Have you ever had one of those experiences where life is just going really good for a little while, only to get slapped in the face by cold, hard reality? I have. Many times. In my case, I’m usually enjoying some deep, meaningful moments with God. I’m wrapped up in worship, dreaming of what could be only to be interrupted from that dream like state by the blaring alarm clock-like, tyrannical voice of the urgent. The dreams and hopes of what could be are slain by stupid things which masquerade as urgently critical to the foundations of life. (Spoiler: They never are!)
If you have, Jesus knows how you feel.
In a moment of sheer delight, as he watches his disciples finally seem to get it; when they feed 5000 people and Peter walks on water – Jesus is hopeful that he’s turned a corner and prepared his followers for their future (Matthew 14). Then, within what appears to be a painfully short amount of time, this mountain top experience gives way and brings Jesus and the disciples crashing back down into the throes of negativity.
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem…” (Matthew 15). The Pharisees and teachers of the law have an agenda and they’re seeking Jesus to let him know they do indeed have an agenda. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t they wash their hands before they eat.”
Why do I still hear my mother’s voice in that sentence? “Go wash your hands. Dinner’s ready.”
Nonetheless, the Pharisees meant something entirely different. They didn’t really care about dirty hands. They were, though, overwhelmingly concerned about doing things right. And not just because washing your hands is right and polite. Instead, they were invested in making sure that everyone was measuring up to their expectations. They used expectations to control people. “Follow all the rituals and religious expectations so you measure up to us! Wash your hands so we know you belong with us. Follow the rules. Don’t diverge. Don’t have your own ideas. Don’t take risks. Tow the line.”
Have you heard any of those statements before? Words and attitudes like that can be devastating. There is no room for possibility. There is no room for faith. With that kind of attitude 5000 people don’t get fed and Peter doesn’t walk on water.
I’m grateful Jesus handled this situation with expertise. He sets the Pharisee straight about their misinformed worldview. And in the end Jesus directs them and us to a heart issue. “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…” (Matthew 15:18). What comes from the heart can either bring pain and suffering or can bring life and possibilities.
Compare what came from the heart of the Pharisees (measure up, tow the line) to what came from the heart of the disciples and Peter. What came from the disciple’s hearts as they took their small resources, blessed by Jesus, and fed the crowd, was faith. The disciples stepped beyond the boundaries of what seemed possible and into the place of anticipation. Peter shows us what comes out of his heart when he steps out of the boat. He’s counting on Jesus to do what only Jesus can do. I’m pretty certain that in both of these experiences the disciples weren’t worried about following the rules. I’ve never seen a rule book about walking on water!
Christian leaders, I really want you to hear this – our experience is often filled with an abundance of people and systems telling us to abide by the rules, tow the line, do what you’re supposed to do. These words and attitudes are opposed to Jesus. Instead of being free to risk, we are controlled into status quo; drugged into sleepiness.
What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?
This interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is bookended. On the front side is the story of Peter on the water. On the backside is the story of a Canaanite woman. The Pharisees had some rules about Canaanites, too. They were defiled. They didn’t belong. They didn’t measure up either.
And this woman breaks some glass ceilings. Out of her heart comes words of life and possibility: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:21-28). She wasn’t about to be controlled by the unwarranted rules and rituals which kept her excluded from God’s life. Out of her mouth comes faith, hope, and deep trust in what God could do.
Where do you want to live? Do you want to live in the prison of other people’s expectations and control or do you want to live in the freedom to follow Jesus into miraculous experiences?