Defile is not a word we often use in ordinary conversation. But it’s a word central to Jesus’ teaching. He contradicts the Pharisees’ conviction that eating foods deemed unclean makes people ritually impure. What defiles people, according to Jesus, is not the food they eat but the hurtful words they speak—lies, curses, condemnations. The English word defile is rooted in the French defouler, which means “trample down.” This definition comes close to home. We’re living in a time when powerful public officials trample down vulnerable populations with aggressive and degrading speech.
In the Gospel, defile is a translation of the Greek term koinoi, meaning “common, ordinary, mundane, profaned.” Usually, when a version of the term koinoi occurs in the New Testament, it carries negative connotations. One notable exception, however, occurs in Jude 1:3, which refers to “the salvation we share,” or as a literal translation of the original Greek, “our common salvation.” To be koinoi or common in this case is to belong to God’s beloved community. The first thing Jesus does in Matthew 15:10 is to gather the community. He calls the crowd of ordinary, mundane people to come closer to him and listen to his teaching, which is essentially this: breaking traditional dietary laws will not distance you from God, but hate speech will. To tell lies, issue threats, or verbally abuse another is to desecrate yourself and trample your own relationship with God.
The spiritual work that matters, then, is inner work, or what the 12-step community calls “a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.” Jesus instructs the people, including you and me, to come closer to our own hearts. That’s where desecrating sin begins, and it’s in the examined and repentant heart that we can shut down destructive talk before it ever comes out of our mouths and harms another soul.
Help us know our hearts, O God. Teach us to renounce verbal violence and speak only words of peace. Amen.
Joseph has risen to a high position in Egypt, and now his brothers come searching for food in a time of famine. He reveals his true identity and reinterprets their evil intentions as being part of God’s plan. Sometimes we too are granted perspective to see God’s working in difficult times. The psalmist rejoices when God’s people are living in unity, as Joseph and his brothers were after their reunion. In Romans, Paul declares that his people are not rejected by the merciful God, for God’s promises are unchanging. In Matthew, Jesus teaches that God looks on the inside, not the outside. Thus, what you take into your body is less important than what comes from your heart, and God does not favor one ethnic group over another.
Read Genesis 45:1-15. When have you experienced God’s grace in forgiving or being forgiven? How were those needing forgiveness still held responsible for their actions?
Read Psalm 133. How has God called you to live in unity with those different from you? How do you receive God’s abundant blessing through such unity?
Read Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32. How does the eternal mercy of God’s gifts and callings sustain you when it seems like God has rejected God’s people?
Read Matthew 15:10-28. When have you, like the Canaanite woman, felt like you had to insist that Jesus come closer? How did your faith change or grow from this experience?
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This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.