The installation of the new carpeting in the sanctuary this week has been a very convenient happenstance in considering the Gospel lesson, because it has been a week full of observing just what it is that people will “notice.”
They noticed the craftsmanship.
“These seams were all hand stitched, some old timer in the business did this.” One of them remarked.
We had the observations of people as they would walk in, either the notes of relief about the change, or some sadness, or nostalgia as the stories poured out about what had taken place on the old carpet,– baptisms, funerals, weddings, youth sleep overs, etc.
I posted progress of the work, and in the 4 years that I’ve been curating a Facebook presence for St. James, I can tell you that THIS event had the highest response rate of any posting ever! In all, there were 425 comments, likes, or shares across five postings in two days, and not just St. James members but friends of friends as it was shared forward and commented upon.
People in other words, were noticing this!
That is, by the way, twice as many likes and comments as the notifications done about the MLM project, or the notice of an organist position being open, and three times the amount of interest in our VBS pictures or pantry ingathering!
Interesting what gets noticed, isn’t it? Building changes will trump ministries!
After the majority of the work was done, I had e-mails and comments of what drew the eye now. There were more comments about the banners and the overall look of the chancel.
And of course, also comments of what wasn’t done, or what wasn’t done right, or what needed to be changed or fixed or further addressed.
I just found it fascinating to consider what gets noticed, and by whom!
Today’s Gospel lesson is also about what gets noticed, and by whom. “Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.”
It is what the Pharisees and scribes “notice” that sets the tone and action for what follows. We are told that the Pharisees and scribes noticed that “some” of the disciples are eating without first washing their hands in the ritual manner prescribed.
It’s the inconsistency that prompts the question, is it not? The Pharisees and scribes are compelled to get clarification, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders…?”
And, it is that question which prompt Jesus’ strong and lengthy response. It was a questioning that skipped direct communication with the disciples and instead went to the head, to the teacher, to have him explain the actions of those who are clearly under his charge.
In other words “What are you teaching these people, Jesus?” What makes them so cavalierly dismiss the established traditions?
I wonder if that is what prompts Jesus’ strong reaction.
I’ve often wondered if this would have been an issue at all if the Pharisees and scribed had asked the few disciples directly why they hadn’t washed.
They may have had a philosophical or theological reason. “Following Jesus has made us reject some old things…” they might have said.
They may have had practical reasons.
Maybe they just forgot.
Maybe the opportunity was not presented for all of them.
Maybe some had a different outlook on ritual washing now. I doubt very much that at the feeding of the 5000 all did ritual handwashing before receiving the bread and the fish, and it seemed to be o.k. then, so what is different about eating now?
But we will never know because really the issue was not whether hands had been washed or not, but rather what kind of teaching the Master was promulgating.
It is fairly clear that the Pharisees and scribes have come down here to observe, and they don’t like what we see, not one bit, and so they go for their perceived source of the problem, what Jesus is teaching.
Which, I think, prompts another fascinating question about what we notice; “Do we only see what we want to see?”
I pondered that with the carpet.
I know that I was seeing what I wanted to see, the completion of a project started a year ago! I just wanted to see it in after the endless meetings, discussions, and sample swatches, bids, meetings for approval and scheduling.
The installers probably were looking for shortcuts, how could they get this in as quickly and as efficiently as possible?
Those unsure about the color choice were looking for reasons to state their opinions or thoughts.
Those grieving yet another instance of change in this world were keyed in on what they perceived as yet another loss.
Those who had questions about the priority of putting new carpet in were perhaps looking for things to point out that seemed wrong, or wasteful, or poorly done.
So I wondered, “Do we see what we want to see, and from whence does that preconceived bias of what you expect to see/find/notice come?”
And this is the point of contact where this Gospel lesson spoke to me, and I could hear what it was that Jesus had to say to me, for to the question about hand washing Jesus presses from an external matter of what we notice, to what it is that we do with what we notice. He goes to the matter of the heart.
“Listen to me,” Jesus says, “all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:
This is the warning given, the observation made by Jesus upon the “observers,” all of them. The Pharisees and scribes who have come down to observe, and the disciples who are eating and watching, and the general crowd who is gathered to see what will happen in this visit.
From whence does the bias come, this noticing what you want to notice? It comes from within, and this is what you must be on guard about!
This is the deep truth about us that we would rather not face.
Whenever I “notice” something in someone else, that is really more about what is stirring in me than it is about what that other person is doing, or saying, or the way they look or behave.
It is really about my displeasure at how things are going.
It is really about my own judgment about how a particular action should, or should not be done.
It’s what is cookin’ inside me that is the real issue, not the actions of the other.
Oh, how hard it is for us acknowledge that, and know what to do with it.
We would rather push blame on someone else. It is their fault for not doing things the right way, or not paying attention to the rules, or messing up the well established procedures.
The issue is really not the hand washing in this story, and Jesus knows it.
The issue is; what are you noticing and what are you doing with that? What is prompted in you? Are they thoughts of judgment, or unrest, anger or disgust?
What is it that you are looking for; the best in people, or the worst in them?
Do you tend to look for things to criticize, or do you tend to notice the things that flow from grace and forgiveness and love?
It is from within that the things that defile us come, Jesus says, so watch out!
We know that to be the case, but we very much shy away from acknowledging it, or owning up to it, or dealing with it.
It is hard work to be reflective.
It is difficult work to look inside your own beliefs, understandings, actions, or prejudices, and examine them.
It is painful to admit that you might be wrong about something.
It is much safer to point out the offense of someone else, or to find refuge in excuses or what other “ought” to do, “ought” to know, “ought” to have had a firmer handle on.
“Just what are you teaching your disciples, Jesus, that they neglect the washing of hands?”
The answer might be, “I’ve been teaching them to love.”
The answer might be, “I’ve been teaching them to forgive, instead of to judge.”
The answer might be, “I’ve been teaching them that the externals of what people do or look like, are of much less importance that what is going on in here.”
I might have been teaching them that until you get what is going on “in here” under the power of God’s love, grace and forgiveness, none of the externals will do you any good.
What do you tend to “notice?”
What does that have to say about whether your life is ruled by a preoccupation with the law, or whether you have been opened by the Grace that has come your way in Jesus? Or, as the apostle Paul was often want to say, have you made up your own mind, or do you have the “mind of Christ”, the openness to see others and this world the way that Jesus sees through the lense of the Kingdom.
It all just has me pondering. What do you “notice?”