Jesus Teaches the Pharisees
NICHOLSON NOTE:  I am sharing the Daily Devotional published by the Living Church Foundation and edited by the Reverend Emily Hylden for today because of the graphic illustration of the harm which is caused by gossip and loose tongues.  The penance prescribed by Saint Phillip Neri was brilliant in illustrating to his penitent, and us, the far reaching effects of idle gossip.
I also see another message in the scriptural passage recounting another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Jesus recoils at the criticism being leveled at his  disciples for failing to observe a human custom that is the washing of hands before a meal. Today we see this a a good health habit but the Pharisees of Jesus day saw it as a purification ritual to be observed as a sign of piety.  But, a more important point made by our Lord here is that providing support to outward religious things while neglecting those who depend upon you or whom you are called to love is not piety at all.  We each find a sense of justification and  sanctity in giving support to religious causes  but we have to recognize that true religion is found in our interactions with those around us and not in the maintenance of a particular outward form of religious or Church structure.
Daily Devotional is a ministry of the Living Church Foundation.
Image licensed via Creative Commons.
Lindsey Bieda/Flickr
Littered Like Feathers
Daily Devotional • June 4
By Eleri Kerian

I am someone who, somewhat regrettably, has the gift of gab. Both blessed and cursed with being an extrovert, I often have to place a mental filter to keep the thoughts that flow so very freely from my mind from spilling out of my mouth. When I am angry and thirst for justice it can be particularly tempting to say exactly what I am thinking without remorse.

There is a famous story about St. Phillip Neri who assigned an unusual penance in the 16th century. When a woman came to him to confess the sin of gossip, he instructed her to climb atop the town’s bell tower, rip open a pillow, and watch the feathers spread throughout the town. For the second part of her penance, she was to try to collect all the feathers.

This was of course an impossible task, and St. Phillip Neri demonstrated his point: that our words can ripple, creating and increasing division. This story is why I stress to my second-grade Faith Formation students that God’s commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor even applies to those things that may be true but damaging to a person’s character or reputation.

When Christ explains his parable to his disciples after angering the Pharisees and scribes, he warns them: “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.”

Our words are a reflection on the state of our hearts, and with careful practice can be controlled, so we are not like the woman chasing down her feathers throughout the town.

Matthew 15:1-20

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”


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