Red Letter Year: 4/24

Matthew 15:1-20

15 Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They said, “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they do not [ceremonially] wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered them, “And why do you, through your traditions, break the command of God? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say the one who says to their father and mother, ‘Whatever of mine would have been given to you is a gift to God,’ does not have to honor his father. And so you void the word of God through your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied well about you, when he said,

These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.Their worship is vanity, teaching human concepts as commands from God.’” 

10 Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into your mouth does not defile you; what comes out of your mouth defiles you.”

12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know the Pharisees heard what you said and were offended?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. 14 Leave them alone. They are blind guides. If a blind person guides another blind person, both will fall into a ditch.”

15 Then Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Do you still have no understanding? 17 Don’t you know that what goes in the mouth passes into the stomach and then is thrown out in the toilet. 18 But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, those defile a person. 19 Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, prostitutions, thefts, perjuries, and slanders. 20 These are what defile a person. Eating with unwashed hands does not defile a person.”



I have written before about how God hates religion. This passage is a prime example of why. The religious folk try to pick a fight with Jesus over a ceremonial ritual they have blown all out of proportion. Jesus responds with a more significant case study: these same religious folk were using God as an excuse for not caring for their parents – even though care for parents was required by God. They trade actual worship of God – expressed as care for those in need and those we have responsibility to – for false worship, vanity – keeping rules they themselves have made up to suit their own selfish interests. People in religious communities who are in positions of power are quite prone to this. As we saw yesterday, such expressions of power are always pretense, legitimate kingdom power never acts this way. Religion leaves people imprisoned and walking in a circle. Not moving anywhere, not engaging in real moral or personal development. Just playing a sad little, pointless game.

It’s interesting that the disciples try to play diplomat between Jesus and the religious folk. But Jesus wasn’t interested. “Leave them alone,” he says, they cannot be argued out of their folly. I agree. My point here is not to dissuade religious folk. But for many, that sad pointless game brings a lot of hurt. People hurt by being told they are “defiled” for various things they have or have not done. People hurt by being condemned for not eating the right food, for not completing the right rituals, for doing things related to careless, vague translations of what does defile a person. It’s also interesting that Peter asked for an explanation of the “parable.” There is no parable here. Jesus is direct and plain. But we still want to play at religion. I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Red Letter Year: 4/23

Matthew 14:22-36

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

Only one walking on the water. The rest are unwilling to risk.

29 “Come on,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

34 After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 When the people recognized Jesus, the news of his arrival spread quickly throughout the whole area, and soon people were bringing all their sick to be healed. 36 They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.


A few things to note in today’s passage:

  • Jesus spends time alone with God. I heard a talk the other day that encouraged us with something he read from Gustavo Gutierrez: we need “to waste time with God.” Jesus took time after the big meal to be alone with God, pray, and reflect. Seems like a good practice to me too.
  •  John Calvin read the story of Peter walking on the water as a negative example, one that teaches us to know our limits and not be arrogant. But I don’t think this story teaches that at all. Jesus does not rebuke Peter. He enthusiastically tells him to come on. If anything, it shows Peter’s love for Jesus, his trust in Jesus, and his willingness to risk. All good things.
  • Peter gets scared first and then begins to sink (not the other way around). We know that the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear. We should also know that nothing good comes from fear. Fear is the work of our enemy.
  • Peter had little faith, but he still had a good deal more than the others who stayed in the boat. Calvin got it wrong. Jesus doesn’t call us to play it safe and stay in the boat, fully aware of our limits. Jesus calls us to get out of the boat because it is not about our limits, it is about Jesus and his utter lack of limits. Peter walked on water because of Jesus’ power. That same power works through us when love, trust, and risk for Jesus.

Get out of the boat!!!

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.