“What is it that you notice?”
The installation of new carpeting in the sanctuary of a previous congregation was a curious entry point for the Gospel lesson for today. That event gave me an opportunity to pay attention to what it is that people will “notice.”
The installation crew arrived and it was fascinating to see what they noticed when they starting removing the old red wool carpeting.
They noticed the craftsmanship.
“These seams were all hand stitched, some old timer in the business did this.” One of the workers remarked.
Then we had the observations of people as they would walk in to the church for various reasons.
Some were relieved about the change. “Oh, about time that old red shag carpet disappeared!”
Some were saddened, as nostalgia brought forth stories about what had taken place on that old carpet,– the baptisms, funerals, weddings and wedding pictures, youth sleep overs, etc.
I posted progress of the work as it was being done on Facebook at the time, and in all the years that I’d been curating a Facebook presence for that congregation, I can tell you that THIS event had the highest response rate of any posting ever!
Over 425 comments, likes, or shares across five different postings in two days, and not just by congregation members but by friends of friends of congregation members as it was shared forward and commented upon.
People in other words, were noticing this!
After the majority of the work was done, I had e-mails and comments of what drew the eye now in the sanctuary with the new blue carpeting in place.
The banners stand out more – the red sanctuary light popped out now as a distinct feature.
And of course, there were 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 probably catches their attention. 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 prompts Jesus’ strong and lengthy response. It was a questioning that skipped direct communication with the disciples. The Pharisees and scribes did not ask them why they hadn’t washed.)
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 long-established traditions?
I wonder if that is what prompted 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, for instance a number of Jesus’ disciples are fishermen, and as a matter of their occupation they handled dead fish, in bait and hauling in the catch and so were never seen as ritually pure.
They may have explained to these Jerusalem folks that water was scarce up here in the Galilee, they we didn’t just keep “six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons each” laying around for purification rites like they apparently did down in Jerusalem with its plentiful water supply from Hezekiah’s aqueduct.
We will never know how the question could have been answered by the disciples because really the issue was not whether hands had been washed or not, but rather what kind of teaching Jesus was doing.
It is fairly clear that the Pharisees and scribes have come down here to observe Jesus and they don’t like what they see, not one bit! So they go to their perceived source of the problem.
What exactly is 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 that was started years ago!
The installers that day probably were looking for how to get it in quickly and to our satisfaction.
Those commenting on Facebook were chiming in on color choice, cost, what they noticed now and a myriad of other things
So, I wondered, “Do we only see what we want to see? Notice what we want to notice?
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 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.
Jesus quotes Isaiah, and 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 the “noticers.”
He gives the teaching to the Pharisees and scribes who have come down to observe, and to the disciples who are eating and wondering, and to the general crowd who is gathered.
From whence does this 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 inside of me than it is about what that other person.
It’s not really what they are saying, or the way they look or how they behave that is the issue. What is at issue is what is stirring inside of me as I notice them!
The displeasure I have at how things are going is coming from within me!
It is really about my own judgment about how a particular action should or should not be done.
What is cooking inside me, coming out from me that is the real issue. It is not the actions of the other, not the external matters of ritual hand washing, or any other outward actions.
Oh, how hard it is for us acknowledge that and know what to do about it!
We would much rather push blame on someone else for doing things that bother us!
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 what you notice?
What is being prompted in you, stirred up in you? Are there thoughts of judgment, or unrest, anger or disgust?
What is it that you are looking for then? Are you looking for the best in people, or the worst in them?
Do you tend to notice things with an eye toward criticizing, or do you tend to notice things and approach them with an attitude of grace, forgiveness and love? Giving benefit of the doubt.
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, your own understandings, and your own sense of what is acceptable and critique it, question it.
It is hard work to look beyond actions, or to see past long held prejudices, or to question long held and cherished beliefs to see if they still hold true.
It is hard work to look at something from someone else’s experience or perspective!
It is painful to admit that you might have been wrong about something!
It is always much safer to point out the offense of someone else, or to point out what that other person “ought” to do, or “ought” to know, or “ought” to have had a firmer handle on.
“Just what are you teaching your disciples, Jesus, that they neglect the tradition of the elders, the washing of their hands?”
The answer from Jesus might have been, “I’ve been teaching my disciples to love.”
The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching them to forgive, instead of to judge.”
The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching my disciples that the externals of what people do or look like, are of much less importance than what is going on in here, in the heart, and how to act upon that!”
Jesus might well have been teaching them all that until you get what is going on “in here” – in the heart, 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?”
Is your life is consumed by a preoccupation with the rules, or the laws, the externals or the way things are supposed to be done? It is so easy to get caught up in all of that!
Jesus knows that, and so he quotes Isaiah to bring it back home
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
It is much harder to let the Grace of God in Christ Jesus enter your heart in such a way that he helps you to see things differently, challenges your long held and cherished beliefs, and opens your own heart to consider the teachings that are harder to observe than the just externals, the washing of hands.
Loving your neighbor as yourself? Who can do that? We’d rather talk about the carpet!
It all just has me pondering, over and over again. What is it that I “notice?”– and what it is that Jesus would want me to notice in others?