Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.
I really wish I had a holy pressure cooker that I could toss current issues into, season it with the great commandment, especially loving our neighbor as ourselves, and the new commandment to love like Jesus, and then turn on the burner of God's holy stove to boil off the fear, anger, greed, self-centeredness, and poor judgment to refine the current issue to the right thing to do, because that is what Jesus calls for us to do - he calls us to do the right thing and that is often different from doing things right.
Once I used this holy pressure cooker, I could then come in here on Sunday and simply tell you the right thing to do and you could go out the door and just do it. Better yet, I wish we all had holy pressure cookers and could do the refining for ourselves. Then doing things right and doing the right thing would be in harmony. Seeking that harmony is how we strive to live out our communion with Christ.
Here is one thing I can promise you, when we get to paradise and are singing with the angels and archangels, we will do things right and be doing the right thing. You see in heaven things are in perfect harmony.
However, in our fallen world things are much more muddled some by Satan and the forces of evil, but more often by our choices. Don't get me wrong, on occasion doing things right and doing the right thing work in harmony here in our world and in our society, but there are many times when the complexities of life and the norms of our culture has doing things right at odds with doing the right thing.
This morning's gospel reading gives us an example of how those two can end up at odds with each other even by well intentioned people. In the reading, the Pharisees and scribes, well intentioned people of their time, noticed how some of those following Jesus were not adhering to the cleanliness codes of the Jewish faith. Some of the disciples were not washing their hands and utensils in the prescribed manner. This washing process was not simple. It involved certain ritual acts and prayer as well as jugs of water and bowls and towels.
The confrontation described in today's reading occurred shortly after Jesus fed the 5000 and he healed many. So the group of disciples cited in the passage was much larger than just the twelve apostles. There would have been a congregation that followed Jesus.
Many of this congregation would have been poor, and many would have been from the lower working classes like being shepherds or carpenters or fishermen or widows or orphans. They would have known about the cleanliness codes with its associated ritual acts and needed supplies, because of their Judaeo religious upbringing, but the realities of their lives and livelihoods made adherence to the cleanliness codes difficult, if not impossible.
Shepherds and carpenters and fishermen and the widows and the orphans did not have the wherewithal and time to carry all the stuff to do ritual cleaning.
And neither did Jesus or his entourage. In fact the disciples mentioned in this passage were probably hungry a lot of the time, remember they were poor so they wouldn't have even carried the food they needed much less the stuff to clean it.
While the question the Pharisees asked Jesus was a way they demonstrated their devotion to their religious practices, which at its heart was a good thing, but their question was also a form of polite rebuke. They were telling Jesus that his disciples were not doing things the right way, the way prescribed by their religion, and by not doing things the right way, they were making themselves unpresentable before God.
Jesus was appalled and called out the Pharisees and scribes for being hypocrites and cited the prophesy of Isaiah foretelling of this kind of hypocrisy. Jesus knew that the right thing, the thing God wanted them to do was to care for people. He knew that caring for the hungry meant feeding them, where they were with what they had. It means that rules and rituals needed to be set aside to do the important work of nourishing the body.
I have had several of these moments of choice between doing the right thing and doing things the right way during my life. One that closely fits this passage occurred when I was on the police department. I was called to a 7-11 to take a shop lifting report. When I arrived I was given the description of an unshaven person wearing dirty and disheveled clothing. He was carrying a grimy backpack stuffed full. The clerk said he also had a shopping cart filled with all kinds of odd items he left right outside the door when he came into the store. Obviously, they were describing a homeless person. They told me he took a sandwich and an orange then ran out of the store.
Ironically, I had passed a guy fitting that description with his oddly filled shopping cart sitting at a bus stop about a block away eating a sandwich.
I refused to take a report. Instead, I paid for his sandwich and the orange. The store manager complained and so I had to explain to my supervisor why I did not take the report. To have done things right, I should have taken the report and gone and arrested the guy for theft. But I chose to do the right thing and pay for his lunch. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, I fed the hungry poor.
There may be some who thought I just encouraged bad behavior and was opening the door to more theft from that 7-11. That was what the clerk and manager thought was going to happen. However, during the time I served as the officer in that district, the level of shoplifting neither increased nor decreased at that store because I paid for a homeless man's meal.
My supervisor commended and condemned my action. He liked that I had solved the problem in a very kind way, but was worried that I might have created an expectation that police officers would be paying for shoplifted food. That expectation never came to pass either, but I did earn the nickname Dudley Doright.
In the grand scheme of things my example is a small thing. Bigger issues where doing things right was at odds with doing the right thing we, as a nation, have had to grapple with in recent history are civil rights and equality.
On my recent trip to the Henry Ford Museum, I sat in the seat on the bus where Rosa Parks sat. According to the law and cultural norms in the south of the sixties, the bus driver was doing things right by asking Rosa and three other African American women to move to the back of the bus. Rosa was the only one to do the right thing when she courageously declined to move.
Currently, we have a lot of hot button issues coming to the fore, like gun control, use of force, and immigration, which I truly wish we could put in a holy pressure cooker and refine and resolve, but we can't. So we are left with relying on the teachings of Jesus and his example to guide us as we prayerfully struggle to look beyond doing things right to do the right thing. Amen