Matthew 15 is used by some to argue that Jesus was not opposed to violence. In this passage, some Pharisees confronted Jesus about he and his disciples not washing their hands before eating. He responds by pointing out that the Pharisees themselves are breaking the law in Leviticus 20 since they are not honoring their mother and father. (more on this later) He goes on to say that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, it’s what comes out. Pharisees were, of course, offended.
The first question is: Does Jesus condone violence? The law in Leviticus he is referring to says that children who curse their parents should be put to death. Is Jesus endorsing that parents execute their children if they don’t honor them? Well the response to this begins with another question: Do you as his follower also kill children if they do not honor their parents? If Jesus approves of it then we should too, right? But if you are not okay with the killing of children, then you can’t believe that Jesus was okay with it too (since as our Lord we must follow what he himself teaches/believes). The only way you can use this passage to defend violence is if you are also willing to personally condone the execution of children. Most people would certainly not. So whatever Matthew 15 means, it can’t mean that.
So what does it mean? It’s true that Jesus says that the Old Testament is inspired but this doesn’t mean he condones all of it. In fact in many places he contradicts what is taught there. Right in this passage he does just that, by saying it’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, it’s what comes out. He is contradicting food laws here.
Another example is the Old Testament law of “Eye for an eye tooth for a tooth.” This was the justice system of Old Testament. But Jesus says (such as in Matthew 5:38-46) you may have heard that, but *I* say never retaliate so that you may be children of your feather in heaven. He is saying that in order to be a child of God you have to be willing to disobey some Old Testament laws.
A third example is in John 8. In this passage, a couple is caught committing adultery. The woman (not the man since they were chauvinists in this day) was brought to Jesus to see what he would say, since the Old Testament law says they should stone her to death. But he said no, let the one who is sinless throw the first stone. Of course nobody would. The implications of this passage are huge– He is essentially saying the only person authorized to carry out capital punishment is one who is sinless. But there are no sinless people on the planet, therefore there should be NO killing of anyone!
So what IS Jesus talking about here? He is saying that the Pharisees are breaking the Law with their tradition. The tradition he is referring to is called Corban. The Old Testament commandment to honor your parents meant you would support them when they can no longer support themselves. The reason is simple, this was before Medicare, so if you did not support your parents, they would die. But what if you don’t get along with your parents? Maybe you don’t want to support them. The tradition of Corban says that you may instead give money to the temple, and then you are sort of given a “pass” from your obligation of supporting your parents. This law put more money into the pockets of the temple elders and was essentially a loophole that allowed people to “screw” their parents. (Also see Mark 7:10-12) So in condemning this tradition, Jesus is exposing the gross hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and pointing out that they neither understood nor respected the very laws they claim to defend.
Second question is: How can Jesus repudiate some of the Old Testament teachings if it all points to him and he affirms that it’s divinely inspired? To begin, be sure to note that we did a series in April called Glimpses of Truth on how to interpret violence in Old Testament. In it we addressed this question. Greg’s new book called Crucifixion of the Warrior God/Cross Vision is now out which looks at this in depth. And Woodland Hills is also hosting a conference in September which is devoted to exploring this issue. The conclusion of all of this is that if all scripture is breathed by God for the purpose of pointing to Jesus who perfectly expressed God’s love on Calvary, then that means the entire bible should be interpreted through lens of his perfect love as expressed on Calvary. On the cross, God crosses an infinite distance, to take on the ugly revolting appearance of a guilty, tortured criminal in order to reveal the incredibly beautiful love of God who is willing to be tortured and die for his people. Moreover, the cross reveals what God has always been like — in that He will sometimes reveal His infinite beauty by bearing the ugliness of our sin. His ugliness in these moments simply mirrors our fallenness. But the important thing is that he is *willing* to step into it in order to stay in relationship with us.
Greg received a letter a couple of weeks ago, which perfectly exemplifies this concept. This couple works at a foster home that takes in abused kids, and are committed to this ideal of meeting kids where they are at. They took in a 10 year old girl who after her first night at the house they discovered she had smeared feces on the walls of her bedroom. Most people would have freaked out at this. But because they are committed to meeting kids where they are at, they knew if she did this, she must have felt the need to do this. So they did not get angry with her, they had compassion instead. So they said to her “as long as you feel you need to do this, you can”, and they dedicated a section of the bedroom wall for it. And every morning they would clean it up for her.
They understood that if Rosie was ever going to grow out of this behavior, she needed to know she was loved in the midst of it. They loved and met Rosie where she was at.
Over the months as trust between them grew, Rosie eventually shared why she did this. Starting age 4, her drunken father would come into her room and molest her. This kept happening until one night during the act she accidentally defecated and her father was so disgusted he ran out of the room. In that moment a lightbulb went on in her head. This was the way to keep her father away. So from that day forward, she would always smear poop on the walls of her room before bed. To most, the smell of feces is disgusting but to her it was not — it was the smell of protection, and she could not sleep without it.
Upon hearing this, her foster parents told her what a smart solution this was. So every night before bed, they put on latex gloves and got down on their hands and knees beside her and helped her smear poop on the wall. These amazing people lovingly entered into this ugly, smelly place with this child and because of that, she was eventually able to transform and move beyond it.
Unless you are convinced that God can love you in the midst of your poop, you will never outgrow where you are. It’s the love of God that transforms everything.
There are many “poopy” pictures of God in the Old Testament. At the time, everyone in the ancient near east saw God as a violent warrior. They thought that a deity’s viciousness equaled his power. This by itself does not tell us anything about God, but simply about the people. The thing that tells us about God is the fact that he was willing to enter into our sin, our poop, by putting gloves on and helping us to smear it if that is what we need.
If you walked in and saw Rosie’s caretakers smearing poop on the walls with her, you would probably call child protection services! But as soon as you know what’s going on, the meaning is completely transformed. It’s still revolting but it’s revoltingly beautiful. They were willing to go to extremes in solidarity with Rosie. When you trust the caretakers, you see this is actually an indescribably beautiful act. And once you trust the character of God as revealed by Jesus on the cross, all these violent Old Testament portraits of him become evidence of his profound beauty.
This is how Jesus could believe it’s all inspired and points to him even if he doesn’t condone the specifics. These stories do not condone the poop that God stoops to wear, but affirms the God who stoops to wear it.
So, beyond aiming to show this kind of radical compassion to others, how do we apply this teaching to our life? It starts with looking at the wounds that Rosie’s poop smearing revealed about her and asking the same question of ourselves. What are some of our own “poop smearing” practices that reveal our own wounds?
We were all created with some some core needs. These needs are non-negotiable. They are:
When any of these needs are unmet, it can lead to poop-smearing.
We will start by looking at the first three of these needs. (The other three will be covered next week)
A lack of worth leads to feelings that you are worthless, invalid, ashamed, defective, unlovable, inferior, and/or invisible. Worthiness-Wounds will always lead to poop smearing! Greg as a kid struggled with this wound. But later in his life he invited Jesus into those memories and received immense healing from this. Jesus does not change the past but he transforms the meaning of the past.
Without purpose, it leads us to feel incompetent, weak, criticized, Iike a failure, inadequate, unimportant, and/or insignificant.
Greg recommends looking closely if you feel any of these things. Where did you learn this? Invite Jesus into this memory and allow him to transform it.
When we lack freedom, we may feel manipulated, intimidated, helpless, deprived, controlled, smothered, and/or powerless.
With each of these core needs (and the symptoms of deficiency), Greg encourages you to go through these words and ask God to help you search heart to find out where you learned and felt that, where you got that message. Identify these memories, as many as you can. Then offer up your imagination to the Holy spirit and invite Jesus into that memory. Invite God into your poop so that he may love you out of your poop!
Hide Extended Summary
5 thoughts on “Revolting Beauty”
Loved this sermon. Even the poop smearing!
Hi. Love this sermon and the story of Rosie. Having worked with young women like Rosie I totally get this analogy of Gods commitment to “poopsmearing”. However, I think you need to rethink how that analogy applies in the situation where Gods people are the perpetrators of abuse and violence such as the old testament stories you referred to. I believe the analogy changes when we are the perpetrator and Jesus illustrates this beautifully in the Garden of Gethsemene where Peter is the perpetrator of violence. to follow the “puts on latext gloves and participates in the poop smearing” would suggest that Jesus picks up his sword and lops of the guards other ear. This isn’t what Jesus does, instead, he jumps sides, and with the same love, mercy grace and compassion he shows to Peter, he becomes the saviour, lord and comforter of Peters enemy and heals the guards ear. I believe this is more of the model that shows Gods response to the violence described in the old testement, I believe at the point we as humans began to perpetuate that violence God sides with the victims and poors out His love and grace and mercy on them….still loving us but not participating in any way with our choice of violence. I suspect that if we were to read and understand the stories of those people groups described in the tho old testament we would find the stories of where God moved in grace and love for them in the face of violence perpetrated by Gods people. I just think that to suggest God puts on the latex gloves and participates in the revolting ugliness of human violence is a step too far, and Jesus actions with Peter demonstrate that. ……there ya go, thats my thoughts…..Greg, I’d love to hear your response to this.
Until I became a Woodland Hills podrishioner several years ago and became familiar with Greg’s take on OT violence, I always attributed God’s commands to violence as a form of punishment on Israel for rejecting Him as their king. And I still believe that may be part of the equation here, although “punishment” may be too strong a term. God wanted to fight their battles for them and on several occasions showed them what that looked like. But they insisted on an earthly king, despite God’s warning on what that would entail, so by requiring or commanding this level of violence God was simply acting like the earthly king they desired. I’m not sure how Israel mustered their army, perhaps a draft of some sorts, or by casting lots. But imagine you’re not a battle hardened warrior, but a regular farmer type dude who’s pressed into service. And now you’re being instructed to kill women and children, much like your own family at home. I imagine the mental repercussions of that would be enormous, not to mention the very real fact of “taking one for the team”!
Absolutly beautiful. One of the best sermons I’d heard in my life. I agree with Greg’s perspective 97% of the time.
We hear and relate to Greg’s heart and compassion. Very much. What we don’t understand is his stand with liberal church teaching re the authority of Scripture. Scripture – the Tanakh – was often called “the law of Moses” because he recorded it, but what’s intentionally omitted is that Moses recorded the very words God gave him – to convey to all, both his listeners and their posterity (Deut 6). It’s regularly spouted that we need to just bear with this guy “Moses,” [meaning the oral tradition over millennia attributed to some person designated “Moses”] ‘cuz he obviously missed the point over and over. God was “angry” (his term not mine) with child sacrificers regardless of who the murderers were, but he also instituted capital punishment and ID’d what He in justice knew was a capital crime. This may be more significant than Greg realizes: Jesus said (John 5;46-47) that if we don’t hold Moses’ words as God’s words, how will we ever believe Jesus’ words? Yes, violence is not God’s way for His people, but then God’s appointed governments enter the picture. God tells us the “government does not bear the sword in vain” for good reason. Government, not God’s people, are responsible to execute capital criminals so their evil influence doesn’t proliferate. When God sent His Son and two angels to inform Abraham of His mission to “the five cities of the plain” it was to eliminate the growing effect they were having on other cities in the vicinity. Since they refused to listen to the counsel of “righteous Lot,” God loved them so much that He mercifully dealt with the incorrigibles and demonstrated His loving justice to the survivors everywhere. Yes, God wants everyone to come to Him and enjoy Him forever, but we can’t ignore that there are many prefer madness and lash out at God and His loving provisions and advances. Those about whom God says, “Don’t pray for them anymore.” We thank God for using Greg to take us deeper into God’s loving heart. Walking with God in the real world is hampered by doing it intellectually. Greg is one who helps us do it intelligently, and there’s a world of difference.