“Listen and Understand!”Dr. James M. Pitts Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28. Year A - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - (Proper 15}
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”
He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Matthew 15: 10-20.
You are familiar with the phrase; “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” This plea promoting “medical alert systems” is often repeated in television advertising. I have thought that another marketing phrase, especially for preachers and teachers, is “help I’m talking and can’t shut up!”
Confident that many congregations and classrooms in academia are ready and willing to make a purchase. Even the practitioners of constant talk are aware of their plight. How often we have said in a crisis, “I wish I had kept my mouth shut.” As I have been told, “when you can improve on silence, speak!”
Daily on TV we hear the plaintiff please, “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” We see a senior sprawled on the floor. Waiting for help and wishing they had a medical alert button to push and summon help!
That emergency monitor has inspired me to consider a similar device. Worn as a lanyard around the neck for those of us who talk too much and too long and can’t shut up. You know, the talking class; preachers and politicians, radio and TV talk show hosts, even professors and teachers. Sometime their verbiage is gut wrenching trash and on occasion heartfelt treasure.
Often with a “how great I art” arrogance, they are confident their opinion is the only truth and unquestionably right. We are supposed to be quiet, be still, listen and learn; and we are called to underscore our loyalty with a generous financial gift, i.e. cash, check or credit card will be accepted.
“Help, I am talking and can’t shut up!” Simply hit the alert button for the shock of silence. Wow, that takes us way back to 1960’s and the sound of silence. Remember Simon and Garfunkel…
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains …Within the sound of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls and tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”
Simon & Garfunkel Lyrics – “The Sound of Silence”
Silence may be out of style, but certainly needed amidst the confusing and conflicted contemporary noise machine, “where is the stop or off button?” … “help I am drowning in noise!”
The question of the day and for life is – “Are you listening?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us …
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.
So, it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.
This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he not be conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.
(Life Together, Bonhoeffer.)
Are you listening? What is needed today is not necessarily proclaimers or talkers, but practitioners. Men and women in whom the Gospel of God is being fleshed out – incarnated – personified – embodied in their life and their life together as a community of faith, hope and love.
Our scripture continues …
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. “Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In the story of the Canaanite woman, Jesus crosses a range of boundaries: geographical, ethnic, gender and theological. Stressing Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The woman is not deterred, calling Jesus “Son of David” and sees him as a source of healing for her troubled daughter. The disciples wanted to send this nagging woman away. The woman kneels before Jesus pleading for his help, like a dog begging for a food from the master’s table. Asking for pure grace, her great faith gifted the immediate healing of her daughter. The miraculous nature of Jesus’s mighty deeds amazed the people to praise the God of Israel.
Matthew 15 concludes that Jesus Cures Many People
After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Matthew 15: 29-31
Let us go forth for God; may we go to the world in peace;
May we be of good courage, armed with a heavenly grace.
In God’s good Spirit daily to increase,
Till in His kingdom we behold his face.
May the Holy One bless each and all of us,
May God’s face shine upon us and be gracious unto us.
May God give us the grace never to sell ourselves short;
grace to risk something big for something good;
grace to remember that the world is now too small for anything but truth
and too dangerous for anything but love.
So may God take our minds and think through them;
God take our lips and speak through them;
God take our hearts and set them on fire.
About the Writer:
Dr. James M. Pitts is university chaplain [retired] and professor of religion emeritus, Furman University. A native of Washington, DC, Jim is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, SC, Southeastern Seminary at Wake Forest, NC, and Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.
An experienced pastoral counselor, he has worked in both congregational and hospital settings. His professional expertise includes crisis counseling, substance abuse intervention, and career guidance for persons in ministry.
His sermons and essays on biblical and pastoral themes are published in books, magazines and on NextSunday.com. One of the founders of Smyth & Helwys, Jim serves as Chairman of the Board, principal photographer and editor of www.NextSundayGallery.com an educational resource with a comprehensive collection of high quality photos illustrating the geography and archaeology of the Biblical world.
Jim and his wife Nancy are the parents of two sons and two daughters-in-law: Stewart (deceased) and his wife Kelley, and Jonathan and his wife Jackie. They are the proud grandparents of three grandsons, Will, Jon Walker and Colton, and a granddaughter, Lilli.
Scripture and Music:
Isaiah 51:1, 6-8.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
There s a Wideness in God s Mercy
Help Us Accept Each Other
In Christ There Is No East or West
I Stand Amazed
This Is a Day of New Beginnings
Only Faith — Joseph Martin
Ubi Caritas — Durufle
Hina Ma Tov — Simon Sargon
I Heard About A Man
Through It All
People Need the Lord