It has been said that the general difficulty with religion is not theology or doctrine or even belief in God, but the difficulty is found in people and especially with their interpretation. A number of years ago, I remember watching a famous person being interviewed about his values. When asked about faith he said, “I am religious, but I hope not in a way that shows.” Perhaps what he was afraid of was what humorist, Garrison Keillor, describes in one of his stories. “The problem with protestant ministers is that they come across just a bit too earnest like a used car salesperson, wearing too much corduroy and Hush Puppies.”
In chapter fourteen of the gospel of Matthew, two of Jesus’ most powerful miracles are recorded. The feeding of the five thousand in verses 13-21, and walking on water in verses 22-36. This work is followed by what some scholars term the “tradition of the elders.” in chapter fifteen verses 10-20, & 21-28. These passages find Jesus encountering the fierce legalism of the Pharisees with regard to food intake, the apparent inability of the disciples to comprehend what he is teaching, and his own understanding of what he is called by God to do with regard to those outside of the fold of Israel.
In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus points out that what a person takes in by mouth for food ultimately turns to waste, whereas, what proceeds from one’s mouth can have a potential, lasting harmful affect because it has come from a heart susceptible to all manner of evils. Therefore, religious dietary laws must be held in context with the internal bearing of the believer to do the will of God. Next, the disciples admit they do not understand what he is talking about. So he explains in greater detail the dangers of spiritual blindness, and especially of the spiritually blind leading others. Finally, the disciples complain to him that a Canaanite woman is following asking for Jesus to heal her daughter. Since she is an outcast, not a part of the House of Israel, they ask that Jesus send her away. Jesus speaks with her saying that he was sent to minster to the lost of Israel. However, her faith touches him and he tells her that her daughter is healed.
What Jesus models is transparent faith. A religious pattern which shows that we follow God not our own biases. His willingness to change his mind with regard to healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter bears witness to this. The late philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, said with regard to the value of religious behavior, “For religion all persons are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King,.” In the end, religiosity must take a back seat to being faithful.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald