean or Unclean?

Theme: Our relationship to God is a matter of the heart. Proper 17 (22) Yr. B
Object: Disposable gloves, sanitary wipes, a bottle of hand sanitizer
Scripture: So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" Mark 7:5 (NIV)

One day recently I went into a sandwich shop for lunch. As I watched the young man behind the counter making my sandwich, I noticed he was wearing disposable gloves like these. (Hold up the disposable gloves for the children to see.) I thought to myself, "That's good. I'm glad he isn't making my sandwich using his dirty hands." As I watched, the young man handled everything behind the counter wearing those same gloves. After a while, I began to wonder, "Are those gloves any cleaner than his hands would be?"

People today are very concerned about having clean hands. Since soap and water might not always be available, many people carry packages of these handy disposable sanitary wipes or perhaps a small bottle of hand sanitizer to make sure that their hands are clean. That is a really good idea. After all, as my mother used to say, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Or is it?

One day, a group of Pharisees came to Jesus. "We have noticed that some of your disciples are eating without washing their hands" they told Jesus. "Why don't they follow our tradition of washing their hands before they eat?"

"You bunch of phonies!" Jesus answered. "Isaiah must have been talking about you when he said, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'"

Then Jesus called the people to gather around and listen to what he had to say. "All of you listen. It's not what goes into your body that makes you unclean, it is the bad words that come out of your mouth. Out of your hearts come evil thoughts, greed, cheating, and envy. This is what makes you unclean."

The people of Jesus' day were more concerned about having clean hands than they were about having a clean heart. Are we any different? We wear disposable gloves and use handy wipes and hand sanitizing lotion, but do we guard our hearts against evil thoughts? What kind of books do we read? What kind of TV shows and movies do we watch? What kind of language comes out of our mouth?

Clean hands, or a clean heart, which is more important?

Heavenly Father, forgive us for unclean thoughts. Create in us clean hearts to honor you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

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