Careful hand washing is something I’ve practiced for years. I hate getting dirt under my fingernails. I don’t like sticky or greasy hands. This well-established habit has made it easy for me to remember to wash my hands during the pandemic.
Hand washing takes care of one kind of hygiene. It helps us protect our physical health. There’s another kind of hygiene which I don’t hear much about in the news media. I call it “heart washing”. Heart washing helps us protect our spiritual health. To Jesus, heart washing took priority over hand washing.
Does this mean we should neglect our hand washing? Hardly! However, in an interesting story told by his follower Matthew, Jesus did not bother with the usual “wash your hands before you eat” rule. (See the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15.) His hungry followers went ahead and ate without washing their hands. The religious leaders of the day attacked him for not obeying the rules.
Jesus said to them. “Don’t you know that the food you put into your mouth goes into your stomach and then out of your body? But the words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean”.
Jesus explained this more clearly by saying, “The words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. And they are what make you unfit to worship God. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others. These are what make you unclean”.
Jesus is not talking about our physical heart here. He’s talking about our spiritual heart. In order to worship God (be close to him) we need to change our behavior and clean up our speech. God cares not only about our physical health. He notices and cares about how we treat others. He hears what we speak and how we speak to others.
I don’t want to eat unwashed food with dirty hands and become physically sick. I don’t want to spread the virus in what comes out of my mouth, should I would unknowingly carry COVID-19. Neither do I want to spread “death” through the words I speak. How do I and how do all of us receive the heart washing we need so that we can spread healing instead of “disease” through the words we speak?
Jesus invites all of us to come to him and receive a heart cleansing. “Have faith in me [he says] and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you”. Faith in him means that we recognize there’s no way we can on our own clean up our hearts. We just plain miss things. Jesus sees us as we really are. When we come to him for help, he does not condemn us. He set us free. He gives us a new heart. A heart that looks like his. It’s full of love. When we live out of that new heart the words we speak bring healing.
Alone with Jesus Alone with Jesus Oh, what joy! I hear him whisper words of love Alone with Jesus Oh, what peace! I feel his presence by my side Alone with Jesus Comfort deep! He sees my pain and deep fatigue I sit in silence In patience, wait Do not speak a single word. Alone with Jesus I remain ‘Til, finally, my heart is healed And, then, together, He and I, Compose new melodies of love. Jane Ault July 7, 2020