INNER CIRCLE: That Which Defiles You

INNER CIRCLE: That Which Defiles You July 27, 2022

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SAYING 14:

Jesus said to them: “If you fast, you will bring forth sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. [But] when you enter any land and travel over the country, if they receive you, eat what they set before you and heal the sick among them. For what enters into your mouth will not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, it is that which will defile you.”

 

As we mentioned in response to the previous saying, there are some who surmise that these three statements are the same three words given to Thomas in Saying 13.

Whether they are, or not, they are nonetheless surprising and, some might even say “heretical” to many Jewish and even some Christian believers.

But, we are no stranger to these concepts since we are familiar with a parallel statement from Jesus found in Saying 6 where he responds to his disciples’ questions about how to pray, or fast or give alms by suggesting that these are inappropriate actions for them to pursue.

Here, Jesus goes a bit further to suggest that fasting “brings forth sin” in ourselves, and the practice of praying brings condemnation, and the giving of alms does harm to our spirits. But why? Shouldn’t we, as followers of Jesus, fast, and pray, and give to the poor? Are these practices antithetical to the way of Christ? Are we being told not to observe any of these spiritual disciplines as we practice our faith?

Let’s take each one of these actions in turn to see if we can make sense of why Jesus might say these things to his disciples, and to us.

First, the practice of fasting is often an attempt to coerce God’s favor or to move God to action regarding some need or desire we may have, and that need or desire might even be entirely good in itself; to heal a sick child, or to relieve the suffering of the innocent, or to provide us with wisdom regarding a difficult decision. But, at its core, fasting is still a hunger strike we undergo in order to force God to “do something” that we cannot do.

There is so much wrong with this way of thinking that it’s easy to see why Jesus would say that doing this “brings forth sin” in ourselves. Because God is not uncaring. God does not to be convinced to love us, or to notice our suffering, or the suffering of others. God knows what we need before we ask, as Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:8, so we do not need to get God’s attention, or coerce God to show concern for any of us. Fasting betrays our ignorance of God’s true heart towards all humanity.

We do not need to starve ourselves to gain God’s favor. God’s favor is already showered upon every single one of us because we are all dearly loved by our Heavenly Father whose love for us is beyond comprehension or measure.

Fasting is also a way of pulling back from the problem we seek resolution for and laying it all at God’s feet. If God does not do something, we assume, then nothing good will happen. But, this is completely false. God does not do anything apart from us. We are God’s hands. We are God’s feet. We are God’s presence. We are God’s ambassadors.

As the ancient hymn by St. Teresa of Avila says, “Christ has no body now but yours.”

And so, rather than push away our plate and starve ourselves in the hopes that God might do something, we must fill our stomachs with food so that we will have the strength to go and comfort the afflicted, feed the hungry, care for the broken, and be the Incarnation of Christ in our world today.

The world will not change unless we change.

Secondly, Jesus warns us that “…if you pray, you will be condemned…” for many of the same reasons we’ve mentioned above.

Prayer is not something we do in the dark of our rooms. We must get up, get dressed, walk outside and stand against injustice, speak for the voiceless, care for the outcasts, and become a catalyst for transformation.

Especially if we realize that separation is an illusion. Because when we see others suffering, we know all suffer. When we see others hungry, or imprisoned, or impoverished, we know that all humanity is hungry, and in prison, and in poverty.

So, whatever we do for the least of these is also done unto Christ, and Christ is in all of us.

This reality might make the final statement from Jesus seem out of place, but in reality it is the final piece of the puzzle we need to fully embrace his wisdom.

…and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits.”

We might think that Jesus is telling us not to give money to the poor, but this is not the point he’s trying to make.

I believe that he’s pointing out our tendency to shortcut actual compassion for other people by dropping a few coins into a cup or writing a check to some nonprofit ministry, thinking we have “done our part” to help the poor.

In my experience serving homeless families living in motels in Southern California for fifteen years, Christ asks so much more from us than writing checks or giving alms. Not that caring for others doesn’t require an investment of money, but that money alone is not what they need to receive, or what we need to give.

There is an exchange of compassion, a flow of Christlike love, that must circulate between us when we approach those in need. We cannot see them as “other” than us. We must look them in the eye long enough to remember the color; we must listen to them long enough to know their names by heart; we must embrace them and humanize them long enough to fully accept that we are not separate from them at all.

Writing checks or giving money will never allow us to enter into this holy place of giving and receiving.

In fact, early on in our motel experience I would often feel guilty after having shared food, or clothing, or groceries with the people living there.

Eventually I realized my guilt was due to feeling more blessed by these encounters than I believed I had blessed them.

Still, the reality was that, no matter how much we gave, and how much we shared, I always drove away feeling that my heart was more filled with joy than theirs were.

Finally, I felt the Spirit assure me that this was normal and that it would always be part of the process. I would never be able to bless them more than they blessed me, so I might as well get used to it.

This, I believe, is why Jesus tells us not to give alms, as if that alone is all that is necessary. If we truly see that everyone is connected to Christ, and that we are connected to everyone through Christ, then we can never again stop at merely sharing our money, we will be compelled by the love of Christ to share with them our lives as well.

This is exactly what is communicated in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which says:

So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

The second half of this saying is reminiscent of what Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 10: 5-8:

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

However, the difference in Thomas is that there is no condemnation of those who do not receive the disciples or welcome them, as we read later in Luke 10:10 when Jesus tells them to “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them” followed by a long list of woes and comparisons to Sodom and other cities that were destroyed in the Old Testament texts for their lack of repentance.

Here, Jesus focuses on blessing those who receive us and eating whatever they set before us, which is like the above statements that challenge the religious practices of the day which called for dietary restrictions and avoidance of certain foods. Rather, in the Gospel of Thomas Jesus encouraged his disciples, as in the Luke passage, to “eat what is offered to you,” even if it is considered ceremonially unclean by your religious code.

As with previous sayings we’ve examined thus far, this one might also be two or more sayings thrown together, especially since this section about “when you travel” has little do to with fasting, praying or giving alms.

Either way, Jesus gives us plenty to think about and, as usual, challenges our assumptions and defies our expectations.

**

Are you deconstructing your faith? Are you tired of feeling alone in the process? Please join us starting August 22, 2022 for Square 1 – an online course and thriving community designed to help you navigate your faith journey in a safe, affirming and open-minded environment. Register today for 75% off HERE>

Keith Giles is the author of the hot new bestseller, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everythingavailable now on Amazon. Keith is also the host of Second Cup with Keith [a new solo podcast available now on the Ethos Radio App, for Apple and Android and on Spotify.

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